Driver’s Seat: A lack of subtlety in the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is attractive and fairly roomy. And although it gets great mileage, its performance can be dicey. And its sound system was disappointing.
The 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is attractive and fairly roomy. And although it gets great mileage, its performance can be dicey. And its sound system was disappointing.
Posted: May 30, 2012

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: A family sedan delivering 35 mpg. Not a bad combination. Or is it?

Price: $31,485 as tested, including a $5,500 ultimate package (details later).

Marketer’s pitch: "Brains. Brawn. Beauty."

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports says, "The hybrid version is unrefined."

Reality: CR is right.

Two modes: By now everyone not living under a rock probably knows that a hybrid marries a gasoline engine with an electric motor. By sharing duties and using the brakes and engine power to recharge the batteries, the motor helps reduce fuel consumption and boost mileage.

Auto buffs know Toyota and Honda were the first to the party, and the Toyota Prius has had the most success, both in sales and in the functionality of the system.

But other carmakers have gotten in the game. I’d been pleased with the Buick LaCrosse eAssist, and was happy to try the Sonata Hybrid, with its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine married to an electric motor.

Shaky: Happy, that is, until I tried it.

In other hybrids I strained to notice when the power was switching over, and often thought I was falling down on the job. Why, could it be that I’m losing my touch, that I’m not sensitive enough?

But the Sonata cured me of that worry. The Blue hybrid system switched in and out of modes with all the subtlety and nuance of a Jersey Shore episode.

Whether the engine was cold or warm, it really let me know when I was going electric or internal combustion. Pulling out could even be lurch and go, as my accelerator adjustments seemed to change modes and cause all manner of confusion up front.

Bright and sunny: The panoramic sunroof was part of the ultimate package, which also added leather seating, shift knob and steering wheel, rear backup camera, navigation, premium audio and much more. It made for a sunshiny day for both front- and rear-seat occupants.

However, if you wanted the glass closed but the shade open, well, the stars just have to be in perfect alignment, because the power switch opened both pieces and could be touchy if you stop halfway.

Getting warmer: The heater controls on the touch screen made up for the sunroof trouble, though. The clear picture of the little person with the arrows pointing at his/her head, chest or feet made adjustments clear.

No time: Finding the clock was tricky in the map display. I usually think separate clocks are unneeded, but not in the Sonata.

Night shift: The map lights are bright and well positioned, never interfering with the rearview mirror or casting a glare.

Friends and stuff: I’ve always said the lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat should look up to me more, and the Sonata makes it so. The passenger seat didn’t have all the up-and-down adjustments of the driver, and sat extremely low.

In the back, two of the Sturgis Kids would function well, but a third would have been miserable. The center seat is positioned high on a hump, and foot room here is almost nonexistent behind the front console.

The trunk held quite a bit of shrubbery purchased from a nearby nursery, but there was no pass-through to the passenger compartment. I think this is the first sedan I’ve seen in years without this function.

A sour note: You’d think something named the Sonata would bring great harmony to the sound system. I’ve been disappointed with Kia-Hyundai sound systems — particularly UVO — and the Sonata’s continues this family trait.

The CD player seemed to cut off the first note or three from almost every song, regardless of whether I skipped around or let the CD play through.

Thirst: The Sonata hybrid managed a highly respectable 35.5 mpg, on par with the Buick LaCrosse eAssist.

Where it’s built: Asan, South Korea.

How it’s built: Overall the Sonata rides the middle of the road in Consumer Reports reliability scale.

In the end: The Sonata itself is not a bad vehicle, but the hybrid system really pulls it down. I might look at a normally powered version, which starts under $20,000, or head to the Buick dealership for a nice full-size hybrid.

Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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