CHATHAM, Mass. – Once upon a time there was a dowdy sedan called the Sonata; four-doors, functional, good value, but nothing special in the extremely competitive mid-size segment. With the introduction of the 2020 Sonata, Hyundai let the automotive world know it was definitely a player.
Since its 1985 introduction, the Sonata has gone through several evolutionary generations until the latest iteration can clearly go toe-to-toe with stalwarts like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
This is especially true in the technological tour-de-force hybrid version like we drove last week.
Attention to aerodynamic details results in striking appearance
The 2021 Sonata Hybrid Limited (carried over without any changes from 2020) is a sleek, roomy four-door sedan about as far from the original 1985 version in terms of design as one can get and remain a mid-size four-door sedan.
The fastback styling of the 2021 results in more than a well-sculpted body as the lines, along with features like a cross-hole grille with active air flaps, a rear spoiler and aerodynamic alloy wheels, result in a 0.24 coefficient of drag, putting this sedan into the company of expensive sports cars when it comes to aerodynamic efficiency.
Slipping through the air helps keep wind noise down as well as increasing fuel efficiency, a strong suit of the Sonata Hybrid. The Hyundai boasts the best federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highway figure – 51 miles per gallon in Limited trim – amongst its primary rivals (Camry and Accord hybrids at 47 mpg). The EPA rates the Sonata Hybrid at 45 mpg in its city cycle and 47 combined, but several hundred miles of Cape Cod motoring resulted in a stunning 60.8 mpg!
Hyundai Emphasizes Safety Content on 2020 Sonata
Another design feature with “hidden” benefits is the black-glass roof. It looks like a fairly common glass moonroof, but the panel on the Sonata Hybrid is not there to let light into the cabin – it is the Hyundai Solar Roof System (SRS) which can recharge the hybrid battery while preventing unnecessary battery discharge when the car is off. The SRS can also increase the electric-driving range by a couple of miles after six hours of charging.
Technology adds to a positive driving experience
The Sonata’s beauty extends well beyond its sensuous body. This is a relaxing, enjoyable driving vehicle. Quiet, solid, secure are one-word descriptors which kept coming to mind as I drove – in traffic on the Mid-Cape Highway; on the downhill curves coming from the ocean coast in Wellfleet, and maneuvering through the autumnal scenery along Route 6A and the Cape Cod Bay. I enjoyed spending time in this car!
A VERY comprehensive suite of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) Hyundai calls Safety Sense Technologies differentiates the Sonata Hybrid Limited from the competition, rivaling what is considered the norm for luxury cars. Utilizing three radar sensors, 12 ultrasonic sensors and five cameras, the ADAS features include:
- Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)
- Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist
- Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist
- Lane Keeping Assist
- Advanced Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go
- Highway Driving Assist
- Reverse Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist
- Surround-view monitor
The Blind-Spot View Monitor with the Sonata’s outside mirror-mounted cameras offers the driver an enhanced field of vision. The Blind-Spot Collision Warning (BCW) system helps scan for vehicles, bicyclists, etc. in the driver’s blind spot.
If the driver activates a turn signal, an image of the view from the corresponding wing mirror appears in the 12.3-inch instrument-cluster display. If a vehicle is detected in the blind spot, audible and visual alerts are provided.
Driving on Cape Cod where bicyclists think they own all roads, this feature can save lives – thus system means a bike cannot sneak up on the blind side of a Sonata Limited driver about to make a right turn.
Equipped like a luxury car
All was not perfect with the Sonata Hybrid. My usual companion found the lack of height adjustment ability for the powered front passenger seat annoying, leaving her feeling too low (unusual feature failure in such a well-appointed car). Finding a perfect driving position, though, was simple with the power-adjustable driver’s seat and once found could be easily stored in the two-person memory.
Those seats are leather covered, heated and ventilated. Heating elements also enhance the usability of the outside rearview mirrors and the leather-covered steering wheel.
The steering wheel, like most of today’s cars, is covered with buttons controlling the infotainment, cruise control and driver information center in that 12.3-inch color LCD instrument cluster. Other, well located and easily operated dash buttons operate the climate-control system and a real volume dial is a perfect supplement to the control on the steering wheel.
A large, clear 10.25-inch color touch screen dominates the top of the dashboard providing information about one, two or three of the Sonata Hybrid’s infotainment, navigation or vehicle systems, depending upon the driver’s preference.
A Bose Premium Audio system with 12 speakers – including a nine-inch subwoofer – presents the sounds from the infotainment’s sources: AM/FM/SiriusXM/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/streaming audio.
Of course, with all these luxury/technology features Hyundai included keyless entry and pushbutton start/stopping, but then went one step further with the Hyundai Digital Key. A dedicated mobile app, near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth technology allows the Sonata to be unlocked, started and driven without a physical key or fob via a smartphone.
Making the Sonata Hybrid stop and go
The Sonata Hybrid combines the power and efficiency of a 150-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 51-horsepower electric motor. Computer control maximizes operational efficiency, including all-electric operation when appropriate.
Stopping the Sonata Hybrid is also a combination of technologies. In this case regenerative braking will slow the car while sending energy back into the batteries (and saving friction-brake wear). The friction-brake setup puts discs at all four wheels (12-inch vented rotors in the front, 11.2-inch sold in the rear) controlled by an anti-lock system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution and electronic stability control. An electronic parking brake completes the package.
It’s a value proposition
I’m scratching the surface of all the features, equipment and satisfaction provided by the 2021 Sonata Hybrid Limited – and everything mentioned comes as standard equipment at a very value-oriented $35,300 (plus $995 freight). That’s it – nothing extra unless you want to add some accessories like floor mats.
Amongst those competitors mentioned earlier, the Sonata Hybrid Limited stands out and deserves a long look if it fits your needs and budget.