One of the coolest-looking and most technically advanced gas-electric offerings to grace the stands in New York, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will definitely be a player to watch when it goes on sale later this year. Like other Hyundai products, the automaker's first hybrid makes a determined and impressive effort to stretches the envelope of convention in an attempt to grab ever larger chunks of market share from any and all more established brands.
The first hint that something different this way comes is seen in the car's dramatic styling that carry Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" design philosophy to an entirely new level. Bolder and more aerodynamic front/rear fascias, redrawn lighting elements, unique side sills and eco-spoke alloy wheels are complemented by bespoke paint and badging. But the real story here is in what lies behind its Blue Will Concept-inspired fascia.
Motivating the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is the latest in Hyundai's Hybrid Blue Drive architecture. It teams a 2.4-liter port-injected Theta II four-cylinder gasoline engine that operates on the Atkinson Cycle with a 30kW electric motor/generator powered by an advanced Lithium-Polymer (Li-Poly) battery. Making its first appearance in a production car, Li-Poly technology is the next step beyond today's lithium-ion (Li-Ion) chemisty and literally years ahead of nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) packs due to its more robust architecture with increased power density capability and even more compact size.
Collectively, the Sonata Hybrid's dynamic gas-electric duo crank out a combined 209 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, more on both counts than any of its current Hybrid Rivals from Ford, Lexus, Nissan or Toyota. According to John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America, that class-leading might is also right on when it comes to the car's 37 city/39 highway projected mpg stats. "Unlike traditional hybrids that trade off highway fuel economy for higher city ratings, the Sonata Hybrid delivers best-in-class highway fuel economy, while still delivering about a 40 percent improvement in city fuel economy compared to a Sonata equipped with the Theta II GDI engine. We think this is a better balanced approach for the majority of car buyers." And because Hyundai's Hybrid Blue Drive is true parallel system, this new Sonata also can run up to 62 mph on electric power alone.
One other key difference in the Hybrid Blue Drive package is that it incorporates Hyundai's own six-speed automatic in place of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) used in most other hybrid systems This compact and extremely efficient transmission, combined with the hybrid starter/generator, electric motor and low-friction oil pump eliminate the need for a conventional torque converter. Like other hybrids, the Sonata does employ mileage-maxing start/stop circuitry and regenerative braking as well as a "smart brake" throttle override system.
Inside, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid sports unique color and seat trim as well as a Hybrid Technology Display that keeps a driver appraised of a variety of operational conditions via a dedicated 4.2-inch LCD display in the instrument cluster or the 7.0-inch center screen that's part of the optional navigation package. Not to be one-upped in the greener-than-thou department, the Hybrid Technology Display contains a high-definition Eco Level scoring system that grades driving technique using eight different shades of sky color, from gray to bright blue and keeps tabs on both instant and accumulated fuel-use habits.