After a fairly long wait, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid has gone on sale in the U.S., priced from $34,600 before incentives.
Packaged in the same body as both the gasoline-powered 2016 Sonata and non plug-in 2016 Sonata Hybrid, the mid-size sedan offers the same high-spec interior and attention to detail as the popular non plug-in models, but adds in a 9.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and 50 kilowatt electric motor for a claimed 27-miles of EPA-approved range at 99 MPGe.
Promised for many months, the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid offers buyers who aren’t yet fully convinced of the benefits of all-electric power the chance to experience zero-emissions capability around town, while offering what Hyundai claims is a total range of 600 miles on a tank of gasoline and a full battery pack. Its launch is also expertly timed for the South Korean manufacturer, especially considering that we’re a good year away from the market launch of Toyota’s next-generation Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and Honda recently dropped its Accord plug-in hybrid from sale to focus on its hydrogen fuel cell and future generation plug-ins.
But while the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid offers the best all-electric range of any plug-in hybrid on sale today (if we consider the 2016 Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 REx range-extended electric cars, that is) its 27-miles of electric-only range only give it an advantage around town.
Get out on the open road and flatten the battery pack, and its fuel economy starts to suffer the extra 270 pounds of weight it has over the standard Sonata Hybrid. According to official EPA figures, it manages 40mpg combined — 1 mile per gallon less than the standard 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid — causing it to burn through 2.5 gallons of gasoline every 100 miles after the battery has been depleted. And while its fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons of fuel, giving it the longest range of any plug-in hybrid on the market, the cost to fill up is going to be noticeably higher than either the now-discontinued Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid or the outgoing Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.
It is, however, far more efficient than the 2016 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid, which manages 20 miles of all-electric range at an estimated 88 MPGe, and offers a combined fuel economy of 38 MPG when operating in gasoline-only mode.
Like all plug-in hybrids, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, while capable of operating in all-electric mode, isn’t going to feel particularly sprightly when operated in EV mode. With a 50 kilowatt electric motor — 10 kilowatts less than the motor found in the 2015 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, anything more than the most gentle of accelerator input outside of town will encourage the 2.0-litre Nu four-cylinder GDI engine to spurt into life. Used carefully however, Hyundai says you can travel at speeds of up to 75 mph without waking the dino-burning inline four under the hood, although we’ve yet to drive the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid to test that for ourselves.
Limited electric power isn’t the only problem, however: availability is too. Like the Soul EV from Hyundai’s sister company, the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is a limited-market compliance car which for now will only be sold in a handful of states, namely ones which use the same zero emissions vehicle requirements as California.
Combine all these factors together, and we’re guessing most car buyers will opt for another option instead, namely the 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car. Capable of a far longer 53 miles per charge in all-electric mode and with a far more powerful all-electric drivetrain which won’t force the gasoline engine to turn on under even hard acceleration, the Volt also manages a combined 43 mpg in range-extending mode when its battery pack has depleted itself.
It’s also available from $33,995 and will eventually be available nationwide, making it an obvious no-brainer for those who need a car that can operate on gasoline and electric.
The only catch? Its limited rear-seat space for the third rear-seat passenger is far less than the spacious and carefully-packaged Sonata Plug-in Hybrid. But to decide which is best, you’ll have to think long and hard about how often you need to carry four passengers…
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