Article,Review

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

4 Jun , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Ten years ago, I never thought I could use the phrase “sexy Hyundai” with a straight face. But every time I approached the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, I admired the styling, curves, and sporty cues provided by this sexy Hyundai. Does the beautiful design provide icing on the cake for a well-executed hybrid system or do the tactile sensations mask underlying problems? I drove the Sonata Hybrid for a week to find out.

2013-Hyundai-Sonata-Hybrid-Exterior-2

Overview

Whether they want to admit it or not, Hyundai has an uphill battle with the American car buying public. When friends and coworkers saw I had the Sonata Hybrid, many told stories of their Hyundai-owning experiences with failing parts, expensive repairs, and a general feeling of untrusting. They each conceded, however, that their stories are fifteen or twenty years old.

The 2012 Sonata Hybrid was available in a single package with multiple upgrade options. 2013 brings two trim levels: Base and Limited. Many of the upgrades from 2012 were simply incorporated into the 2013 Limited though some previous upgrades were made standard. The end result is two trim levels that provide enough options to help perspective Sonata Hybrid owners know which is right for them.

Exterior

Hyundai hasn’t changed much with the exterior of the Sonata from last year. From the side, the roofline is long and sleek extending from the hood to the trunk in a single, uninterrupted line. Rising up from the front tire along the side is the very distinguishable flair that joins the door handles and concludes just above the brake light assembly. Chrome trimming along the bottom of the doors offset the chrome detailing from the headlights to the rear. To aid with aerodynamics, the Sonata incorporates sharper rear corners. All these simple lines accentuate the length and draw the eye from front to back.

Like so many other manufacturers these days, Hyundai has adopted the wide-mouth, gaping grill. I know it’s just me but I’m simply not a fan of the look. Additionally, as a hypermiler, my first thought was how I could block that grill to keep the engine warm in the winter. Kudos, however, on the headlight assembly and fog lights. The projection headlamps are lined and wrapped in an LED accent creating a creative display when viewed from both front and side. By comparison, the fog lights are simplistic but their housing is chrome-lined and extended which create a larger look and feel. The combination of the headlights and fog lights cut a respectable presence in any rearview mirror.

2013-Hyundai-sonata-panaramic-sunroofOne of my favorite parts of the Limited package is the optional panoramic sunroof / moonroof. When closed and viewed from the outside, you can’t even tell the bulk of the roof is glass. When opened, the entire cabin is flooded with natural light and the entire roof is transformed. You can control the blinds for those particularly sunny days.

Using the keyless fob, you can unlock the driver’s door by pressing the button on the handle. The same button locks the doors so I guess you could think of it like a locking toggle. It was easy to unlock the doors this way without the need to get the fob out of my pocket. Of course, the same keyless fob allows you to start the car without inserting anything into the dash or steering column. So many manufacturers are moving towards the keyless fob approach, when I drive a car with a physical key, it just feels so last century.

Interior

The Limited package I drove was fully appointed in black leather. What’s not leather is molded plastic. In some places, the plastic seemed, well, plastic. In other applications, though, it didn’t catch my attention which, when you think about it, is a good thing.

2013-Sonata-Cockpit

Sitting and driving the Sonata Hybrid was extremely comfortable. The seats envelope the occupants with a firm, sporty feel.  It doesn’t hurt when the driver’s seat is electronically controlled in every conceivable direction including lumbar support. My wife was concerned that the dash might be too high for her if she were to drive the car. I raised the seat until I was pressed against the ceiling.

The overall cockpit is well designed. Almost all knobs and dials are reachable without much effort. Their placements all seem to make relative sense. As with all cars, you have to get accustomed to individual location. This is made easier when you realize that there was intentional placement and a logical grouping of buttons. I am not a fan of having a bright dashboard at night so I always look for a rheostat dimmer switch. The Sonata’s dimmer is a rocker switch located to the left of the steering wheel that dims or brightens the dash in prescribed increments, displayed on the dash. This is a nicer implementation, in my opinion, than a simple dial.

The dash combines analog dials with digital displays. The speedometer is analog as is an “ECO Guide” showing the amount of load you are putting on the car at the moment. Digital displays include the gas gauge and engine temp. The [EV Mode] light lets you know when the car is being powered exclusively by the battery and the [Ready] indicator lets you know the car is powered up and ready to go. All are easily seen through the steering wheel.

2013-Sonata-Dash

The ECO Guide, in my opinion, could have been better executed, however. The instructions are “blue is more eco and red is less eco.” This guide should show the point at which EV Mode will be forced to switch over to the engine due to load. Other hybrids, such as the Fusion Hybrid and the Gen3 Prius, have this feature and it allows the driver to push the pedal harder or lighter to either engage engine power or stay in EV mode.

Between the two large analog dials is the Trip Computer. I’ll try to keep it brief but I have a lot to say about the Trip Computer.

The amount of data you can glean from the Trip Computer is really quite substantial. There are nine different pieces of data you can view. Unfortunately, they are all on separate screens and you can only toggle through the screens in one direction. If you want to check the power split between the battery and the engine, you have to switch over to that screen. If you want to go back to instantaneous MPG, you have to flip all the way through all the other screens. You really just wanted to see two screens but had to flip through a total of nine. Some of them seem to have a lot of blank space while others had one piece of data (trip A, for example) accompanied by a large picture. It seems some could be combined with ease.

What is nice is that, according to the manual, the Trip Computer will display CAN-bus information. This is the type of information that illuminates a “check engine light” in other cars. The Trip Computer will display “Low Tire”, “Low Water”, Hybrid System Malfunction”, Hybrid Battery Issues”, and “Inverter Coolant Low”. I should also mention that this is where the “Door Open” and “Keys not in the vehicle” indicators appear. Additionally, if you press the (Start) button without your foot on the brake, the Trip Computer says, “Press Brake to Start Car”. So yeah, the Trip Computer really does convey a lot of information to the driver.

With all this information being displayed on the little screen, what’s left for the 7” LCD display? Primarily, Navigation and some screens about energy usage and efficiency.

The navigation seemed easy to use and the configuration screens made sense. There’s a list of previous destinations, which is nice if you find yourself going back to the same place multiple times but for some reason can’t remember where it is. One feature with the navigation I liked is that when you need to make a turn, it not only tells you to turn but also tells you the distance to and direction of your next turn. This might not seem like much to most people, but in large cities, it is common to have short distances between turns. Too many times I find myself trapped three lanes away from my turn. With this hint, you know whether an immediate lane change will be required even before you make the first turn.

Apparently, as you drive, you have the ability to earn “ECO Points” and “ECO Rewards”. I have been trying to figure out what I do with these. Can I cash them in like Skee-Ball tickets to get an oversized plastic comb? Am I supposed to post my ECO points online and compete with other HSH drivers? I drove around town, clocked a couple hundred miles, averaged 39.6mpg and earned 11 ECO Points. The weird part is that the first time I found this screen, I had 11 ECO points. Several days of climbing MPG later, I still had 11 ECO Points. What am I supposed to do to earn ECO Points? I don’t know what they are but I know I want them.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

There are three screens in the Hybrid Technology Display: Earth, Car, and Energy Flow. The Energy Flow is a really nice representation of the energy transition from ICE to Battery and Wheels. This is the typical hybrid screen we all know and love. Then there is the Earth screen in which there is a globe that spins and you can see energy flowing from the Engine, to the globe and then to the electric motor. A series of bars give you an ECO Level of some kind. The Car screen shows a side-view of the Sonata Hybrid rolling along a road. Leafs blow past and trees grow in the background as you drive more efficiently. A series of bars give you an ECO Level. The Energy Flow screen I get; I love watching this screen to see how I’m using the ICE and battery. The other two just aren’t for me. I clearly don’t understand them and I found them to be little more than screen savers.

2013-Sonata-MyEcoScore 250One of the available screens is called the “My Eco MPG” screen. It is a rolling bar chart showing your entire drive in 2.5-mile increments. A blue horizontal line represents the EPA mpg rating so you can see how each 2.5-minute segment compares. This type of display is good and bad at the same time. The bad part is that they only show you the past after there’s nothing you can do about it. In order for it to be good and useful, you must actually use the information. If you really want to improve your mileage, you would watch the “My Eco MPG” screen making notes of the segments where you see the lowest mpg. The next day – since you most likely drive the same route to work every day – try something different to see if you can improve the mileage of that segment. Sadly, most drivers wouldn’t take the time or make such an effort. Those of us who enjoy that type of constant monitoring in order to turn our boring commutes into a video game, however, love it.

2013-Sonata-AC-Controls-250Under the 7” screen is the Air conditioning cluster. At first, I was put off by the airflow indicator, which is a representation of an occupant showing air blowing at face-level, chest-level, and/or in the foot well. It just struck me as too large in comparison to the other buttons until I realized each part of the ‘body’ was a button in itself allowing the selection of airflow. With this display, there is no mistaking where the air is blowing.

Since it was particularly cold when I was driving this car, I became pretty familiar with the air conditioner. Specifically, the heater. I kept the heater on “Auto”, set to 65° and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the cabin came up to temperature. The automatic A/C adjusted the airflow, temperature, and direction as needed. Of course, running the heater makes the engine run more, which in turn reduces overall mileage. But seriously, when it’s 21° outside get over it. Besides, once the cabin was up to temperature, the engine was free to shut off again.

Speaking of air conditioning, I drove the Sonata Hybrid in an unseasonably cold November. With the outside temps in the 30s, the cabin heated quickly and the auto A/C maintained comfortable conditions.  Of course, some of the credit goes to the heated leather seats. Oh how I love heated seats.

Under the A/C controls is a clever little hidden cubby. Always a fan of using every square inch of space, I really liked this little nook. It’s just large enough for a pair of sun glasses or perhaps to throw in a wallet or phone if you don’t want someone to see it. The push-button opener looks like an accent detail and the door closes so flush a passerby wouldn’t even notice it.

2013-Sonata-Manual-GloveboxThe glove box is nothing worth mentioning other than that it is so small – and the owner’s manual so massive – that the glove box is actually just a holder for the manual. Seriously, the encyclopedia is comprised of the manual for the car, the manual for the navigation, tire information, and various pamphlets with warnings and advisories. The nice part is that it’s all contained in a holder pouch. The pouch also has a small pad of paper for taking notes and a ball-point pen.  Seriously: it comes with a ballpoint pen.

Driving Impressions

The first thing you notice when you start the car is that it plays a little tune and the dash animates. It plays the same tune when you shut the car off. This was very refreshing and sort of put me in a good mood from the start. The first time. And perhaps the second. By the end of the week, the song was getting a little old.

Let me say this: for not being a CVT, the gear shifting is remarkably smooth. This is from a Prius driver who has cringes anymore when I feel gears shifting. I was pleasantly impressed and actually had to look it up online to verify that the Sonata Hybrid actually has gears. Additionally, there wasn’t a lot of engine noise when the car switched from EV to engine. Of course, you hear the engine during high-rev and high-load situations. Overall, I felt that the car is very well insulated from outside noise. Very little road noise or wind noise at interstate speeds.

There is an aggressive use of the EV at low speeds. When I say “aggressive use” in reference to EV Mode, I’m referring to the car’s desire to use the battery and keep the engine off. I shuttled the car from one parking lot, onto a street, and into another parking lot, traveling a couple hundred yards and was in EV the entire time. The aggressive EV Mode shines when moving through low-speeds situation: parking lots, school zones, etc.

One of – if not the – most energy demanding situation for a vehicle is starting from a dead stop such as coming from a red light. With an aggressive EV mode, the Sonata Hybrid removes the high-throttle situation and allows the car to draw on the battery and electric motor. This seems like a good trade-off because you will have ample opportunity to replace the charge while driving.

However, this good idea still needs some refinement. There is a weird transition from dead-stop EV acceleration to engaging the engine. Work with me on this one: I’ve been thinking about this for several days and this is the only way I can think to explain what I was feeling. If you’ve ever driven a car with sluggish gear transitions, you know that there’s a brief moment between gears in which the car seems to stop accelerating. It’s not decelerating, mind you, just ever-so-briefly not accelerating. This is what I occasionally experienced with the transition from EV to engine when accelerating from a dead stop.

The acceleration through EV was acceptable. It was when EV mode disengaged and the engine took over that there was a moment of hesitation as though the engine was engaging just one second too late. It’s like the EV was handing over control to the engine but the engine wasn’t ready to take over. This was not an “every time” experience. I cannot explain whether it was my foot pressure or if it had to do with the temperature of the engine or its ability to lock into a gear on demand. But when it did happen, there was a sensation of “I’m not accelerating anymore.”

Am I making too much of this? At first I thought I was until I started reading other reviews and saw similar references. There are a few times in my regular commute where I turn left from a dead-stop waiting for a gap in the oncoming cars. When I initiate the turn and the acceleration pauses, my eyes immediately looked out the right window to see the approaching cars.

Hyundai has implemented a power strategy they call Blue Drive. Blue Drive uses a software algorithm to moderate the engine output and acceleration power curve in order to make the overall driving experience as fuel efficient as possible. By default, Blue Drive is engaged when you start the car. For high-acceleration or heavy load situations, there is a button on the steering wheel to disengage Blue Drive. When blue drive is active, the background of the trip computer is blue. When Blue Drive is inactive, the background trip computer is black.

Taking it one step further, the Sonata Hybrid has Sports Mode in which you can manually shift gears. Getting into Sports Mode is easy enough by sliding the shifter to the left into the manual shifting slots. In the same way that disengaging Blue Drive turns the dash black, sliding into Sports Mode turns the dash red. I played around with Sports Mode for a little while but quickly grew tired of having to think about shifting. I’m perfectly content not having to worry about shifting gears, thank you.

I really wanted to know how the Sonata Hybrid would perform in colder temperatures and what kinds of mileage numbers the average driver should expect. The temperatures ranged from 21° on the first day and 50° on the second-to-last day. To that end, my driving was not my regular hypermiling cautiousness. The heater was on almost the entire time and though I certainly incorporated smart driving techniques I was by no means really trying to “work” the car.

The EPA places the mileage for the Sonata Hybrid at 36c/40h with a combined 38. I was driving the Limited trim, which takes a 1-mpg hit with a combined 37mpg. Resetting the mileage statistics seemed like a chore and I was more interested in getting inside a warm building. As a result, I was keeping track of my overall, one-week rolling total. Kicking it off, at 21° I saw 36.5mpg; not bad for the very first day driving the car considering I didn’t yet know its ins and outs. Six days later, at 50°, the rolling total had moved up to 39.9mpg.

I returned it in the morning of the seventh day. I reset the mileage stats because I wanted to see how well I had come to know the car. At 36°, travelling 24 city and residential miles, I averaged 43.8mpg. This is 21% higher than the EPA city rating of 36mpg. This number was achieved purely by timing stoplights, not being aggressive, using the Blue Drive setting, and braking wisely. All basic stuff. No advanced or ‘crazy’ hypermiling techniques were involved. I was happily surprised.

Familability

The Sonata is a sedan capable of seating four adults comfortably. The front seats are very comfortable. The passenger seat can recline all the way back for napping on long trips. Additionally, I was surprised how far back the seats will slide providing a huge amount of legroom.

All the legroom comes at the expense of the backseat passenger. Though there is enough room in the back seat for a passenger to sit comfortably, they shouldn’t expect to do much with the front seats slid back. I’ve spent my share of time on airplanes and felt the front seat of the Sonata was more encroaching than the average airplane seat.

There are a total of 4 cup holders and 4 bottle holders. 2 each are located front and back. The difference between a cup holder and bottle holder is that the bottle holders are located at the bottom of each door and would most likely spill a cup. The two front cup holders are located in the center console. The rear two are contained in the pull-down arm rest.

2013-Sonata-Audio-JacksIn the center dashboard console are two cigarette-lighter style power outlets. In the 21st century, I would expect at least one actual 110v two-prong outlet. There is also a USB plug and an auxiliary audio plug. The USB is designed for phone integration. Unfortunately, my iPhone did not work with the Sonata Hybrid. This is not 2013-Sonata-MediaConnectionError 250-147
Hyundai’s fault. A quick search of the Internet revealed that Apple changed their phone integration something-or-another. Many users of iOS7 are reporting the same problems with multiple makes and models of vehicles. Many users had successful integration prior to upgrading their iPhone. My hope is that either Apple or Hyundai will be able to fix the problem with a simple software update.

The left and right side of the rear seats heat separately. Each side also has their own reading light, which does a nice job of providing light to the occupant without infringing on other passengers. Sitting in the back, there seems to be ample headroom for an adult but I question the comfort of anyone much taller than six foot or so. Built-in child seat braces are strategically located and easily accessible.

Many hybrid sedans are forced to trade trunk space for battery size. The Sonata Hybrid sports a decent sized truck. The floor size is 45 inches wide, 25 inches deep and 21 inches high. I was able to fit nine paper shopping bags with no problems. There was room on top for those high items. The rear lip of the trunk is low enough that not only is it easy to get the bags into the trunk, getting them out is just as easy without having to worry about throwing out your back.

2013-Sonata-Trunk-Bags

One of the more curious items is the trunk pass-through. Though the opening is larger, the battery creates an obstruction throttling it down to 7 inches wide 2013-Sonata-Trunk-PassThroughand six inches tall. This is not much. Additionally, the opening is half-way up the side of the trunk. Short things could be rested on the shelf created by the battery but if the item were that small you wouldn’t need to pass it through. This means any item long and thin enough to pass through will be dangling in the middle of the trunk. There reaches a point where having the pass-through is just more hassle than it’s worth. Unless, of course, the parts are the same for the non-hybrid version and there’s an efficiency of scale.

Overall Conclusion

I honestly enjoyed driving the Sonata Hybrid. Of course, I had the Limited trim package so we should take that into consideration. I like the styling of the exterior and feel that it reflects Hyundai’s desire to have the Sonata taken seriously as an introductory luxury sedan. I had no problem parking the Sonata Hybrid in front of my house or driving it around town.

Once inside, the cabin welcomes you in as it closes out the exterior noises. The cockpit seems very well thought-out and almost everything on the center console is easy to reach while driving without extending or getting distracted. The optional panoramic roof becomes less optional once you experience it in person. I was pleased with the speed at which the cabin heats cold weather. The leather seats are comfortable and heating them helps cut through the chill.

I understand why Hyundai keeps the car in EV mode during dead-stop acceleration but feel the transition from battery to engine could be much smoother. Beyond that nuance, the overall driving experience was pleasurable and seemed very refined. Average driving seemed capable of meeting or exceeding the EPA ratings for MPG. Even introductory hypermiling techniques – simple smart driving – allows for easy hypermiling status. There are more than enough digital screens to help the driver maximize mileage. Perhaps too many.

My cold-weather mileage experience pleasantly surprised me. My mileage met the EPA estimate on my coldest day and substantially passed it as the weather turned warmer. I’m looking forward to driving this car again in the summer to test its capabilities in better conditions.

The Sonata Hybrid is a capable family car with plenty of room for a family of four. The seats are ample for the kids to have their own space. The trunk is nicely sized and should prove sufficient for carrying the family’s things or a shopping trip.

In the end, I truly enjoyed my time with the Sonata Hybrid. Hyundai might have some old-standing opinions to change but with more vehicles like this one, I think they just might win them over.

 

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