This is the story of a long weekend in Hyundai?s new Sonata hybrid. But first?
Midsize vehicles ? in particular, sedans like the Sonata ? are becoming the hot battleground for conventional hybrid technology.
Tiny cars gain little from lugging around both gasoline and electric power trains: Highly efficient internal combustion or, in cities, battery power, seem best for them.
Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid systems are increasingly popular for SUVs and other hefty vehicles.
Hybrids? defining feature: They can be propelled by internal-combustion or battery power, or, in various ways, a combination of both. There?s no plug: Deceleration and braking recharge the battery.
The technology started in the compact Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, but mid-size is where most of the action is now ? the Sonata, Ford?s Fusion, Toyota?s Camry, Kia?s Optima, and some higher-end models from the likes of Lexus, Lincoln, BMW and Audi. And more are in the works, including, a Honda Accord late this year.
(GM offers Chevrolet and Buick models with eAssist, a mini-hybrid system, in which battery power helps the internal-combustion power train on occasion but can?t move the car on its own. Mazda is going its own way with diesel.)
Hybrids typically cost $4,000 more than similar gasoline-only vehicles, but promise lower fuel consumption with additional power.
As I?ve written before, their official fuel-economy numbers bear little resemblance to real-world results. The U.S. EPA plans to review its tests for hybrids, and Natural Resources Canada says it will eventually tag along.
So, back to the Sonata:
My partner, Denise, and I drove a 2013 ?Hybrid Blue Drive? to Kingston, then, among the hills north of Port Hope, as well as around Toronto.
Hyundai launched this Sonata model as a 2011. The second-generation looks almost identical, but it?s substantially changed under the skin.
It features the same 2.4-litre gasoline engine, six-speed automatic and lifetime-guaranteed lithium-polymer battery technology. (Less susceptible than regular lithium-ion to internal degradation as the ions move back and forth between the electrodes.)
But the electric motor output is bumped from 30 to 35 kilowatts, and the battery jumps from 34 to 47 kilowatts, while shedding 2.1 kilograms and some volume.
Combined horsepower drops by seven, to 199, but torque jumps from 195 lb.-ft. to a hybrid-leading 235, at 4,500 rpm.
The hybrid controls are revamped for more time in electric drive ? indicated by a green ?EV? on the driver?s display.
I haven?t driven the previous version, so I can?t describe how performance has changed. Several reviews decreed the 2012 great on the highway but challenged in city driving. If that was true, Hyundai?s engineers have done some proficient problem solving.
The car has commendable highway power and feels rock solid ? even at speeds that no motorist needs. As promised, it will travel ? under an eggshell right foot ? at 120 km/h on electric power. And, although it didn?t match its official fuel-economy numbers of 5.4 city and 4.9 highway, it consumed just 6 L/100 km at the 401?s legal limit and less than 6.5 at 120. On secondary roads, it achieved a respectable 5.5.
In stop-and-go traffic, the Sonata travelled decent distances on electric power and scored in the mid-6 range ? much better than I?ve experienced with other hybrids and highly efficient gasoline burners.
In all cases, except for that ?EV? light, we didn?t notice shifts between gasoline and battery power.
The Sonata is also a stunning design ? more radically sculpted and flowing than competitors ? and achieves a Prius-like drag co-efficient of just 0.25.
We drove a $27,999 base version, which, while lacking touch-screen flash and dash (included for $6,000 more), was roomy, comfortable and relaxing.
Although this one stands out, I?m impressed by all the new hybrids I?ve tested ? forgetting those fuel-economy numbers.
Mid-size sedans are major sellers. The push to make them increasingly better and efficient is fascinating and, for greening wheels, as useful as anything with a plug.
- Hyundai's stunning, sculpted 2013 Hybrid Blue Drive offered smooth sailing to Kingston, Port Hope and around Toronto.