Last June following its April introduction of the seventh-generation Sonata lineup, Hyundai offered a counterpoint to the still-pending – but since revealed Hybrid – the Sonata Eco.
What makes an “Eco” an eco, and how economical is it? As you’ve guessed already, it’s not a hybrid, but instead taps a trend we’ve seen elsewhere – a downsized and turbocharged engine – and this is the only Sonata that gets a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
The lower-price-point 1.6-liter turbo alternative comes as a package priced $100 more than the second-cheapest 2.4-liter non-turbo Sonata Sport trim level, and nets three mpg better rated combined fuel economy.
Why is the Eco here? Hyundai says it is experimenting with the relatively inexpensive, lighter, somewhat more technologically advanced alternative to the SE and Sport trim levels of the Sonata and it does have a certain appeal.
Similar in principle to other carmakers’ smaller but potent and efficient turbocharged engines, Hyundai’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder Eco has the lowest displacement among Sonata siblings. But, with forced induction, direct injection, and more torque than the 2.4 naturally aspirated fours, its go-power is enough.
Specifically, estimated output is 178 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and torque is 195 pounds-feet from 1,500-4,500 rpm. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission adds an extra ratio over six-speeders in other trims – including the hybrid – and the DCT is more efficient and engaging than CVTs.
Eco Further Defined
The $24,085 Eco is an upgrade over the base $21,960, 2.4-liter Sonata SE, adding a chrome grille, side mirror-mounted turn signal indicators, and automatic headlights. It nearly ties the 2.4-liter Sport trim’s price, is $3,300-$10,200 less than higher Sonata trim levels, and so does fit the “economical” moniker in that respect.
Also included above SE spec are 10-way power driver seat with lumbar support plus stitching on the instrument cluster hood, chrome interior door handles, 5-inch color touchscreen audio, rearview backup camera and Blue Link telematics system.
Otherwise, the Eco is visually similar to the other Sonatas with curb weight – depending on options – 235-318 pounds lighter which contributes not only to fuel economy but along with the rather sophisticated transmission, adds to driving dynamics just a touch.
In With A Tough Crowd
Aimed squarely at those who might otherwise go for a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, or Chevy Malibu, Hyundai has its work cut out for it but its evolved Sonata rises to the occasion.
Fact is, so many cars have gotten better, they are becoming like commodity items distinguished by a crease here, a swoop there, a daring line here.
So it’s the finer points you’ll be straining through, and we can tell you the Hyundai fits right in – or blends right in – as a variation on the theme. In this case, it’s positioned as bordering on elegant in a few points, down on a couple others, and value priced all at the same time.
Its $1,100-$1,900 price spread is not as dramatic between established Japanese models as it has been in years past. Hyundai has come a long way from its second-class status over a decade ago with elements of its Genesis model blended into this new Sonata the EPA calls a “large” class vehicle.
The redesigned Sonata’s proprietary design language is officially called Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. This is actually a rethinking of version 1.0’s swoopier youthful-esque 2009-era design thesis intended to make vanilla family sedans come across as coupe-like, more fun and sporty.
The new look continues the theme while toning it back a bit with balance and proportion all the way around. Nice little touches like inside door handles with effortless engagement and other details show Hyundai is vying for full Class One perception.
Inside gauges are laid out sensibly, angled toward the driver, and materials are of acceptable if not bordering on upscale quality such as the nice imitation wood veneer on the dash and door panels and a mix of soft touch and harder materials stragically located.
The main option, a $4,100 technology package is available to add to the base Eco and came with our test car.
This comprehensive suite includes leather, heated front seats, dual temperature control, 4.2-inch color info screen, premium audio, SiriusXM for traffic info, etc., and auto up/down passenger windows.
It also adds Blind Spot Detection with rear-cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, and an 8-inch navigation system with voice command, HD Radio, and more including Apple Siri integration, and Wi-Fi for downloading apps.
Small but appreciated details as well include chrome exterior door handles with “welcome light” (nice LED puddle lamps), hands-free Smart Trunk Auto Open and proximity key entry with push-button start.
As true for all Sonatas, passenger space is roomy enough, with 45.5 inches front and 35.6 inches rear leg room in the large-class sedan. Outward sightlines are clear with reasonably thin A and B pillars.
Cargo capacity of 16.3 cubic feet is largest-in-class for handling suitcases, groceries, or whatever else.
There’s nothing really to gripe about. It’s tastefully done, if not still a bit vanilla – which may be what many buyers precisely want – and it does the job.
Driving the Sonata Eco
Shared with all the new Sonatas, the Eco gets a chassis built with high-strength steel comprising more than 50-percent of its total platform. Hyundai says this creates 41-percent stiffer torsional rigidity and 35 percent greater bending strength.
What that means is the vehicle drives nicely around bends although the low rolling resistance tires do not provide as much cornering or braking grip as would higher-performance rubber on other trim levels.
Bump attenuation however is compliant. Hyundai uprated the rear multilink suspension for control and cornering improvements and the arrangement includes dual lower suspension arms in place of the outgoing single-arm design.
Steering feel is not especially sensitive but reliable and predictable from the electronic power steering unit.
Acceleration is respectable and 0-60 mph has been recorded at fractions above seven seconds. On-road passing power is good too, but from a standstill there can a slight lag from the electronically controlled DCT and low-end torque from the engine – while higher on paper than the 2.4-liter’s 178 pounds-feet – is just sufficient.
Hyundai said reducing noise, vibration, and harshness was a priority and the vehicle is acceptably hushed. On the boil however, the engine is not as sweet sounding, say, as an engine from an Accord, although it is not actually rough by any stretch – just not as silky.
The DCT is otherwise a superior device over a conventional automatic and for those who dislike CVTs, this car could be your cure.
As for fuel economy, while Hyundai has caught heat in the past for discrepancies between real-world and estimated economy, it seems to have repented of its former errors.
The Eco was capable of meeting EPA ratings of 28 city, 38 highway, 32 combined under sedate driving. Give it a heavy foot however, and expect like with any car to see the idealized numbers not met.
The $24,085 (including $810 destination) Eco is a clear alternative to the $21,960 SE and $23,985 Sport trim levels for shoppers looking for a solid all-around family sedan without much pretense or need for sub-six 0-60 times.
By U.S. EPA estimates, the Eco could save an average driver $500 over five years compared to these cars rated 3 mpg less combined but only 1 mpg less on the highway. Compared to the 2016 Hybrid not for sale yet, it’s well short of that car’s 41 or 42 mpg combined estimate which the EPA says could save an average driver $1,750 in five years over the Eco.
Hyundai has not priced the 2016 Sonata Hybrid or its plug-in hybrid variant yet, but the base Hybrid could be close to the 2015 Sonata Hybrid’s $26,000 range.
Frankly, it’s a close call and this is a tight field which we said up front splits hairs.
All told we like the Eco. As an evolved product with unique attributes and latest internal-combustion engine and transmission tech, it does make an arguable alternative.