Hyundai Enters the Hybrid Market Late, But With a Bang

At the 2010 New York Auto Show today Hyundai unveiled its brand new 2011 Sonata Hybrid Bluedrive. The car will be Hyundai’s first hybrid offering when it goes on sale later this year.

Sporting a bunch of firsts on a mass market hybrid including a set of next generation lithium-polymer batteries and a 6 speed automatic transmission, the Sonata Hybrid is a true competitor right out of the gate. As a full parallel hybrid, the Sonata can operate solely on its electric motor or its combustion engine, or a combination of both.

All other hybrids currently on the road use the older Nickel Metal Hydride batteries. Some new hybrid models that are set to be released this year will switch over to the lighter and higher energy density lithium-ion batteries… but no other auto manufacturer has yet to adopt the next generation lithium polymer batteries that Hyundai will include standard on every Sonata Hybrid. Already common in portable consumer electronics, lithium polymer batteries are perfect for vehicle applications due to their durability and higher power density than even lithium-ion batteries.

Hyundai has also outdone other hybrid offerings by including a 6 speed automatic transmission. Most hybrids out there have continuously variable transmissions, which, although efficient, certainly leave something to be desired in the acceleration department. With the in-house designed 6 speed — a first for any hybrid offered on the US market as far as I’m aware — Hyundai has added performance back into the hybrid driving experience.

Hyundai is estimating the the Sonata Hybrid will return 37 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. When compared to other vehicles, such as the Toyota Camry Hybrid, those numbers are best-in-class. The Sonata is also capable of traveling at speeds up to 62 mph in electric only mode — besting the Ford Fusion Hybrid’s 47 mph electric only limit.

Hyundai was not able to provide pricing for the Sonata Hybrid yet, but, given that it’s a Hyundai, you can expect it to be very competitive. Looks like we finally have some real competition in the mid-size hybrid market.


Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.