2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid - First Drive
Hyundai flips conventional hybrid thinking on its head to deliver maximum real-world fuel economy
With about 75% of hybrids sold carrying a Toyota badge, Hyundai is hoping to steal some sales away from the Japanese auto giant with its first hybrid, based on the mid-size Sonata. But rather than go after the distinctively packaged Prius, Hyundai is targeting the slower selling, more discreet Camry Hybrid, in a bid to continue its incredible growth over the last couple of years.
DISTINCTIVE LOOKS SET HYBRID MODEL APART
While the Camry Hybrid and Ford’s Fusion Hybrid are virtually identical to their conventional counterparts, the Sonata Hybrid takes a page out of the Prius playbook by adopting a distinctive look that sets it apart from other Sonatas. The most prominent difference is a new front fascia with a big, gaping grille that resembles a catfish’s mouth. The new front end is actually more flattering than the description suggests, and even makes the Sonata look a little more aggressive. The Hybrid also gets exclusive headlamps, wheels and a rear bumper to further distinguish itself apart from the regular car. The result is a lower drag coefficient of 0.25 (the same as the Prius), which reduces fuel consumption by making the car more aerodynamic.
It goes without saying that much of the fuel saving technology lies under the skin of the Sonata Hybrid, but Hyundai has taken an innovative route to furthering the car’s fuel economy. Rather than focus solely on the hybrid system, Hyundai has also tackled one of the chief criticisms of hybrid cars – their substantial curb weight.
Weighing in at 3,457 lbs, the Sonata Hybrid is 263 pounds lighter than the Fusion Hybrid and 223 lbs less than a Camry Hybrid. Credit this to the Sonata’s lightweight structure (the standard Sonata is also a fair bit lighter than its rivals) and a proprietary battery made of lithium-polymer. These batteries use a multitude of paper thin cells stacked on top of one another, and only add 96 pounds to the car’s curb weight. The downside is that trunk space is cut from 16 to 11 cubic feet.
Other fuel economy savings have been made up thanks to electric power steering, regenerative braking and a start-stop system for the gasoline engine.
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