Car Reviews First Tests

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid First Test: PHEV Motoring with an Upscale Touch

A Couple Notches Better Than Your Typical Hybrid

A Couple Notches Better Than Your Typical Hybrid

Most consumers would think Toyota when it comes to hybrid vehicles, but it’s time to put the Hyundai in that discussion, as it has started its assault on that segment. The original Sonata Hybrid didn’t really impress us, but its successor was a big step forward thanks to a new and much improved powertrain. Now we have the Sonata plug-in hybrid, a new addition to the lineup, and it takes things up a notch by giving you more ways to save fuel and minimize your environmental impact while offering class-above comfort and refinement.

Should you get a plug-in hybrid? Stay tuned to find out four reasons to get a PHEV and four not to.

Bigger Battery Means Generous EV Range

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug In Hybrid engine

The 2.0-liter I-4 makes 151 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque, but in the Sonata PHEV, it’s coupled to 67-hp electric motor backed by a 68-kW-hr lithium-ion battery for a combined output of 202 hp. Unlike most hybrids, the Sonata PHEV eschews the CVT in favor of a six-speed automatic transmission. There’s a manual mode, but the regenerative braking slows the car down the moment you let off the throttle, and it’s slow to respond to your upshifts and downshifts.

The larger battery and more powerful electric motor means the Sonata PHEV can travel 27 miles (43 km) on 99 mpg-e in EV mode, which is more than competitors such as the Ford Fusion Energi. With both the engine and motor running, the car has an EPA fuel economy estimate of 40 mpg (5.9 L/100km) combined, and Hyundai claims that you can do more than 600 miles (966 km) with everything topped off. Charging the Sonata PHEV takes less than nine hours with a standard wall outlet (Level 1) or about five hours using a 240-volt (Level 2) charger. This lets you take advantage of the car’s EV range if your commute is less than 30 miles (48 km) and allows you to reserve the gas engine for longer trips. The ability to charge the car to full overnight also means its less of a hassle to live with than a pure EV; the battery pack isn’t as big, so there’s not as much time spent plugged in. Should you not have access to chargers at your destination, you can use the engine to recharge the battery.

The Sonata PHEV gives you a multitude of ways to use its powertrain. From EV to standard hybrid, the Sonata PHEV’s powertrain lets you maximize your fuel economy in every traffic situation. Having a charging station nearby also lets you take advantage of the car’s ability to plug in, as you’ll be able to use EV mode more for your daily driving needs.


Eco-Friendly Power Meets Road Trip-Worthy Ride Comfort

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug In Hybrid front three quarter in motion

Like the standard Sonata Hybrid, transitions between gas and electric power are smooth and nearly imperceptible. The only time you feel anything is when you activate Charge mode, which sends minor shudders into the cabin as the gas engine turns on. Despite the Sonata PHEV’s modest 202-hp output and hefty 3,805-pound curb weight, there’s plenty of power from the electric motor’s instant torque. Steep hills and quick passing maneuvers are effortless in the Sonata PHEV. Keep the car out of Eco mode, though, because it dulls the throttle response significantly. At the track, the Sonata PHEV did 0-60 in 7.6 seconds before finishing the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at 88.9 mph (143 km/h), making it quicker than the 245-hp Sonata 2.0T and the Sonata Eco, which hit 60 mph in 8.0 and 7.8 seconds during our testing.

The steering is also an improvement over past Sonatas, but it doesn’t weight up too much at higher speeds and feels light and uncommunicative. Even though the Sonata PHEV handles fine, this isn’t the car for attacking winding roads. It’s more of cruiser that’s at home on long highway stretches. The 2016 Sonata PHEV finished the figure-eight course in 28 seconds with a 0.61 g average and produced a lateral acceleration of 0.76 g on the skidpad. Braking performance was similar to the standard Sonata Hybrid, stopping from 60 mph in 121 feet. As with most hybrids, the brakes will take some time to get used to, but compared to some of its competitors, the Sonata PHEV’s brake pedal is more linear, making it easier to modulate and stop smoothly.

Ride comfort is another Sonata PHEV strong point. The suspension does an excellent job at keeping rough patches out of the cabin without making the car feel floaty. Extensive sound deadening keeps powertrain, road, and wind noise out of the cabin, giving the Sonata PHEV a quiet, well-insulated interior. On less than perfect surfaces, however, the low rolling resistance tires can cause excessive tire roar and detract from the car’s excellent ride comfort.


Functionality Trumps Flashiness

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug In Hybrid cockpit

The Sonata’s interior is conservative, but it remains spacious for four passengers—or five in a pinch. Rear space is generous, and the low center tunnel leaves plenty footroom and legroom. The front seats are slightly stiff but offer great support and a lot of adjustability, making it easy to get comfortable on long drives.

Our range-topping Limited test car had a long list of standard equipment, including memory seats, HID headlights, heated/ventilated front seats with driver’s side memory, a 4.2-inch display between the gauges, a heated steering wheel, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, and blind-spot warning. However, it loses out on the panoramic sunroof, power-folding side mirrors, and heated rear seats, which are available on the standard Sonata Hybrid. The battery does eat into cargo space quite a bit, leaving you with 9.9 cubic feet of trunk space and sans split-folding rear seats, so pack strategically. The Sonata PHEV’s cabin does have plenty of cubbies to store small items and mobile devices.

In typical Hyundai/Kia fashion, the multimedia interface is responsive, user-friendly, and modern without being overcomplicated; however, it could use an extra USB port or two for charging mobile devices. We’re also glad that the 2016 Sonata Hybrid variants can be upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for free if self-installed, or for a fee if taken to a dealer; the rest of the Sonata lineup already has them. The native navigation system has good graphics, and the PHEV menu gives you graphs to help you monitor how efficiently you’re driving. In Eco mode, there’s even a coasting coach that tells you when to let off the throttle via the display cluster between the gauges.

High-quality materials and soft-touch plastics are used liberally throughout the interior, making the car feel more expensive than it actually is. There are some harder, cheaper plastics, but they’re relegated to areas that aren’t touch points. Padded surfaces on the armrests and center console mean your arms won’t touch many spots in the cabin that aren’t soft, which contributes to the interior’s upscale feel.


Not Your Typical Hybrid?

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug In Hybrid rear taillight

Other than a larger grille that extends to the lower front fascia, Blue Drive badges, more aerodynamic alloy wheels, and a hybrid or plug-in hybrid badge in the rear, there isn’t much distinguishing the electrified Sonatas from their gas-only siblings. The Sonata PHEV’s only distinguishing feature from the standard hybrid is the charging port on the left front fender. Other than that, it’s a midsize sedan that isn’t polarizing for the sake of letting everyone know that it’s environmentally friendly. Instead, it has a more conventional exterior design that’s not as shocking but allows for better sightlines from wider side windows and a larger windshield and rear window.

The Sonata PHEV offers a great blend of fuel efficiency, power, generous EV-only range, and user-friendly technology. And the Sonata PHEV has the ability to get consumers to see the benefits of a hybrid other than saving the planet. Priced at $39,610 USD as tested, the Sonata PHEV is pricey, but once you factor in the availability of federal incentives such as a rebate of up to $4,919 USD, it becomes a stronger value proposition, especially with the Limited trim’s long list of standard equipment.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid Limited
BASE PRICE $39,435
PRICE AS TESTED $39,610
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.0L/154-hp/140-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 65-hp/151-lb-ft front electric motor; 202-hp combined
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,805 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 110.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 191.1 x 73.4 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.9 sec @ 88.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.0 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)