Fuel prices may not be at an all-time high like they were in 2014 but that's not stopping people from searching out fuel-efficient alternatives. Diesel still hasn't grabbed as big of a slice of the U.S. market like some automakers had hoped while others, like Hyundai, push on with hybrid powertrains. The latest example of hybrid technology from the Korean automaker comes in the form of the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid models. It's no secret that California is the biggest hybrid market in the country and Hyundai plans to treat it as such as it will be one of the first of 10 states to get the Sonata Plug-in. All 50 states will have the opportunity to buy a Sonata Hybrid though so we got behind the wheel of both models to see how each fare.   

Hydraulic braking

For the 2015 model year, the Hyundai Sonata with a conventional powertrain was redesigned while the hybrid carried over. Now, a year later, we finally get the hybrid powertrain in the latest generation Sonata and there's much to recommend. Our biggest gripe with the previous Sonata Hybrid was that the brakes were hard to modulate and bit down too hard even when slightest amount of force was applied. That's been rectified for the 2016 model year and now the Sonata Hybrid is easy to manipulate in stop-and-go traffic thanks in part of a new hydraulic braking system. Before, the regenerative function would make braking feel delayed but now the hydraulic setup steps in to maximize the initial torque ramp-up and slow the car down before the regen process kicks in.

A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, is paired with a 38 kW electric motor that produces 51 horsepower. This combination is good for an output of 193 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission handles gear changes and goes about its business smoothly. The new Sonata uses advanced high-strength steel that adds chassis stiffness without compromising a quiet ride. During hard accelerations onto the highway, the Sonata Hybrid's engine was a bit buzzy but not any worse than the competition's offerings. At speed, the cabin is quiet and it's easy to talk with passengers. The EPA has rated the standard 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at 39 city/43 highway/41 combined mpg while the Sonata Hybrid SE model will achieve 40 city/44 highway/42 mpg combined. The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will begin appearing in showrooms later this summer and pricing will be announced then. 

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Limited plug-in availability

If you're interested in a 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, you'll need to either live in or go to California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island or Vermont to order one. In all, about 240 Hyundai dealerships will offer the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid. California and Oregon will be the first to begin taking orders on the plug-in model as Hyundai expects the majority of sales to come from these two states. If you live in one of the 40 other states not mentioned and still want a Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, never fear. No one will stop you from going to one of these states to purchase one and bringing it home.  Hyundai has said that the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will be in select showrooms later this fall with pricing to be announced shortly before launch. 

Like the standard hybrid, the Sonata Plug-in utilizes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's rated at 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. A 50 kW electric motor contributes an additional 67 horsepower raising the final output to 202 horsepower. With a full charge, Hyundai claims you can travel up to 24 miles strictly in EV mode. We were able to beat the claim by a solid four miles during our drive with it. Maximum EV speeds checks in at 75 mph before the engine kicks in. Hyundai claims that the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will achieve an equivalent of 93 MPGe and will take about three hours to charge completely when connected to a 240-volt (Level 2) power source and nine hours when connected to 110-volt (Level 1) power. 

Hyundai has done a nice job packaging the battery on both models so that it's not as intrusive. Vehicles like the Ford Fusion Energi and Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid stuff the battery behind the seat and, in turn, cut into cargo space. When you open the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid's trunk, on the other hand, you'll notice that there's enough room for a week's worth of groceries because the battery has been partially hidden below in the spare tire well. Obviously that doesn't bode well if you get a flat while out and about but Hyundai offers a 5-year/unlimited mile roadside assistance warranty. All Hyundai vehicles are covered by an industry-leading 10-year/100,000 mile warranty and that includes the powertrain and hybrid-related components. The hybrid battery is covered for the life of the vehicle. 

Verdict

After a few hours spent behind the wheel of both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid models we walked away impressed with both. The Sonata Hybrid sits in the middle of the pack in terms of EPA fuel ratings when compared with the Ford Fusion Hybrid (44 city/41 highway/42 mpg combined) and Toyota Camry Hybrid (43 city/39 highway/41 mpg combined). The Honda Accord Hybrid leads the segment in terms of fuel efficiency though with an EPA rating of 50 city/45 highway/47 mpg combined. However, like the Honda Accord Hybrid, the Sonata Hybrid is a solid choice in a segment stocked with fuel efficient, comfortable offerings. If your daily commute is a long one and you're looking to spend less time at the pump, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is a good solution. 

Other Alternatives...

Check out our list of 10 Best Hybrid Cars Under $30,000 to see what else is available in the segment. 


 

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