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2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Test Drive Review
The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid delivers impressive fuel economy without sacrificing any of the attributes that make it a terrific family sedan.
Over the past two decades, our understanding of what a hybrid can be has changed. Hybrids have grown from standalone models like the Toyota Prius to more mainstream SUVs and sedans. Today, many of the most popular sedans on the road are offered with hybrid powertrains, including the 2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. It offers all the trappings of a comfortable, well-equipped midsize sedan with a fuel-efficient powertrain that also delivers solid performance.
Look and Feel
The eight-generation Hyundai Sonata was introduced for the 2020 model year and is carried over into the 2021 model year largely unchanged. The new look is bold compared to its predecessor. Even in a sedan market where many of the entries are embracing aggressive styling, the Sonata Hybrid stands out. Comparing to other hybrid midsize sedans, the Honda Accord Hybrid feels more upscale at times and has a more powerful hybrid system that yields better acceleration. The Camry Hybrid has similar performance, though its steering can feel numb at times. The Camry Hybrid also has a smaller trunk and its infotainment has comparatively low resolution.
Some may be put off by the catfish-like styling, but it is sure to stand out in a crowded parking lot! Our test model came with a sharp-looking matte gray paint scheme. It works well with neat details like the integrated deck-lid spoiler and aerodynamic strakes in the taillights.
While the exterior is designed to turn heads, the cabin is more conventional and refined. Our test model came with plenty of soft-touch surfaces, though the dash is still hard to the touch. Despite being a high-tech cockpit, all the buttons are located logically on a modern, haptic bezel that surrounds the vivid touchscreen infotainment system. The seats are comfortable and supportive, even for long trips. Rear-seat passengers will be comfortable as well.
Trims for the Sonata Hybrid are Blue, SEL, and Limited. The Blue comes standard with 16-inch “Eco-spoke” aerodynamic wheels, cloth upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and push-button start.
The SEL adds dual USB ports, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a wireless charging pad, a Bose premium audio system, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and four-way power-adjustable front seats. The SEL also adds 17-inch Eco-spoke wheels, heated side mirrors, and acoustic glass for the front doors.
We drove the range-topping Limited trim. One of its key highlights/party tricks is its solar panel roof. The Limited also adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, full LED headlights, leather upholstery (including a leather dashboard), heated-and-ventilated front seats, and a larger touchscreen. The SEL also adds a rear center armrest with cupholders, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, LED cabin lighting, and ambient interior accent lighting with 64 customizable colors.
The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, combined with an electric motor and a battery pack. The whole system provides a combined 192 horsepower, routed to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Our Limited test model also came equipped with a solar panel integrated into the roof. Hyundai claims the solar-roof feature adds about two miles per day to the Limited’s overall driving range.
The Sonata Hybrid provides solid pickup, especially for a hybrid. It is quick off the line and has enough power to get up to highway speeds and overtake. Down by the center console is a Drive Mode toggle, allowing the driver to select Eco, Sport, Custom, and Smart drive modes. Even in Eco, the Sonata Hybrid responds to laying on the throttle, and Smart mode will switch between Eco and Sport based on your driving behavior. Switching between drive modes requires cycling through the different modes, rather than a button or dial that allows you to select each one directly. On the plus side, Hyundai has flashy graphics in the instrument panel when you change drive modes. So there’s that.
The Sonata Hybrid often starts in battery-only mode, so there are plenty of visual aids to let you know the car is ready to drive. Once you put it in drive and start moving, the engine seamlessly kicks in. As one might expect, the Sonata Hybrid also has an auto stop-start system. The transition for the motor to start again is minimally intrusive, though the engine does tend to make some noise under hard acceleration.
We were impressed with the Sonata Hybrid’s refined driving dynamics. The steering is light but precise, and there is hardly any body roll in turns. The brakes deliver solid stopping power, but also have a soft, refined pedal feel.
Form and Function
The Sonata Hybrid provides an even 16 cubic feet of trunk space. That’s the same as the conventionally-powered Sonata, and it's one of the larger trunks among midsize hybrid sedans. The Honda Accord Hybrid has slightly more space (16.7 cubic feet), but the Sonata has more than the Camry Hybrid (15.1 cubic feet).
The cabin provides plenty of legroom for front passengers. There’s even a decent amount of rear-seat space when a front seat is occupied. Four adults and their bags can fit into the Sonata Hybrid with relative comfort for a weekend trip. One setback is the rear door opening. The sloping, coupe-like profile results in a low roof area where an occupant will be lowering their head into the Sonata. Once inside, there is adequate rear headroom for adults.
Front passengers have cargo pockets in their doors, as well as a decently-sized center console. The tray at the bottom of the center stack houses the wireless charging pad in our test model but is otherwise a convenient place for your phone, wallet, or keys.
The Sonata Hybrid comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Moving up to the Limited adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and real-time traffic updates. Of course, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you can enjoy your preferred navigation apps. With the 10.25-inch screen in our test car, CarPlay only takes up two-thirds of the screen, with a customizable information panel on the remaining third. Other cars allow CarPlay to take over the entire screen. This would have been a nice detail that would have given the Sonata an even more upscale presence from the driver’s seat.
The touchscreen layout is intuitive, and the larger screen on our Limited test model had crisp graphics. The stereo features a traditional volume knob, which is not always a given on modern automobiles. To wit, it has haptic buttons for channel selection rather than a traditional dial, which would have been more helpful. But it still has haptic buttons for the radio, map, and vehicle settings. The SEL and Limited come with a wireless charging pad, and our Limited came with a head-up display (HUD) as well.
Of note for taller drivers, the HUD's adjustability is limited. You can adjust the display on the windshield, but the range of adjustment does not extend far enough for some taller drivers to see. It’s a strange quirk, and it cuts off part of the image. You should be able to see some or most of the information displayed.
The Sonata comes standard with a full suite of driver-assistance features, including forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. It also comes standard with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-follow assist, and a driver-attention monitor.
Our Limited test model came equipped with a head-up display, 360-degree surround-view parking monitor, and front and rear parking sensors.
The alerts for many of these safety features are not overly intrusive but still keep you informed. Even still, in the full-contact arena of driving near Boston, there are occasional false positives. A car slowing down to take a turn across traffic did activate the forward-collision warning, but these are often outlier cases.
The Sonata Hybrid often runs silently in parking lots. Because of this, there is always a light beeping noise that is emitted when the car is put in reverse. The Sonata Hybrid also has a clever feature that uses blind-spot monitoring to determine if there is an oncoming car when exiting the vehicle. These are all helpful features for safe, everyday driving, and (most of the time) work as advertised.
The Hyundai Sonata (including the Hybrid) is a 2021 Insurance Insitute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick. It earns top marks for its driver-assistance features and the optional LED headlights. The base headlights earn a score of “Marginal,” and do not cast as much light as the uprated units. The Sonata Hybrid earns a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Individual trims for the Sonata Hybrid have different EPA fuel-economy figures. The more efficient version is the Blue trim. It returns an EPA estimated fuel economy of 50 mpg city, 54 mpg highway, and 52 mpg combined. Fuel-economy figures for the SEL and Limited are 45 mpg city, 51 mpg highway, and 47 mpg combined.
Base MSRP for the 2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is $27,750 for the Blue trim. The SEL starts at $29,900. The Limited has a starting MSRP of $35,300 and comes with nearly every option found in the other two trims. The Sonata Hybrid is backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty for the powertrain and hybrid components.
The Sonata Hybrid has a higher starting price than the Honda Accord Hybrid ($26,370), and a similar starting price to the Toyota Camry Hybrid ($27,270). On the flip side, the top-end Accord Hybrid costs a thousand dollars more ($36,240) than the Sonata Hybrid Limited, while the range-topping Camry Hybrid costs less ($32,720).
Whether you are shopping for an entry-level trim or the Limited, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid offers a lot for the money. It comes with plenty of in-car tech and driver-assistance features and is available with plenty of creature comforts. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid shows just how well fuel-saving hybrid technology can be packaged in an attractive, comfortable midsize sedan.
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Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Questions
How did you figure the delivery cost of $566 from California to Oklahoma? Do you set that up or does the dealership?
I have the 2021 Sonata Hybrid Limited with the solar roof. On the infotainment center, under energy display, it doesn't show the animation for the solar roof. I've seen it displayed maybe once or ...