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July 7, 2013

Sonata Hybrid wins in many ways

Some of the best evidence that hybrid-drive automobiles now are fully a part of the automotive mainstream can be seen in Salem, N.H. The dealership Salem Ford Hyundai carries regular versions and hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and the Hyundai Sonata, two mid-size sedans that people like for all the usual, smart and sensible qualities that can make a model popular.

The Fusion and Sonata are stylish and slickly contemporary. They are well sized, with comfortable, spacious cabins. They are affordably priced and run with reasonable economy. Both models are well engineered and thoughtfully equipped with features. And both offer an ascending array of options and trim levels to appeal to varying tastes and preferences.

The fact that one of those options is a hybrid-drive version no longer seems remarkable at all. In fact, a lot of car shoppers approach the Fusion Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid not as special purchases, but merely as just another variation with added-on capabilities that just might work for them.

Let’s focus on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, because that’s the model I most recently experienced. The Sonata Hybrid I evaluated last week showed the small quirks you quickly accept and cease to notice in any hybrid – a car that moves using both gasoline power and electric power, sometimes with both simultaneously and sometimes with one instead of the other.

For example, a signal on the instrument panel flashes “ready” even when the gasoline engine doesn’t start, because at lower speeds most hybrids can move on electric power alone. And at stop lights the gas engine shuts down automatically to save fuel, starting again without your notice when the car resumes motion.

After such special, hybrid-only operating traits blended with my general expectations, the Sonata Hybrid delivered a pleasant and satisfying driving experience in a top-notch auto. The only special quality that stayed apparent was the variant’s superior fuel economy. I averaged 42 miles per gallon after 325 miles of mixed driving that slanted more toward freeway cruises than around-town scampers. The official government gas-use estimate for the Sonata Hybrid is 36 mpg city, 40 mpg highway. By comparison, a conventional, gasoline-only Sonata, equipped with a 198-horsepower four-cylinder engine, carries a government rating of 24 mpg city, and 35 mpg highway.

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