2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review - Fuel-Sipping Family Hauler (With Video)

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
2016 hyundai sonata hybrid review fuel sipping family hauler with video

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2.0-liter, DOHC I-4, CVVT, hybrid (Gas engine: 154 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 140 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm, Electric motor: 51 horsepower @ 1,770-2,000; 151 lb-ft @ 0-1,770 rpm)

6-speed automatic

Lithium polymer battery

40 city/44 highway/42 combined (Hybrid SE, EPA Rating, MPG)

39 city/43 highway/41 combined (Hybrid Limited, EPA Rating, MPG)

40.8 mpg (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Limited trim, Ultimate Package

Base Price:


As Tested:


* Prices include $825 destination charge.

Hyundai hit the styling ball out of the park with the last generation Sonata. The 2009 model was as dramatic and exciting as the previous models were drab and boring. Although the 2009 didn’t alter Hyundai’s value proposition, nor did it really break any new ground in the family car segment, the sexy curves were responsible for nearly doubling the Sonata’s sales from a middling 120,000 a year to well over 200,000. The design is widely credited for putting Hyundai firmly in the top 5 for midsized sedans and #8 on the car sales chart in general.

With the new seventh generation Sonata, Hyundai is working to prove that they are more than a one-hit wonder. The 2015 model launched their latest school of design and a new turbocharged “Eco” model that uses a 1.6L engine and a 7-speed dual clutch transmission to net 32 combined MPGs. Just one thing was missing in 2015: a hybrid model to compete with the big hitters from Ford, Honda and Toyota.

That’s where the 2016 Sonata Hybrid and the 2016 Sonata Plug-In come in.


Although Hyundai calls the design of the Sonata “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” in homage to the last generation Sonata that wore “Fluidic Sculpture 1.0”, the designs could not be more different. Personally, I never liked the old design. The swooshes and curves looked almost like a caricature of modern car design and I still don’t think the overall look will age well. The new model is marching to a different drummer, with almost Volkswagen-meets-Honda levels of design restraint. We get a trapezoidal grille up front with simple and aggressive lines, headlamps that look more grown up than before and a side profile that is simple and elegant. This Sonata plays right to my conservative heart.

The rear of the new design is a little more exciting than the front with deliberate lines and angry looking tail lamps. Hybrid models ditch visible exhaust tips for improved wind resistance figures. With a coefficient of drag of just .24, the Sonata is almost as slippery as a Tesla Model S and notably lower than the Prius at .26 cd.


Hyundai’s new interior style also reminds me of the Passat. The dash is dominated by a large trapezoidal console housing infotainment and dual-zone climate control. The style is simple, elegant, and very different than the 2016 Accord or Ford Fusion. The dash and doors are trimmed with faux metal or a passable faux wood in the Limited trim. SE models get cloth seats while Limited models get standard leather upholstery, seat heating and ventilation. Although some heartily disagree, I rank the Sonata’s interior over the Fusion, which is starting to feel a little dated, and the new Accord, which still sports the unusual 2-screen layout. [I just drove a Sonata Hybrid Limited this past week and the interior is breathtakingly gorgeous. — Mark]

If you haven’t looked at a Sonata in some time, it may surprise you to know this is one of the largest midsize sedans around. In fact, the 2016 Sonata is longer than all the competition save the Chrysler 200. That extra length translates directly into one of the roomiest cabins with 81.1 inches of combined legroom. Although it slots a hair below the Passat, in the real world there isn’t much difference, and due to the seating position in the Sonata it actually felt roomier. Like the Passat, Camry and Accord, Hyundai engineers kept the roofline high toward the rear meaning there is considerably more headroom in the back than the 200 or Fusion.

The other beneficiary of the extra length is the trunk. Although the cargo hold does take a hit of three cubic feet from the gasoline only Sonata, 13.3 cubes is the largest in the class — just. While the overall size of the trunk doesn’t vary much from the Camry, Fusion or Accord hybrids, the Sonata retains the full trunk pass through. In addition, the shape of the trunk is more practical. Hyundai stuffs the battery pack in the spare tire well rather than a rectangular block that chews up trunk space. This means the trunk is the same overall shape as the standard Sonata but one inch shallower. On the down side, this means the loss of the spare tire. On the upside, it means you can jam more bags in the Sonata’s trunk than the competition despite having a similar volume measurement.


The big news for 2016 is Hyundai’s support of Android Auto and Apple Car Play on the optional 8-inch LCD infotainment screen. Unfortunately, the car we were testing did not have the latest version of Hyundai’s BlueLink software, and although it is user-updateable, it requires that owners register the car and create an online account. (So I couldn’t do it while I had the car.) Once registered, all you need is a phone running Android 5.0 or higher. CarPlay is a different story. Although Hyundai has announced support, the software isn’t ready yet and it appears we can blame Apple for changing specs at the 11th hour. In an unusual move, Hyundai has committed to allowing all 2015+ Sonata models with the 8-inch LCD to upgrade to the latest software.

In order to get the 8-inch LCD, you need to get the Limited trim of the Sonata Hybrid and the $4,500 “Ultimate Package.” Hopefully this will change soon as Hyundai has hinted at making the 8-inch LCD and smartphone integration available as a standalone option. Also included in the package is a 9-speaker Infinity sound system with a 400W amp, radar cruise control, collision warning, auto high beams, rear parking sensors, panoramic sunroof, electric parking brake, brake hold, HD Radio and LED interior lights.


With Atkinson cycle engines trickling down to even non-hybrid cars (like the Lexus RX and RC), I was surprised to find that Hyundai skipped it for the Sonata Hybrid. Hyundai seems to have done more than simply tweak the outgoing system, instead opting for a pretty major redesign. A new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, direct-injection engine is the heart of the system (down from 2.4 liters) and produces 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque on its own. Power is down versus the old engine but efficiency is up over 10 percent according to Hyundai. Augmenting the engine is an electric motor capable of 51 horsepower and 151 lb-ft. System horsepower comes in a 193 with an undisclosed total torque figure. Thanks to the motor’s torque figures of 151 from 0-1770 rpm, we can guestimate that the system comes in at around 225-250 lb-ft total.

The design of the hybrid system is the key to understanding why the Sonata drives differently from the Camry, Accord and Fusion. As before, the Sonata Hybrid uses a traditional 6-speed automatic transaxle with a motor permanently coupled to the input shaft, not a planetary gearset power split device as is used by Ford and Toyota, or the two-mode serial/parallel system in the Accord. This means the Hyundai system is more like Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system found in the Civic with one big difference: Hyundai inserts a clutch between the engine and transmission so the engine can be completely disconnected from the drivevtrain. This increases EV mode efficiency, makes EV/gasoline mode transitions smoother and allows high speed EV travel.

Here’s how it works. If the car is stopped, the battery provides the power needed to run the air conditioning and accessories. If the battery becomes depleted, the transmission will shift to neutral, the clutch between the engine and transmission will close allowing the engine to spin the motor/generator attached to the transmission’s input shaft. When the light turns green, the clutch opens disconnecting the engine, the transmission shifts to first gear and the motor starts the car moving. (This design lacks a torque converter.) Once the vehicle reaches around 5 mph, the clutch will close again reconnecting the engine for parallel hybrid mode and the engine and motor work together to accelerate the car. While driving, the transmission shifts like a normal sedan. When braking, the clutch opens again, the transmission downshifts to increase the speed on the motor/generator’s shaft and the motor is used to generate electricity to charge the battery. If more engine braking is required, or if the battery is full, the clutch pack closes again so the engine can be used for increased braking.

Opting for the plug-in Sonata swaps out the 51 horsepower motor for one that spools up 67, bringing the total horsepower to 202. The 1.6 kWh battery gets upgraded to 9.8 kWh for up to 24 miles of EV range at highway speeds. That puts the EV range just above the Ford Fusion Energi and nearly twice that of the Honda Accord Plug-In. Unlike those two, the motor in the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid motor still sends its power though the 6-speed automatic, so it shifts just like a regular sedan when sipping electrons. Charging happens via a 3.3 kW charger that tops the pack up in 9 hours on 120V and 3 hours on 240V.


A common complaint about hybrids in general is that they don’t feel “normal”. Thanks to the 6-speed automatic, the Sonata shifts just like an average midsize sedan. Even though the transmission and engine are separated by a clutch, the electric motor makes low-speed crawl a non-issue, something that can’t be said of sedans with dual-clutch transmissions. The Hybrid model is fairly eager to switch to pure EV mode even at highway speeds, something also seen in the Fusion and Accord hybrids but different from the Camry that almost always uses the engine above 35 mph. The Plug-In model, with its larger battery, is more eager to stay in EV mode, although it doesn’t seem to really change the average fuel economy much.

Our tester scooted to 60 in 7.8 seconds, about 8/10ths slower than the Fusion, Accord and Camry, which all do it in around 7 seconds. The big difference seems to be in the 0-30 time, which makes sense as the drivetrain design doesn’t really allow the engine to directly power the wheels until the input shaft of the transmission is spinning fast enough to connect the engine via the clutch. This performance deficit is the biggest thing you’ll notice when cross-shopping the Sonata with the competition.

I’m not entirely sure why I enjoyed shifting the transmission in the Sonata Hybrid so much, but the novelty is something I feel compelled to comment on. Hyundai programmed the car’s transmission to not kick-down, even when you put the go-pedal to the floor. Doing so gives you wide-open throttle on both the engine and the motor. The feel is similar to a diesel, where you can effortlessly climb a mountain grade in 6th gear thanks to the heaps of low-end torque. This also means you can drain the 1.6 kWh battery in short order when mountain climbing. No, I have no idea why you would want to do this, nor do I know why I enjoyed doing it so much aside from the ability to exert more control over the motor than in the competition. (In case you were wondering, I noticed only a slight increase in economy using 6th gear to drain the battery before the summit of the mountain climb, then filling the battery completely on the way down vs just letting the car do its thing.)

Thanks to the aerodynamic profile and the new hybrid system, I easily averaged 41.2 mpg over a week and 824 miles of mixed driving. That’s a better real world average than I got in the redesigned Camry Hybrid and the Fusion Hybrid. The biggest difference seems to be above 70 mph where the Sonata’s fuel economy was significantly better than the Ford or Toyota. Although the Accord Hybrid’s fuel economy drops sharply over 75 mph, the Accord still beat the Sonata in my weekly test cycle by nearly 8 mpg.

Although the Sonata’s 6-speed transmission with clutch and motor appears to be more complex than some of the other designs, transitions from gasoline to EV mode, and from regenerative to friction braking are actually smoother than the others. The smoothness of this Sonata is a stark improvement from the last generation which was the least polished hybrid I had driven. The braking smoothless is especially surprising, since at highway speed the Sonata will downshift to improve regeneration effectiveness going from 6th to 5th to 4th when taping the brakes on the highway. The system perfectly balances the friction brakes while the transmission shifts and the charge controller manages the regeneration. I don’t envy the software engineer that had to work on that code.

The key to the Sonata’s stellar mileage is more than just the slippery coefficient of drag, the hybrid system and a lower curb weight than the competition. Tire selection plays a key role. While every hybrid uses an efficient rubber compound, Hyundai also keeps things narrow with base 205/65R16 tires. The Limited model gets the widest rubber (and a 1 mpg hit in the EPA score) at 215/55R17. That’s notably narrower than the 225-width rubber Honda and Ford put on every Accord and Fusion Hybrid. The obvious downside is that handling and braking both suffer, especially in the SE trim. It’s obvious that Hyundai has continued to improve the suspension dynamics in the Sonata, as the suspension is always well composed, but when the road starts winding the tires give up sooner than the Camry. Hyundai’s electric power steering is just as numb as the competition but the rack is accurate and the effort is moderately firm.

As usual, value is the card that Hyundai plays well. The SE starts at $26,000 before destination, just $10 more than the Fusion, $760 less than the Camry and a whopping $3,305 less than the Accord (2015). Hyundai’s long standard warranty gives the base model a decent value bump compared to the Ford and Toyota and the real world economy is a notch higher as well. On the downside there is less variation on the Sonata’s pricing ladder. While Ford offers three trim levels and a variety of standalone options, the Sonata only comes three ways: SE, Limited and the Limited with the Ultimate Package. Limited adds blind-spot detection, leather, HID headlamps, rear window shades, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, power passenger seat, heated steering wheel, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror for $30,100. At that level, the Sonata is $2,000 less than a comparable Fusion or Accord and $1,000 less than a Camry when you adjust for feature content. The next step up in the Sonata is the $34,600 Limited with Ultimate Package and adds the smoothest radar cruise control system in the segment, a large panoramic moonroof, the 8-inch infotainment screen, parking sensors, HD Radio and navigation. While the Sonata is an excellent value when comparing feature for feature, the bundling means the top-end model is the only way to get things like pre-collision warning, panoramic roof, navigation or the snazzy Droid/iOS integration.

Although the Sonata is one of the roomiest in the segment, has the most practical trunk, and I like the exterior and interior design a little more than the Honda, the Accord Hybrid is still the winner in this segment. (Note: Yes, there will be a 2016 Accord Hybrid according to Honda. Their 2016 Accord announcement said that 2016 hybrid details will be announced at a later date, meaning they are not pushing the update to a 2017 model year.) The reason is partly pragmatic and partly emotional. Ostensibly, the reason to buy a hybrid sedan is the fuel economy, an area where the Accord shines above the competition by a wide margin. The Accord is also faster to 60 and handles better. Although I was tempted to call the Hyundai vs Honda battle a tie, I have to give the nod to Honda for combining sharp hybrid handling with the fuel economy crown. The Sonata is a solid hybrid sedan and a very close second, but more importantly it is a testament to just how serious Hyundai is at beating the Japanese at their own game.

Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0

0-60: 7.8

1/4 Mile: 15.86 Seconds @ 87.5 MPH

Join the conversation
2 of 32 comments
  • Tonycd Tonycd on Sep 08, 2015

    Cooled seats come at a lower price than navigation? I thought the priority in a transportation device was to get where you were going. I know the current fashion is to say in-dash navigation is irrelevant because you can use your phone, especially since this car now incorporates the cell phone tech, but I personally think the decision to hold the nav system hostage to the very highest price point is obnoxious.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Sep 08, 2015

    While we love the fuel economy and looks of our 13 Optima Hybrid, I'll admit it is not the smoothest drivetrain. I'm eager to see the Kia version of this package, particularly the plug-in version. I like their interiors more than Hyundai's these days.

  • V16 It's hard to believe that the 1980 Thunderbird was approved for production.The Edsel had more curb appeal.
  • Jimbo1126 (Turning pencil to eraser end...) Really, it's just GM. Been disappointed by their products too many times.
  • Golden2husky 78 Concept is pretty awesome to me -
  • Redapple2 Make mine a 110 Defender- diesel.
  • Redapple2 What is the weight of the tractor? What is the range at full load? What is the recharge time? Not a serious product if they are HIDING the answers.