Survey of First Drive Impressions of Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

By · May 29, 2015

Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

We’ve known the specs for the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid for some time. But last week was the first opportunity for the automotive press to take the latest plug-in hybrid for a spin. So, we combed through the first drive-time reactions to create a survey of the Sonata PHEV experiences on the road.

Before we get started, let us remind you that this is Hyundai’s first plug-in electric vehicle for the U.S. market. For its inaugural effort, Hyundai equipped the Sonata with a 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery—a jump up from other mid-size sedan plugin hybrids. The Accord uses a 6.7-kWh unit, and Fusion Energi carries a 7.6-kWh pack. The Sonata’s larger pack will mean a longer all-electric range of about 22 miles, compared to about 13 and 19 respectively for Honda and Ford. Efficiency when running on gasoline, after the battery is depleted, is expected around 40 miles to the gallon. That beat’s the Fusion’s 38 mpg on gas, but is not as good as the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid’s impressive 46 miles to the gallon on gasoline.

Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid uses a 2.0 liter four-cylinder GDI engine capable of 154 horsepower (115 kW) and 140 pound-feet of torque. The engine—the same as found in the Sonata Hybrid—is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission with a 67-horsepower motor providing electric motivation. Total output is 202 horsepower.

Still no word yet on price.

First Impressions

Autoblog Green

While there is electrification going on, when you need extra acceleration, the 2.0-liter GDI four-cylinder gas engine kicks in far too often, even when the battery has plenty of charge. An engine sort of ruins the EV experience, but this should not in any way be considered a deal-breaker in this package. PHEVs are the very definition of a compromise between pure electric and gas-powered vehicles, but they can offer exactly the right balance of fossil fuel and electric mobility to a wide audience.

There's a slight but odd feeling of a transmission shifting when you're in EV mode. If you're used to driving an all-electric, plug-in vehicle, this is not what you expect, but the six-speed automatic transmission is indeed involved in converting power from the motor to the wheels, so get used to it.

Motor Trend

The drivetrain steps back and forth between electric and gas propulsion with little more than audible cues. And meanwhile, its six-speed automatic provides the sort of very familiar, stepped-acceleration experience that drivers new to hybrids might find comforting. (The Accord Hybrid's wild swings in revs is entertaining to me, but maybe not you.)

On the road, it drives like a normal car, not only with zero "motor-boating" oddness, but a close-to-natural regen brake pedal feel and an otherwise quiet cabin, in part due to the latest Sonata's stiffer chassis but also owing to its (surprisingly attractive) aero tweaks that drop its Cd from 0.27 to a Tesla-rivaling 0.24.

Left Lane News

Both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrids were the type of alternative vehicles we could actually live with. Steering has been firmed up to give more road feel, without the numb, dead spot that tends to live on center. We found a normal tip-in that didn't make us feel that we were putting all our foot into the accelerator before we were able to get underway.

Aggressive driving from us during our first drive had both vehicles acting in a manner that actually rewarded our bad behavior. The Sonata PHEV even went so far as to chirp the tires during rapid starts from stoplights on California's Pacific Coast Highway. It's kind of like drinking a Diet Coke, where you get all the taste without the guilt. Yes, we consider an observed 38.3 mpg while behaving like hooligans to be guilt free.

Most plug-in hybrids today seem to function like glorified replicas of standard hybrids with larger batteries and charge ports, but a driving experience and feel that is basically identical. For many hybrid vehicles, moving the car using only electric power means feathering the throttle, at levels that border on unsafe at times. Push too hard for an instant and the gas engine snaps to life. However, the Sonata PHEV is the first plug-in I've driven that functions as if it takes the EV (electric vehicle) portion of its name seriously.

The PHEV does a terrific job transitioning between gas and electric driving as well in terms of both acceleration and deceleration. Start to coast on the highway and you can see the energy information screen flip through hybrid mode to idle to engine brake charging to charging mode with the engine completely off. All of these shifts are not reflected in the cabin; to occupants it just feels like letting off the gas. But in that time, the Sonata PHEV has used three different modes to add some power back to the battery and cut the engine to conserve fuel.

Green Car Reports

The Sonata Plug-In Hybrid has a habit that commuters eager to ‘go electric’ most of the time are going to dislike: Just as in the Toyota Prius Plug-In and the Ford C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, Electric Mode doesn’t necessarily mean that the powertrain is going to stay all-electric.

There’s simply no way to lock out the gasoline engine. You hear about Chevy Volt drivers going months without the gasoline engine starting, but that won’t be the case here, as just taking off a little too quickly from a stoplight or facing an uphill that’s a little too steep will be cause for the four-cylinder engine to fire up.

Ride quality feels a bit more softly sprung than, say, a Camry Hybrid, and the experience is reasonably plush though a jarring hit from the tarmac can intrude. Otherwise the watchword is smooth – both while rolling and coming to a stop. The brakes definitely feel improved and this is not that easy to do for regenerative setups, as hybrids including the Sonata before have felt less progressive.

We can’t tell you the PHEV’s engine note during suburban driving because it went all 28.2 miles of the first stretch in EV mode without the engine kicking on once.


We used the EV drive exclusively through the small towns along the coast and found the car’s projected EV range estimates to be relatively accurate in normal driving. The Sonata PHEV was easy to keep in EV mode without the gas engine kicking in and provided adequate, if not exciting, acceleration from the electric motor. The cabin remains quiet in around-town driving, but on the freeway road noise begins to encroach a little. The ride is composed and comfortable, though the electric power steering—never a Hyundai strong suit—lacks much road feel.


I was able to drive the Plug-In in Electric mode for about fifteen miles at speeds up to 75 MPH, and it was glorious. Totally silent, totally efficient. I’m downright envious of anybody who has the luxury of doing their full daily commute in EV mode.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.