2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco road test: A lot more than just frugal

2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco

2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco

With the addition of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco to the lineup of the South Korean automaker’s 7th generation mid-size family sedan, the hard-charging company has made a buyer’s decision more difficult.

What the Eco brings to the Sonata showroom is a slightly more efficient powertrain than the two initial offerings and pricing that is slotted between the less expensive models and the most expensive ones.

And that’s why the decision gets dicey.

Hyundai Sonata Eco instrument panel

Hyundai Sonata Eco instrument panel

Sonatas powered by the base 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine generate 185 horsepower and 178 pound of torque and return an EPA-estimated fuel mileage of 25 mpg city/37 highway/29 overall. Prices range from $21,150 to $31,575, They offer the widest variety of options so a buyer can best equip the car according to his needs and desires.

The top-of-the-line Sonata is powered by a turbocharged, 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that generates 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and returns an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/35 highway/28 overall. Prices range from $28,575 to $33,525

Now along comes the Eco with a turbocharged 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder powerplant that generates 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque and returns an estimated 28 mpg city/38 highway/32 overall on regular fuel. Base price is $23,275. Add the Technology Package and carpeted floor mats, the only options available, and the price jumps to $28,310, including the $810 delivery charge.

All Sonatas have an updated version of Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design language that strives to give the exterior a more conservative and integrated look. The new sedans also have a stiffer body structure and a revised interior that is quieter and a bit roomier.

Sonata Eco front seats

Sonata Eco front seats

So, which one do you choose? Several years ago, I drove a Sonata  with a slightly more powerful, 198 horsepower, 2.4-liter engine in a previous generation and found it to be entirely satisfactory in accomplishing its family transportation mission.

I have not driven a Sonata with the 2-liter Turbo engine so I cannot report on that. But, if you want everything the Sonata has to offer, that’s the way to go.

And that leaves the Eco, which I found to be satisfactory in every measure that I consider to be important. But that’s just me. You may find more to like in one of the other choices. Anyway, let’s take a closer look at it.

First of all, the Eco offers something the other models do not —- a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It does not offer super snappy shifts, like some dual-clutch transmissions, but engine and transmission together are the reason the Eco offers the best fuel efficiency.

The powertrain also offers three selectable modes —- Eco, Normal and Sport. As expected, Normal adds a little more pep at a small cost in fuel mileage, and Sport ups the performance ante even more, allowing the engine to spin further up the power band before shifting to a higher gear.

Sonata Eco rear seats

Sonata Eco rear seats

After a brief experiment with Normal and Sport, I settled on Eco for most of a week and several hundred miles to determine if it truly offered a satisfactory combination of power and efficiency.

The car produced no adrenaline rush, but I never felt there was any lack of power. Then again, there is a reason why they call my home turf in South Carolina the low country. There are precious few hills much steeper than a speed bump.

Still, if you really are in a hurry, you can zip from a stop to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds.

There can be a lot of traffic, though, and I did find myself slogging along during rush hour, especially on the busy roads that bring visitors to Charleston on the weekends.

Still, my fuel mileage ranged from the mid-20s to the mid-30s and the overall average came to 30.3 miles per gallon.I was satisfied.

But, the five-passenger sedan also proved its mettle in other ways.

It wasn’t sporty, but with its upgraded independent suspension —- MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear wheels —- it offered a comfortable, quiet ride and its handling was satisfactory on the open road and on the back roads.

The Sonata Eco starts with the features of the base Sonata SE and adds, among other things, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, trip computer, a chrome grille, turn signals on the outside mirrors, automatic on/off headlights, 10-way power driver’s seat, 5-inch color touch screen for the audio system, Blue Link Telematics system and chrome interior door handles.

One tiny badge separates the Sonata Eco from its stablemates

One tiny badge separates the Sonata Eco from its stablemates

The $4,100 Technology Package includes navigation system with voice command technology, 9-speaker premium audio system, hands-free trunk opener, keyless entry and ignition, leather seating, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, 4.2-inch color information display, HD radio technology and satellite radio capability with Travel Link, which provides traffic information, sports scores, weather stock prices and more.

Standard safety features include a full complement of airbags, including driver’s knee airbag; side curtains; impact reducing front seats; rearview camera; stability control; traction control; and four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist. The Technology Package adds a blind-spot detection system with rear cross-traffic alert.

With the Technology Package, the 2015 Sonata Eco comes across as an upscale vehicle with lots of desirable electronic and safety equipment. Add in adequate performance and excellent fuel economy, and it might qualify for many buyers as the Sonata with the most desirable combination of features.

But, if fuel efficiency is your No. 1 priority, you might want to wait for the hybrid Hyundai Sonata. It is due out soon.

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