I Go to Texas With Honda, Part 2: the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid


2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

I wanted to like this car. As I walked up to the shining white Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, admiring its bold styling that didn’t remind me of any other single animal in the automotive kingdom, I really wanted to like it. After spending a few hours behind the wheel of Honda’s new-for-2014 Accord Hybrids and hitting the long “loop” of twisty, canyonesque roads surrounding San Antonio’s Èilan hotel hard in one of Ford’s excellent Fusion hybrids, however, it became clear that Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is in a different league.

Not in a good way.

As I said, I wanted to like the Sonata. My first new car, in fact, was a Hyundai. A Scoupe. That car’s tiny, 1.5 liter Alpha 3v engine gave back decent mileage and reasonable performance back before airbags and side-impact protection were things that made cars heavier. I liked it, even if I did only get 42,000 miles out of it before it went irretrievably bad. The early 90s were a different time for Hyundai, though. Besides, I liked the car in exactly the same way any teen likes their first real car that’s really theirs, you know? My next new car was also a Hyundai. A first-generation Tiburon that looked oh-so-much like Hyundai’s gorgeous HCD-iii concept coupe from 1995.

I followed that car up with a purple Sonata less than two years later.

This newer Hyundai Sonata Hybrid had nothing in common, visually, with that first one. That’s a good thing. In a world where too many cars can only be distinguished by their badges, the Sonata Hybrid looks like nothing else – except, perhaps, other Hyundais. Good on Hyundai’s design team, then. The interior of this Sonata Hybrid, also, is visually appealing. Still, the mouse-gray interior and something about the instrument cluster seems noticeably “cheaper” than the interiors of, for example, the Ford and the Honda hybrids. The other big interior difference was the 1-2-3-4-5-6 visible in one of the dashboard’s selectable LCD screens.

Every other hybrid Honda had on-hand at the Accord reveal/comparison drive that had a transmission in it at all (I’ll get to that) had a CVT. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is fitted with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

CVTs have their critics, sure – but I’m a believer. After a few miles of riding shotgun while Temple of VTEC‘s Jeff Palmer drove me around in the Honda Accord Hybrid with its “eCVT” and talking with the engineers on hand about how to get the most out of it, driving the eCVT “clicked”, and it stopped feeling like a slippy clutch, and started feeling like the most normal, natural thing in the world.

The Hyundai’s 6-speed? Not so much.

Left to its own devices, the Sonata Hybrid’s transmission seemed to “hunt” for gears in the hilly roads like an 80s Buick. It never found the right gear to hold, and switching into the car’s manu-matic mode just seemed to make things worse, with the transmission upshifting on its own mid-corner at least twice.

After the smooth, seamless drives I’d made earlier in the day, driving the Hyundai seemed downright tumultuous. I got out of the car feeling queasy and wishing my day was over – an uneasy feeling that followed me into the driver’s seat of the Toyota Camry Hybrid I drove immediately after the Sonata, and found me, eventually, horking on the side of the road a few minutes later.

So, is the Hyundai a bad car? Probably not. It’s probably just the thing for- I dunno. Let’s say “for your aunt”. It gets decent enough mileage, has that 100,000 warranty, comes with Hyundai Assurance, and it’ll look and feel “sporty” and “modern” to baby-boomers.

As for the under-40 crowd? Well … for their own sake, here’s hoping that Hyundai swings big on some transmission upgrades in their next mid-sized hybrid.


Original content from Gas 2.

About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

  • Wallace

    Hyundai’s are really garbage. I inherited a 2 year old Sonata. Drove it for almost one year until I could unload it on the next poor su cker. Although I gladly told the buyer about ALL the problems and I even complained about the company and they’re lack of warranty commitment. They still bought it from me. Hey it is not an American brand, grass is always greener over there, and who cares about assimilation anyway.

    This Sonata was supposed to get decent mpg, according to Hyundai. I averaged 20 mpg, which is a disaster. I am accustomed to getting more than stated mpg figuires with my GM cars. One factor in this, when you let off the accelerator on the Sonata, it quickly slows down, no coasting for Hyundai. So if you want to move, you constantly have to be depressing the gas. GM cars are the best coasters. In the period that I had the Hyundai, I had almost every warning light come up on the dash, including the air bag light. I brought the car back to a Hyundai dealer for their supposed bumper to bumper warranty. Well, for Hyundai, bumper to bumper does not mean bumper to bumper. Something about the Korean translation or something. Dealer wanted $90 just to look at the car. Then they said these air bag lights typically cost $500-900 to fix and they are not under warranty usually. Well, I did not get it fixed, which is ashame on a 2 year old car. For GM bumper to bumper is bumper to bumper, no charges and no question about it.

    The Hyundai in the less than one year I owned it, left me stranded once. Something to do with one of the check engine lights. Which I paid out of pocket to the station with the tow truck.

    When I sold that Hyundai the dash board looked like a christmas tree, all lit up.

    • When GM is doing something better than you …

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