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2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Road Test Review

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

In a landscape of automotive cacophony, sometimes it's the simple things that stand out most such as a steering wheel not over-laden with gadgets. Or, a cluster of instruments that say enough, but not too much. Putting the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in that category clarifies what seems a rather fundamental, but well-determined strategy: Keep the driving experience what you'd expect from a handsome, easy-handling, well-appointed family sedan for five and let the high-tech core quietly do its job.

It isn't that Hyundai ignores this is a combined electric-gasoline powered auto that, during express cruising, can toggle into electric-only mode for spurts -- even at speeds of 74 mph. It just doesn't scream at you in the process. You get the hint of its advanced underpinnings when you hit the Start button on the uncluttered dash and a small cluster of leaves in the driver's center gauge peeks back, and then disappears. If you have a taste for technological toys and don't have the navi version, you can choose to display a real time energy score or a small scale diagram showing the power source (40-hp electric motor or 166-hp engine) flowing to the wheels.

A late summer test in the predecessor of the 2012 model hinted at what to expect during extended daily driving, with a stint on express roads and some inner city stop-and-go traffic. Road feel was solid and serene, only hinting at its hybrid foundation when coasting quietly on electricity alone, without the subtle purr of the 4-cylinder engine. Visually and mechanically, it gains from last year's major Sonata redesign, with fluid side sculpting and aggressive stance, and remains unchanged for 2012. "Blue Link" advanced telematics is standard, however.

Usable stowage space sits behind the tall lithion polymer battery pack just behind rear passengers. My driving partner and I figured it could hold enough golf bags for a foursome when carefully stacked. And it should easily hold enough for a weekend getaway that can be the bane of some hyper-miler autos. But don't expect to do any heavy duty shopping for tables or other sizable items best left for a borrowed pickup or SUV.

Unfortunately for new buyers, federal tax credits no longer apply to hybrids. So last year's $26.5K base sticker (including delivery) really stuck, as will this year's when Hyundai announces 2012 pricing shortly.

The "why" of owning the Sonata Hybrid is a no brainer.  With a 17.2 gallon gas tank as backup, it just keeps going and going without a need to refuel - with a combined EPA estimate of 37 MPG. "It all depends on how you drive it," surmised my driving companion, noting a full gas tank can last so long you could almost forget about needing more at some point. When the gas icon lights up (a 43-mile fuel range during our test), there's little reason for concern unless one is many miles from a fuel pump. Some coasting stops and taps on the brake will send a surge of regenerated electricity back into the battery to recirculate again as driving power. Truly renewable.

For more information on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, click here.