2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid First Drive

The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid cranks up the efficiency on Hyundai's midsize looker.

What It Is
A striking midsize sedan that offers good fuel economy.
Best Thing
Feature rich, some unique in industry.
Worst Thing
Like other hybrids, battery pack compromises cargo room.
Snap Judgment
The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid offers the styling, features and value that make the Sonata so popular, but dials up efficiency.


The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid proves if nothing else, the most competitive segment in America is getting a little more confusing. There was a time when hybrids were awkward, unsightly, and considered experimental transportation; Efficiency with great sacrifice. But quickly things have changed. The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid looks to emulate the success of the non-hybrid Sonata. There, inspired design, a range of standard features, and an accessible price seem to hit the sweet spot. Can the Sonata Hybrid do the same?

So far, it hasn't really caught on. The Hybrid was introduced shortly after the new Sonata Hybrid came on the market a couple years ago, but despite the unique styling and very good fuel economy, it never quite caught on like the rest of the Sonata lineup. So this year, Hyundai upped the fuel economy, added a few features, and dropped the price a bit in an effort to spur sales, and make the Sonata Hybrid a player in the midsize hybrid sedan market.

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Now, the 2013 Sonata Hybrid starts at $25,650, while the range-topping Sonata Hybrid Limited runs at least $30,550. Our Limited model was fully equipped and came in at $32,695. For those on the hybrid non-hybrid fence, Hyundai recently expanded Hyundai Assurance to include a lifetime battery warranty for the original owner of a Sonata Hybrid. Citing battery replacement or maintenance as a concern for buyers considering hybrids, Hyundai will replace the battery and cover recycling costs with no charge to the owner. That's all fine and good, but we were taken with another feature that's unique in the industry: if you leave the heated seats on when shutting your car off, you can then remotely start your car--using an iPad or iPhone--and the heated seat function will also turn on. For those that have to endure frosty winters or even just chilly mornings or evenings, giving the seats a couple of minutes to warm up before you hop in seems like monumental achievement on par with man's greatest. I'm a softy with little tolerance for chilly Southern California mornings, I can only imagine how pleasing this feature would be for those that have actual weather to deal with.

I was given a full day to become acquainted with the Sonata Hybrid, piloting it though Virginia's Shenandoah mountains. This was the old country, populated with fields not touched by the hand of time; the striking hybrid in stark contrast, a modern beauty in a timeless landscape. The route taking me from Charlottesville up to Virginia's Skyline Drive, past ancient granite and feral woods, skating along the Blue Ridge Mountains. So what did we think?

Walkaround

Walking up to my ride for the day I was greeted by a sleek, modern sedan. The Sonata Hybrid is fresh, and confident, with the unmistakably Hyundai dramatic character lines greeting the eye from every angle. The hybrid model adds unique touches that push the styling envelope further: unique wheels, a special hybrid grille, and a lower stance with body paneling looks good but also helps reduce drag, and improves fuel economy. Add it all to the familiar hexagonal shape on the grille, and the swooped back headlights and wraparound taillights that are Hyundai signatures.

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Sitting Down

Once inside you're greeted by comfortable seats and a modern, attractive cabin. Poking around you'll notice a mix of soft materials and hard plastics, but everything looks premium. Take a closer look and you'll notice several clever storage spaces for knick knacks, and designers didn't skimp for backseat passengers, either: There's a comfortable center armrest with cupholders, and if rear-seaters need more, there are additional ones located in the door cubbies, perfect for a bottle of water. And small touches like metallic trim on the rear air vents show thoughtfulness.

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Rear passengers have lots of knee room, but taller passengers will notice a lack of headroom, and will have to duck when entering in front or back, a minor inconvenience courtesy of the Sonata Hybrid's low sloping roofline. Our Limited model had the panoramic sunroof, which makes the cabin feel light, and airy. Cargo room is less than the non-hybrid Sonata on account of the room the battery takes up, but you can still fit a couple of laundry baskets, or several grocery bags in the trunk. Holding down the key fob, a button not only unlocks but also unlatches the trunk lid, and the wide-mouth opening makes for easy loading and unloading.

Driving

Hyundai tweaked its powertrain combination for the 2013 Sonata Hybrid, shaving seven horsepower from the 2.4-liter gasoline engine--from 166 hp to 159--but also made the battery pack lighter, and able to deliver a stronger burst of electricity to the motor at a given time. The resulting changes made the hybrid slightly more efficient, but don't take away from the driving feel. The Sonata Hybrid is quick on its feet and surprisingly up for a sharp corner, but despite its very sporty looks, is no sports car. Then again, considering the demographic--a midsize hybrid buyer--it doesn’t need to be. It's noticeably quiet, and comfortable, and power, while not the same as the gratifying delivery of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine available in the non-hybrid Sonata, is certainly sufficient. The brakes are responsive and have a surprisingly good feel for a hybrid. And despite the low sloping roofline, I never had an issue with visibility.

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Summary

The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid builds upon the attractive looks and comfort of the non-hybrid, and dials up efficiency. The interior offers a modern, comfortable, and attractive cabin that complements the exterior styling. Like the Sonata, the Sonata Hybrid is also feature rich, including an industry unique ability to use remote start for the heated seat function. In the grand scheme of things, having warm seats when you enter the car may not be a necessity for every buyer, but it’s the kind of common sense thinking we certainly appreciate. While a comfortably equipped Sonata Hybrid with a couple of options will run you about $27,000, we think shelling out for the Sonata Hybrid Limited model we drove is well worth it, if your budget allows. Hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion are worth looking in to if you're shopping the segment, and offer worthy competition. But if you're in the market for an efficient family sedan, the Sonata Hybrid is an especially compelling option.

Basic Specs

2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor, six-speed automatic transmission, FWD, 199-hp, $32,695 as tested, 36 mpg city/40 mpg hwy

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