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Futuristic and fuel efficient

By Ghaith Madadha - Jan 21,2013 - Last updated at Jan 21,2013

AMMAN — Appearing in late 2009, the sixth generation Hyundai Sonata became an export sales success for the giant Korean automaker.

Aggressively marketed with even a product placement appearance on the hit TV series House, the moody and aggressive coupe Sonata was the right car at the right time.

Well-kitted, reliable, spacious, mainstream and affordable, the Sonata and Korean car manufacturers in general benefited from their own ascendancy and recession-beaten consumers looking for alternatives to costly Japanese cars.

Offering lower fuel consumption, the Sonata Hybrid joined the line-up by 2011, and with Jordan’s recent and heavily discounted hybrid import duty regime, this US-spec model now sells at a similar price to an entry-level Sonata, despite higher pre-tax cost.

With a heavily re-styled fascia to differentiate it from regular petrol models, the Sonata Hybrid’s parallel hybrid drive-train is however what really differentiates it. With an electric motor developing 40hp at 1400-6000rpm and 151lb/ft at 0-1400rpm, the Sonata Hybrid’s primary combustion engine is a more efficient and higher compression but less powerful Atkinson Cycle version of the same 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine found in regular versions, and which develops 166hp at 6000rpm and 154lb/ft at 4500rpm.

Producing a full system maximum output of 206hp at 6000rpm and 195lb/ft at 4500rpm, the Sonata Hybrid’s greater power offsets its minimum 112kg weight disadvantage to the non-hybrid version.

Frugal and flexible

Smooth in its transitions from electric-only, petrol only and combined power drive, the Sonata Hybrid’s is a non-plug in system, whereby the petrol engine generates both drive power and electricity for the hybrid system battery when not on full throttle, while regenerative braking also converts kinetic energy on the overrun and when braking to generate electricity.

Silently setting off in electric mode, the Sonata Hybrid’s petrol engine pitches in on meaningful throttle depression, and while the car can theoretically be driven exclusively on electric motors up to 100km/h, in real world driving this translates into short bursts of electric only and efficient but combined electric and petrol drive most times.

Covering the 0-97km/h sprint in around 9-seconds or less, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s standing start and in-town on-the-move acceleration are good, while meaningful overtaking at highway speeds requires a strong throttle depression and gearbox kick-down to call upon both petrol and electric power. On steep inclines the Sonata Hybrid felt confident and quick when there was enough charge to drive the electric motor with its added power and its high low-end torque.

However, on a prolonged drive in such untypical and rare uphill conditions and with the battery depleted, the Sonata Hybrid’s added weight and reduced combustion engine power become apparent.

Quiet and efficient

Driven through a 6-speed automatic gearbox rather than continually variable transmission as many hybrids, the Sonata Hybrid allows one more autonomy and control, with one able to choose gears and engine speed, whether for acceleration or control through corners.

Though that said, the Sonata Hybrid was best driven in automatic mode where shifts were smooth and responsive to kick down, while in sequential manual mode one felt that down-shifts needed to be more responsive. Slightly closer second to third gear ratios would improve performance on inclines, while the absence of a rev counter may highlight the car’s smooth and quiet hybrid drive-train, but would be welcome information nonetheless.

With its active energy flow diagram displayed on the infotainment screen and an ‘Eco Guide’ meter replacing the rev counter, the Sonata Hybrid’s information displays and one’s attempts to drive on electric only power as long as possible, encourage a more frugal style of driving.

Using a 43.5kg Lithium polymer battery pack to save space and weight, and for long battery life, the Sonata Hybrid’s boot remains adequately sized at 303-litres volume. Noticeably efficient on a test drive involving combined conditions including prolonged downhill coasting, city traffic and aggressive country lanes and hill climbs, the Sonata Hybrid’s fuel efficiency gains are best during city driving (6.9l/100km) but it is most economic on the highway (6l/100km). The Sonata Hybrid’ combined fuel consumption rating is 6.5l/100km.

Smooth and stable

A smooth, comfortable, economic and quiet D-segment family saloon, the Sonata Hybrid is in its element on long distance journeys or on mixed urban and highway commutes where it is a relaxing experience. Sonata Hybrid passengers benefit from mostly generous interior space, including excellent rear legroom, which for passengers over 180cm, makes up for its rakish roofline and less than generous rear headroom.

Moderately quick, the Sonata’s steering is light and relaxed but could do with more feedback for brisk B-road driving, while its MacPherson strut and multi-link suspension is comfortably set-up to absorb and cushion from most road roughness. However, with 17-inch wheels, the more vicious road cracks are felt.

Built for comfort and confident highway driving, the Sonata Hybrid is stable at speed and easy to drive, and even when driven modestly briskly it benefits from good rear-end grip, and remains controlled on the turn-in and through a corner.

However, pushed close to its limits on winding roads, the Sonata Hybrid is not in its element. With some under-steer on tight corners entered too fast, one can ease off the throttle, while with electronic stability control on, this is done automatically. Body roll is evident but not overly exaggerated, and while it does a good job of smoothing out rough patches and broken roads, the Sonata Hybrid could do with firmer vertical control on sudden and sharp dips or depressions.

Dramatic and well-kitted

The Sonata Hybrid, like some other Hybrids, could also benefit from quicker responses when one lifts of the throttle at full power, while its brakes pedal should be more linear and less grabby, as the pedal sensitivity does take a while to adjust to.

A dramatic and futuristic looking car with a low coupe-like roofline reminiscent of a Mercedes CLS-Class, scalloped bonnet and high waistline, one needs to adjust to getting a feel for its extremities in tight underground parking spaces, and one would wish that parking sensors were standard equipment, however, electronic stability control does come as standard on the Sonata Hybrid.

At JD28,000 on-the-road, the spacious and comfortable and economic Sonata Hybrid is very good value up front, and in the long-term owing to its fuel efficiency at a time when petrol prices look to remain high.

With the well-kitted US-spec model featured including dual zone climate control, leatherette upholstery, hot and cold seat ventilation, electric mirrors and sunroof, and other features. Also including is a more attractive fascia than the standard model, with the Sonata Hybrid featuring a muscular and gaping trapezoidal air intake, as well as clear rear light clusters

Similar to Hyunadai’s most attractive models such as the Genesis Coupe, Veloster and Santa Fe, the Sonata Hybrid’s fascia also better complements its sharp and prominent side crease running along its length.

Technical specifications

Engine: 2.4-litre, transverse 4-cylinders

Bore x stroke: 88 x 97mm

Compression: 13:1

Valve-train: 16-valve, DOHC, continuously variable timing

Hybrid type: Parallel petrol combustion engine & electric motor

Battery: Lithium polymer

Voltage: 270

Battery capacity: 5.3Ah

Battery output: 34kW

Battery weight: 43.5kg

Gearbox: 6-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive

Gear ratios: 1st 4.212:1; 2nd 2.637:1; 3rd 1.8:1; 4th 1.386:1; 5th 1:1; 6th 0.772:1

Reverse/final drive ratios: 3.385:1/3.320:1

Petrol engine power, HP (kW): 166 (124) @ 6000rpm

Electric motor power, HP (kW): 40 (30) @ 1400-6000rpm

Combined power, HP (kW): 206 (153.6) @ 6000rpm

Petrol engine torque, lb/ft (Nm): 154 (209) @ 4500rpm

Electric motor torque, lb/ft (Nm): 151 (205) @ 0-1400rpm

Combined torque, lb/ft (Nm): 195.4 (265) @ 4500rpm

0-97km/h: approximately 9-seconds

Electric only limit: 100km/h

Fuel consumption, city/highway/combined: 6.9/6/6.5 litres/100km

Length: 4821mm

Width: 1834mm

Height: 1465mm

Wheelbase: 2794mm

Tread: 1590mm

Headroom, F/R: 1016/945mm

Legroom, F/R: 1155/879mm

Shoulder-room, F/R: 1470/1440mm

Luggage volume: 303-litres

Kerb weight: 1568-1623kg

Steering: Electrically assisted rack & pinion

Lock-to-lock: 2.94-turns

Turning circle: 10.91-metres

Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts/Multi-link

Brakes, F/R: 300mm ventilated disc/284mm disc

Tyres: 215/55R17

Price, on-the-road, no insurance: JD28,000

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