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September 16, 2012

Hyundai Sonata moves hybrids forward

During my first quarter mile or so in a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the car grabbed and pitched when I pressed the brake near a turn. Okay, it was a hybrid, and hybrid-drive cars typically brake more sensitively than standard autos. That’s because hybrids turn on their generators to help slow a car, sucking off some of the auto’s kinetic energy so the brakes themselves do less work. The spinning generator, in turn, pumps electricity into the batteries that power the electric motor that helps the gas motor move the vehicle.

Called regenerative braking, the set-up is a nifty bit of energy conservation. It’s one of the ways that hybrid cars get more miles from a gallon of gas. It doesn’t affect driving. The small change in pedal feel from regenerative braking is the sort of alteration a car owner adapts to at once. After just a few stops the mental adjustment gets made. Everything about a hybrid’s braking seems normal after that.

It did for me in the Sonata Hybrid. In fact, the sharing of power beneath the sedan was so smooth and seamless that I quickly forgot I was driving a hybrid at all. My only reminder was the musical chime from the dash when I pressed the start button to turn on or shut down the car. The chime is necessary, because at rest the Hyundai can be dead silent.

Hyundai introduced the hybrid version of its popular, four-door, front-drive Sonata sedan in 2010 as a 2011 model. The 2012 Sonata Hybrid sells at a list price of $26,625. That puts it in the mid-upper range of the Sonata line, which starts at a manufacturer’s price of $20,520 for a Sonata GLS equipped with a four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed manual transmission.

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