Before the end of this year, Hyundai will put its first hybrid on the market. As we’ve reported, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid represents another compelling high-mpg mid-size sedan for hybrid shoppers. The gas-electric Sonata stacks up against the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid. In fact, Automotive News today claimed, “A hybrid variant is the cost of entry in the mid-sized sedan segment these days.” We would have been shocked to see this statement even one year ago.

The most important information for those considering the Sonata hybrid is not yet available: Price. Autoweek is guessing mid-$20,000s. That matches speculation from Edmunds, which says Hyundai will try to will undercut the Toyota Camry Hybrid and offer a price of $24,900. Automobile magazine’s guess is $27,000.

The Fusion Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid both average about 39 MPG—with the Fusion getting slightly better mileage in the city, and the Sonata emphasizing highway efficiency. The Camry MPG stats are 33/34.

Hyundai predicts 5 percent to 7 percent of Sonatas sold will be hybrids, which means about 15,000 units a year. Right now, there is a capacity for 35,000 Sonata hybrids a year to supply the U.S. and Korean markets.

How Does It Drive?

There’s no confirmed price tag, but we do have new information in the form of first driving experiences by auto journalists at the Namyang Proving Ground in South Korea. Here are a few highlights:

  • Automotive News

    “Acceleration was brisk; cornering was not ponderous despite the added weight; and the switch between gasoline and battery power isn’t startling. If the goal is a seamless transition of driving styles, the Sonata Hybrid appears to have achieved it.”

  • Autoweek

    “The car felt perfectly fine by the standards of the midsize-sedan class, maybe even a touch livelier behind the wheel than the competition, though perhaps short of what engineer K. S. Lee called ‘powerful fun to drive.’”

  • Edmunds

    “The hybrid’s zest off the line was about what you’d expect, and the powertrain integrated the activity of the electric motors with the gas engine with less of the abruptness we’ve observed in other hybrids. The steering and the brakes in particular feel synthetic in the way that the regenerative brakes and electric tillers of most hybrids sometimes are, and are not as refined as they ought to be in production. To be fair, we were not driving the final product.”

  • Automobile

    “The gas/electric Hyundai provides the mechanical ebbs and tides of rpm, torque, and engine growl as the gears change. With that character, the Sonata joins the ranks of the Porsche Cayenne and the Honda CR-Z as hybrids that are enjoyable—even fun-to drive.”

The most consistent remark made by the journalists was about the Sonata Hybrid’s front grille. In an effort to make the hybrid stand out from the conventional version, Hyundai made a number of design changes. Reviewers characterize the hybrid’s hexagonal grille as “howling,” “gaping,” and “aggressive.” The hybrid also gets different tail lamps, five-spoke wheels, and a more aerodynamic design that drops the drag coefficient from .28 to .25. Unfortunately, the cargo capacity falls from 16.4 to 10.7 cubic feet to make room for the lithium ion hybrid battery pack. The Sonata Hybrid is the first production hybrid to use lithium ion, instead of the current nickel metal hydride technology.