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2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid was new.


Performance: 8.0

Reviewers say the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid returns good fuel economy with few sacrifices in terms of performance. Acceleration and power are good, with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. Handling and ride are soft, but sportier than what most other hybrids offer. Overall, reviewers say the performance on the Sonata Hybrid is great.

  • "In fact, if it weren’t for the electro-luminescent instrument panel and the liquid-crystal display between the tachometer and speedometer that graphically encourages economical driving, many drivers wouldn’t notice much difference between the Hybrid, with 206 horsepower (166 horses for the gas engine and 40 more for the electric motor) and the regular Sonata GLS. But they will notice the Hybrid’s stunning E.P.A. rating: 40 m.p.g. on the highway and 36 in the city." -- New York Times
  • "We found the Hybrid drives just like a regular Sonata --on the sporty side for a four-door family sedan -- but with a couple of differences.” -- Popular Mechanics
  • "With 206 horsepower from the engine-motor combo, acceleration is about the same as a regular Sonata’s. Pay close attention and you’ll feel, and hear, the engine take over from the electric motor, but it isn’t terribly noticeable." -- Wired

Acceleration and Power

When it comes to power delivery in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, reviewers are impressed. The Sonata Hybrid has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 34-kilowatt electric motor. Together, the two make 209 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. That’s more power than most other hybrid sedans make. The Sonata Hybrid’s batteries also make it stand out: most hybrids use nickel-metal hydride batteries, but the Sonata Hybrid gets electric power from lithium polymer cells. Those batteries are smaller and lighter than nickel-metal hydride cells, and Hyundai says they last longer, since they’re easier to cool and can hold charges better.

What reviewers really like, however, is the Sonata Hybrid’s transmission. Most hybrids use a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs tend to be more efficient than conventional transmissions, but they can feel slower, and be noisy during hard acceleration. The Sonata Hybrid has a six-speed automatic transmission that reviewers say works well, getting power to the wheels smoothly.

With its powertrain, the Sonata Hybrid can travel on electric power alone up to 62 mph. Go slower, and you can use electric power for up to a mile, depending on how much charge you have and driving conditions. If you’re frequently stuck in city traffic, that could add up to significant fuel savings.

Despite having a different powertrain than most hybrids, the Sonata Hybrid has fuel economy that’s on par with what most hybrid sedans offer. The EPA says the Sonata Hybrid gets 34 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway. That’s better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

The one part of the Sonata Hybrid’s performance that gets complaints is Blue Mode. Hyundai says that putting the car into Blue Mode increases fuel efficiency by five percent, but a few reviewers say Blue Mode makes the car pokey and slow.

  • “While most hybrids use a continuously variable transmission without fixed gears, the Sonata’s conventional gearbox makes for a more conventional driving experience. The Sonata Hybrid’s recalibrated version of the same 2.4-liter decelerates with the gear changes. For those of us who despise the engine drone associated with CVTs, that sound is a relief. Otherwise, the drivetrain machinations of the Hyundai hybrid system are almost invisible as long as the car is driven moderately." -- New York Times
  • "The Sonata's biggest advantage is its segment-leading highway number, which will be most attractive to drivers who spend a majority of their commute on freeways. Nonetheless, the Hyundai's city number is higher than that of both the Camry and Altima, so the Sonata is no slouch when it comes to navigating the urban jungle, either." -- Motor Trend
  • "And the car responds well to throttle, especially at midrange speeds between 20 to 50 mph. While the hybrid engine is down on power to the standard 2.4-liter engine, and certainly less volatile than the soon-to-be-released 2.0 Turbo Sonata, the additional torque from the electric motor adds enough oomph for satisfying around-town driveability. Overall, it's the most spirited midsize hybrid we've driven." -- Popular Mechanics
  • "What we can tell you is that at first blush, the Sonata Hybrid accelerates and shifts gears like a normal family sedan. By this we don't mean 'normal for a hybrid': it just gathers speed in an utterly familiar, drama-free fashion." -- Autoblog
  • "Once you engage Blue mode, though, everything changes. The transmission didn't seem to know what to do on steep inclines, and the engine whined unsettlingly on hilly roads. Then again, hilly terrain isn't where you'd engage this mode; it would be of most use in city traffic and in either congested or wide-open highway stretches. The company says it increases efficiency 5 percent." -- Cars.com

Handling and Braking

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has handling that’s composed and even slightly fun, according to most reviewers. Hybrid brakes can feel odd and grabby, since they recapture braking energy and use it to charge the battery, but reviewers say the Sonata Hybrid has the best brakes of any hybrid they’ve tested.

  • "Braking, always a little strange in hybrid vehicles, is also close to ideal in the Sonata. Hard braking yields a straight, hard stop, with moderate-level pedal feedback from the ABS system. It feels just like any other car with four-wheel disc brakes and four-channel ABS. Light braking regenerates the battery pack. Drivers who have never operated a hybrid might notice a difference when the brake is applied lightly, but we'll wager people who currently own hybrids will think that the Sonata's re-gen braking feel is subtle and well modulated." -- Popular Mechanics
  • "My test drive took me through Southern California mountains, and the hybrid drivetrain performed well. The hybrid's handling and ride quality are both on the soft side, like the base Sonata." -- Cars.com
  • "The regenerative brakes are progressive and feel just like what we expect stoppers to feel like. There's no danger of having your dental work ripped from your mouth thanks to an overly sensitive second pedal." -- Autoblog
  • "Like its siblings, the hybrid is quiet at speed, and the firm ride is comfortable and controlled. It’s no sport sedan, but handling is safe and predictable, which, really is what most folks shopping for a mid-sized sedan want." -- Wired

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