2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid follow-up review: How fast does it go?

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Here’s a question: How fast can the 2016m Hyundai Sonata Hybrid go on its electric motor alone? How about 75 mph. There’s a catch, of course. That’s only at light throttle and under conditions, and only until the battery runs down and needs recharging. But it’s still a remarkable achievement and a demonstration how far technology has come.

More noticeable is that it stays in electric mode in everyday driving than earlier hybrids have been able to do. We’ll credit that in part to the change in the relative sizes of the gas engine and electric motor. For 2016, the gasoline engine is smaller, only two liters compared to 2.4-liters of its predecessor.

To compensate for the smaller engine, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has a bigger electric motor. Sonata Hybrid’s “Nu” direct-injection engine is rated at 154 horsepower (38 kW) with 140 lb. ft. of torque. The electric motor produces 51 horsepower and 151 lb. ft. of torque. Combined, the Hybrid system’s net power is 193 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited dash

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited has a different instrument panel and additional hybrid-related screens on the multi-information display. (click to enlarge)

Compare that to the 2015 Sonata Hybrid: 199 horsepower total, with a 35 kW electric motor. What that means: We didn’t drag race the 2015 versus the 2016, but the horses of the older car versus the torque of the earlier, we’d bet a heads up finish.

Not that most Sonata Hybrid drivers will indulge in any stoplight grand prix, but the Sonata Hybrid feels peppy enough around town and adequate for the typical highway merge.

Incidentally, the new engine also has an electric oil pump instead of the conventional oil pump. Why that matters: The conventional pump is geared directly to the engine. The faster the engine goes, the more oil the pump will try to pump, even if the engine doesn’t need that much oil. And that makes mechanical drag. An electric pump doesn’t do that, running only as much as needed. It won’t be noticeable. It’s a small thing, but small things add up.

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid isn’t going to feel particularly strange to the average driver. Instead of the usual continuously variable transmission, Hyundai has stuck with the conventional six-speed automatic. The Hybrid’s electric motor and clutch—Transmission-Mounted Electrical Device—go where the torque converter would normally go.

And it’s quiet at idle—completely silent when the engine is stooped and the Sonata running on battery juice, of course—but the transition to engine running is smooth an unobtrusive. Casual acceleration stays solely on the electric motor longer than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and accelerates quicker on electricity as well.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited under the hood

With a plastic cover, there’s not a lot the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited under the hood that looks particularly unusual. (click to enlarge)

Hyundai improved the battery pack. The lithium-polymer battery pack carries a 1.62 kWh rating. Hyundai says that’s a 13 percent improvement. What’s more, Hyundai has been able to fit the battery pack under the trunk floor, giving the trunk a flat floor, unlike hybrids that put the battery pack against the backs of the rear seats, which in turn allows 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

Those who are keeping track of the players on their scorecards will notice that the non-hybrid Sonata got an entirely new look last year while the Hybrid (and Plug-in Hybrid, see Buzzardette B.J. Killeen’s first drive review here) stayed the same as before. The two hybrid models play catch up this year. The new style is a step back for those who consider the previous Sonata’s extravagant curves and creases high style, actually rather plain.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

On the other hand, Hyundai massaged the shape to get an amazingly low 0.24 coefficient of drag, a figure once difficult for concept and experimental vehicles to achieve. Hyundai credits in part “purposefully unique wheels” and front and rear fascia unique to the Hybrid for the low aerodynamic drag (though one wonders, if it’s good for the Hybrid, why not the regular Hybrids?)

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s powertrain and aerodynamics yield an EPA standards fuel economy rating of 39 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. We were able to achieve 36.3 mpg, without hypermiling tricks. We’ll point out that our test venue was in a fuel-economy zapping hilly area. Even regenerative braking on the downslopes can’t recover all the kinetic energy bought on the upgrades.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Pricing for the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid starts at $26,000 for the base SE trim level while the well-equipped Limited starts at $30,100. The Ultimate package—panoramic sunroof, various electronic safety equipment, navigation and more—on our test vehicle added $4,500, and floor mats, wheel locks and such, plus destination brought the bottom line to $35,765.

Which is how fast—the other how fast—the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid can go through your wallet. At least the the gas doesn’t flow very quickly, and that’s the point.

Specifications and window sticker on next page.