Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid

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Chances are you’re one of the millions of Canadians who have never considered adding a plug-in hybrid vehicle to your shopping list. This means you probably didn’t get too excited when the all-new 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid was revealed late last year, or maybe even realize that the automaker had joined the electric vehicle fray with this upgrade to its also-revised standard Hybrid model.

This is perhaps the most enticing all-around four-door from Hyundai that almost no one will ever get the chance to enjoy.

Which is really too bad – because the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid isn’t just an exceptional piece of eco-friendly technology, but also the best family car you can currently buy in a Hyundai showroom.

The arguments against owning a hybrid typically stem from the economic side of the car-buying ledger. While a battery-assisted drivetrain almost always improves fuel efficiency over the long run, the price differential between a gas-only vehicle and its hybrid equivalent can be substantial, requiring you to amortize the cost of entry out over many, many years before you see a return on your investment at the pump.

This nefarious financial calculus is that much more intimidating when considering plug-in members of the hybrid families, which feature larger, and more expensive battery packs that translate into higher sticker prices. It also doesn’t help that, with very few exceptions, car companies have seen fit to offer their plug-in hybrid vehicles exclusively in top-tier trim levels, which further adds the cost of luxury gear and other high-end tech features to the equation. The end result is that the average buyer is excluded from the plug-in conversation even before they set foot in a dealership, with these green marvels aimed almost exclusively at a very narrow slice of eco-conscious customers willing to spend money on a badge of battery-powered honour rather than consider the actual dollars-and-cents implications of their purchase.

The 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is no exception to this rule. By far the highest-dollar Hyundai sedan one can buy, with the exception of the recently departed Genesis, the Plug-In Hybrid slides into the flagship spot and represents the best of what the automaker has to offer in terms of comfort, equipment, and prestige. After having spent a significant amount of time behind the wheel of the battery-powered Sonata, I can confidently state that this is perhaps the most enticing all-around four-door from Hyundai that almost no one will ever get the chance to enjoy.

If I had choose just one thing about the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid that stands out as its most impressive attribute, I’d have to go with the resilience of its electric drivetrain. The previous-generation Sonata Hybrid was flat-out unpleasant, with a clunky attitude when shifting between electric juice and hydrocarbon thrust. Not only does the current Hybrid erase any memories of that lacklustre experience, the Plug-In Hybrid goes one better by adding a 9.8 kWh battery (over the 1.62 kWh unit in the standard Hybrid) and locking in electric motivation in almost every conceivable driving situation. Simply put, the Sonata forgets it even has a gas engine 99 percent of the time, with 40 kilometres of battery range offering pure electric propulsion at speeds of up to 120 km/h.

An advertised 40 km of battery life doesn’t sound all that impressive in a post-Tesla world, but thanks to the twin efforts of the car’s excellent kinetic energy recapturing system via its brakes, plus a relatively quick charge time even when linked up to standard household current, I experienced just a few minutes of engine-on operation over many days of driving. Not only did the brakes routinely add at least 10 km of range to any given journey, I also discovered that by simply plugging the car into the wall when I got home I was topped up from a half-full battery in just a few hours’ time (with five hours taking it from drained to full at 110 volts). As a result, in my care the Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid functioned essentially as a pure electric vehicle, even during the cold end-of-fall temperatures here in Montreal. This stands in stark contrast to other plug-ins I’ve tested that insisted on idling the gas engine to generate heat for the cabin on a regular basis.

If you do manage to get the 2.0L four-cylinder gas engine to kick on – say when flat-footing it up a hill, or after exhausting the battery on a long highway trip – you’ll have 202 horsepower to play with, but even in EV mode the 50 kW electric motor offers 151 lb-ft of torque to mask its weaker 67 horses. This translates into excellent acceleration from a stop, and with the motor positioned in place of the traditional torque converter, a six-speed automatic transmission helps the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid feel like almost any other gas-powered sedan (with the exception of its much quieter operation).

Given that the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is sold exclusively in Ultimate trim in Canada, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the reams of features packed into the well-equipped model. In addition to the soft heated and cooled leather seats that define its spacious cabin, buyers also benefit from adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, elegant wood trim, lane-departure warning and forward collision warning systems, a larger LCD infotainment touchscreen display, and essentially every option box ticked from lesser versions of the car. Trunk space is somewhat abbreviated by the presence of the larger battery, but I still found it quite functional when hauling around car parts on the weekend.

If you can afford the price of admission, are enchanted by the promise of an all-electric commute (with the car’s EV range well within most Canadians’ daily drives), and want to snag as much premium gear as you can along the way, then the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid stands out when compared against similarly-sized battery-assisted models. If you happen to live in Quebec, British Columbia, or Ontario, then the Plug-In’s price becomes more palatable thanks to provincial tax credits that can slice several thousand from the bottom line. For everyone else who sees the $6,400 premium over the base Sonata Hybrid and quickly moves on, the Plug-In Hybrid seems doomed to remain Hyundai’s best-kept secret.

Engine Displacement 2.0L / 50 kW
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 154 / 67 / 202 hp, gas/electric/total
Peak Torque 140 / 151 lb-ft hp, gas/electric
Fuel Economy 6.0/5.5/5.8 L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 280 L
Model Tested 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Ultimate
Base Price $43,999
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $45,894
Optional Equipment