Consumer Reports Pans Sonata Hybrid

In its first three months on the market, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has established itself as the second best selling gas-electric in the United States, trailing only the indomitable Toyota Prius in sales this summer. But according to a recent Consumer Reports review, the Sonata Hybrid comes up short in several areas, with the publication recommending that consumers steer clear of the model in favor of the gas-only Sonata.

“The Sonata Hybrid is a disappointment, but it’s also an exception,” said Consumer Reports’ Rick Paul to ABC News. “Overall, we’ve seen real improvement with new Hyundais. They generally perform well and provide good value for the money.” So what did the publication find wrong with the Sonata Hybrid?

One of the main complaints was that the car doesn’t provide a smooth transition between gas and electric drive. Unlike many other hybrids with continuously variable transmissions (CVT), the Sonata sports a six-speed automatic, with its lithium-ion-powered electric power taking the place of a torque converter in the powertrain. This configuration allows Hyundai to cut costs and emphasize highway fuel economy where most hybrids perform better in the city. Some reviewers have even noted that the Sonata hybrid is more fun to drive than it’s CVT-driven competitors, but apparently its not for everyone.

Consumer Reports also found fault with the Sonata’s low-rolling resistance tires, which it says diminish the car’s handling and increase its breaking distance. The standard Sonata—which comes without low-rolling resistance tires—gets 24 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 28 mpg under the EPA test cycle. According to Consumer Reports’ own fuel economy tests, the overall rating that car comes in slightly lower at 27 mpg.

For the Sonata Hybrid, the gap between the EPA and Consumer Reports fuel economy measures was significantly greater. Where the car is officially rated at 35 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 37 mpg combined, Consumer Reports testers pegged the car at a combined 33 mpg rating—6 mpg higher than the gas-only Sonata. That result doesn’t call into question the accuracy of the EPA number (the test cycle also netted a 44 mpg rating for the Toyota Prius—6 mpg less than the official rating,) rather it reflects a different expectation for how the car will actually be driven.

Whether you trust the EPA or Consumer Reports’ numbers, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid does represent a substantial efficiency improvement over its gas-only counterpart, and fans of the Sonata’s critically-acclaimed interior (particularly those who do a lot of highway driving,) should appreciate the offering—even if it does lurch a little as the gas engine gives way to the motor.

Hyundai can soon expect some stiff competition in the mid-size family hybrid sedan market, as Toyota prepares to release the redesigned 2012 Camry Hybrid this December. The new gas-electric Camry is expected to receive a 43/39 mpg EPA fuel economy rating, with an MSRP nearly identical to the Sonata Hybrid.

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  • Rushdi Deen

    am wride this car am look like goonig to fly

  • Nelson Lu

    I still don’t believe the Sonata Hybrid sales figures that are being posted here. It is utterly inconceivable that that many Sonata Hybrids could be sold that I haven’t spotted a single one here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  • Francis Qwesi

    Am a technician student in Auto Mobile Engineering, but finds it a little difficult to understand how the Hybrid system operate with ICE, and how the motor is been cooled, so if you can assit me for clare understanding..
    I also want to ask if the Hybrid car will be suitable to meet our weather conditions in my country (Ghana) seen we have hot weather conditions..
    Thank You..

  • MrEnergyCzar

    The Volt is king for now as far as I’m concerned….


  • hybridalltheway

    not really. the moment it finish up the 30-60 miles range, the volt’s MPG will dip down pretty significant.

    now i don’t owe a volt so i have no idea whats the fuel consumption. i can only calculate based on what is listed in gm website. since it can travel UP TO 580km (lets consider this as maximum range), and it has a fuel tank of 35L, that’s around 6L/100km on average.

    so yeah, city driving will be good (as with all plug-in hybrid and EVs) but when it comes to long distance drives… no, its not a king

  • Johnson Joes

    Just wait till the Plug in prius is out to the car dealers. That will be the hybrid of choice.

  • mark neup

    The Volt is a futile attempt to show the world that GM can keep up with the Toyota badge of excellence in Hybrid technology. The Volt is a Hugh flop right out of the gate–special lease deals are now being offered just to get the albatross out of the showroom. Drive one and tell me that it’s anything close to the Toyota line-up of Hybrids. Junk best describes this car.

  • Grimshot

    I have one. I love the the “non-CVT” drive train; drives like a real car. I drove it cross country the first month I had it and averaged 42 MPH. It’s a great car.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, because the San Francisco Bay area is the only place in the country.

  • Nelson Lu

    Anonymous wrote, apparently sarcastically in response to me:

    “Yes, because the San Francisco Bay area is the only place in the country.”

    I will say this: I really doubt that a hybrid that can’t sell in the Bay Area can sell anywhere. Note that the writers for acknowledges that *Hyundai refuses to provide exact numbers* and that they estimate the numbers based on Hyundai’s broadly-worded claims. I would say that it’s time to stop estimating in that way, because I think it’s beginning to strain credibility.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ MyEnergyCzar,

    Yeah, the Volt is king. King of HIGH sticker prices!

    I finally saw a Volt this weekend at a Chevy dealership. $46,595 is what they wanted for it. If you want be green while getting ripped off then go ahead and buy a Volt.

    But if you’re spending $46,595 for a Volt just spend another $4,000 and buy a Tesla Model S. It’s faster, better looking and will go 160 miles between charging. Plus, it seats 7 people where the Volt will seat only 4.

  • van

    In December, the Camry Hybrid will hit the showrooms and then I expect CU will provide a side by side comparison of the three mid sized hybrids from Ford, Toyota and Hyundai. My crystal ball suggests the Camry will blow the doors off the other two in every area. Time will tell.

  • Dj

    Me and wife where looking for one and all the hybrid ones where sold on arrival

  • RPC57

    As an owner of the Sonata Hybrid (almost 4000 miles), I can very precisely say this is a great highway cruising vehicle. My mostly flat terrain mileage has been right around 41MPG when keeping it under 70mph. Has plenty of passing power (electric motor kicks in with the engine), is comfortable and handles good. That being said, here are the downsides of the Sonata Hybrid. When engine/transmission are cold ( 1st mile or two), at low speeds the car will buck/surge at light to moderate acceleration because of a sync problem between the engine/ transmission which Hyundai has not corrected. Operation is fine once “warmed up”. Fuel mileage in the city is not nearly 35MPG, think more along the lines of 30/31 if you’re not heavy footed, much less if you are. This car is good if you have a 12 mile or more commute where you can get up to 45MPH+ for most of your trip. If you have only city driving, not so much.

  • Eddiedi

    What a comment. Your ignorance is exceeded only by your ignorance.

  • Charles

    Van, I doubt the new Camry Hybrid blows the doors off in every area. Here are two quotes from CR:

    1) “Based on the latest survey, we expect reliability of new models will be 4% below average”
    2) “Based on the latest survey, we expect reliability of new models will be 53% above average”

    Which is for the Camry and which is for the Fusion?

  • Van

    I doubt the #1 comment, below average reliability, applies to the Camry Hybrid. And it would be premature to claim the referenced reliability data is applicable to the 2012 Camry Hybrid, its a new (redesigned) product.

    Now consider city/highway mileage. Or trunk volume. Quietness.
    Ride. Rear seat room. Acceleration. Shall I go on?

  • Bob Wilson

    There is more than one way to make a fuel efficient hybrid and the Hyundai hybrid is a welcome addition to the market. But the first generation, 2001-03 Prius also had problems the first year. For example, the first Prius had no cruise control until 2002 and later, many 2001 owners had it retrofitted. The Hyundai hybrid is in the same infant stage.

    We rented a Prius in 2001 and found there was a transition problem when braking. The lack of cruise control, wrong color, wrong options, we just couldn’t justify a Prius in 2001. We now have a 2003 Prius, bought used, and happily returning 52 MPG year-after-year with cruise control and excellent braking.

    The Sonata hybrid pioneers should look forward to the inevitable upgrades and fixes. Having pioneered one of the first ZVW30, 2010 Prius, we were able to replicate the infantile ‘braking problem’ that was fixed and identify poor handling of fuel exhaustion that remains a problem.

    Bob Wilson

  • Rich in KC

    “Drive one and tell me that it’s anything close to the Toyota line-up of Hybrids. Junk best describes this car.”

    I own a Volt and I also owned (past tense) a Prius. I am amazed at the difference in the 2 vehicles. After driving the Volt, I realized how unrefined the Prius actually felt, both in it’s driving characteristics and styling. Driving the Prius made me feel as if I was in a tin can, it’s not even in the same league as the Volt, period! Take your propaganda somewhere else!

  • Anonymous

    When comparing a 43,000 Volt with a 29,000 Prius PHV is possible, say in March 2012, then the propaganda will be exposed. Rear seat legroom, headroom, MPG for 50 miles, 100 miles and 150 miles will show will overcome “styling, driving characteristics,” and all the other subjective accolades heaped on the overpriced Volt.

  • Mike Cohan

    Hyundai has just (as of 10/2/11) come out with a complete reprogram of all the engine computers in the Sonata Hybrid that greatly improves the car. The jerky transition between gas and electric at low speeds is gone, mileage is improved by about 10%, and the whole car is just much much smoother. I own one and am very happy with mine, particularly with this upgrade.

  • Megan Spackman

    I too, just had re-programming done on my Sonata. What a difference! I have to say that over these past few months, I was really starting to be thankful that I had leased this car and in a few years, it would no longer be my problem. But the software updates have really worked and the car drives like a dream. I’m very pleased. Thanks Hyundai!!

  • Jenney

    People slamming this car and hybrids in general are the very people who deny climate change. We need to give hybrids a chance to improve and they will. Lets face it people oil will run out at some time, get over it. We have enough negative comments from the oil industry. If you insist a non hybrid car is for you do not be negative for other prospective buyers who are looking for a decent hybrid just go out and buy a gas guzzler.Hybrid cars are in their infancy just let them grow.

  • Sossy

    I have the late-model 2011 Hyundai Hybrid. It’s a beautiful car, handles well, outperforms my previous non-hybrid in every way & is fun to drive. The SF Bay area isn’t the only place on earth. I’m in Austin, and Hyundai dealers sell the hybrid as fast as they come in.

  • Tom

    I tried every hybrid out there, and nothing came close to the Sonata on styling, comfort and PERFORMANCE! The Prius is pitiful, the new Lexus a way overpriced Prius and even slower, Camry is forced to bring out something that might compete-but not nearly as refined. Fusion is ok, but more like your Grandma’s car, and then the way overpriced Volt(typical GM recall already) which does not compete in any area. And did I mention warranties? The Sonata blows them all away- why? because it is better built-period! The battery technology is way ahead of the others, the integration of systems is flawless! I live at 8000′ in Colorado and my Sonata Hybrid has performed and achieved at or beyond manufacturer specs! Do what I did and drive them all-yes it is a pain in the ass with the sales people, but prove to yourself what I already know-The Sonata Hybrid is a kick in the pants to own and drive–a head turner that people can’t believe is good for the environment!

  • David

    Hyundai is changing a lot. At the first time, I just thought it’s old fashion cheap brand car. However nowadays, it’s design totally chaged. It’s so amazing !! Generally it’s very fancy design and good perpomance but I still have a doubt why I should buy a Hyundai car. (Yes, it’s very economic but I didn’t satisfied with it. Car should be attractive like a gorgeous woman) I’m considering to buy a hybrid car soon. If I can find a special reason, I will buy Sonata hybrid.

  • Herb

    Just leased the 2012 Sonata Hybrid about a week ago and must admit that most of the issues posted are generally true. Yes the standard 6 speed transmission is not as smooth as others……..but for the price, warranty, gas mileage, and family size car, its really hard to be to disappointed.

    Very nice price/performance/features and really true high gas mileage car.

    I’m getting around 37 mpg around town and higher on the highway. So all in all I’m a very happy Hyundai Hybrid customer.

    Really looking forward to our summer trip to So Cal in July. We will be traveling from Georgetown Tx to Newport Beach Ca. And will be saving over $400 round trip vs taking our new Malibu LT.

    Now that’s what its all about……….

  • Glen

    I bought this vehicle recently, I am facing very serious issues. I get 30 mpg as average. Every time I reset avg mileage, avg drive time, etc all. And till now I filled full tank 4 times. Almost I get 480 miles for 16 gallons of gas. I drive mostly on highways on 60-75 speed. Daily I drive around 35 miles on highway and 10 miles on local roads. only 1% i saw 40 mpg that too on local roads. Maximum I see <33 mpg on highways.
    I know it depends on driving conditions. How much ever the driving and climate, I should not get just 30 mpg avg. I should get atleast 36 mpg avg.
    Next thing is the pick-up. Dealers say that hyundai hybrid has huge delay when shifting from electric to gasoline. this kills the pick-up and very dangerous when taking turns in local roads.
    Next thing is navigation system. Just now I heard from hyundai customer care that. All hyundai vehicles comes with old version of navigation system. If customer wants then they need to pay the money to upgrade it. It doesn;t matter even if the customer buying the vehicle.
    One dealer told me that car has to drive for 6000 miles to get correct mileage another dealer say 1000 miles to get correct mileage.
    Also, one technician said that non-hybrid sonata gives better mileage than hybrid sonata.