If you need to spend a LOT of time in the car, this is how to do it.
I spent a solid week in the car. Like, 8 hours a day for a whole week. And most of it not driving. I was ‘bubbling,’ or keeping within the family bubble while traveling after a long pandemic shutdown. Limiting your exposure to others is critical these days, so bubbling in the car — for me the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid — has become a strategy for safety while traveling or just tackling routine tasks at home.
During my week, the Sonata was my office — I typically work in coffee shops when I travel, but that’s not possible these days. I also did a lot of waiting— I had to take people places, pick up groceries and get a COVID-19 test. And of course, I did a lot of driving.
I expected the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid to be comfortable, but I’m impressed by this sedan’s luxuriousness even at the entry level and especially at the top end, which has a starting price of $27,750 and comes in at about $36,000 fully loaded.
I was not prepared for just how perfect it would be for long days in the driver’s seat, ‘bubbling’ with my family and keeping my distance from others. Here are the 10 key things I discovered about how to best bubble in your car and how the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid made bubbling even easier.
1. Space to stretch out is key
I loved that the drivers seat in the Hyundai Sonata slides waaaaaay back. It’s clearly designed for very tall people to drive, which makes it a great mobile office. If you’re of average height, you can slide the seat back far enough back to put your laptop on your lap so you can still reach your coffee in the cup holder, your phone in the cubby and your handbag on the passenger seat without bumping into the steering wheel.
2. Hybrid power is the way to idle
This was actually my thing about spending time in the Sonata Hybrid, but it’s true of all hybrids: you can leave the engine “on,” and it only kicks on when it needs to replenish the battery. It produces no tailpipe emissions. This means you can run the air conditioning or heat much of the time without burning gas or releasing dangerous fumes around the car. In the Sonata Hybrid the engine cycled on for about 10 minutes every hour, then sat in silence the rest of the time even though I had the radio, air conditioner and two power ports in use.
The solar panel on the roof no doubt contributed to this; it’s designed to replenish up to two miles of driving range and to continually absorb solar power. In all, my week of idling all day used about a quarter tank of gas. My guess is that if I were idling in a conventional gas-fueled car I’d have burned a tank of gas that week. In a typical hybrid I’d probably use more gas than I did in the Sonata Hybrid.
3. Enough power ports that are easy to reach
It’s hard to bubble in a car for very long without having your phone, tablet or laptop — or all three — powered. I appreciated that the Sonata Hybrid not only has lots of places to plug in, but the storage cubby under the center console was large enough to hold everything including a household plug adapter that plugged into the 12V cigarette lighter-style power port. The cubby also has two USB ports (that are outlined by a lighted frame so they are easy to see) and a wireless charge pad. The rear seat has one USB port but in all, there are enough outlets for everyone.
4. A place to put everything
I was thrilled that everything I needed at hand fit in the cubby under the center console, leaving the cup holders open for a coffee cup and a water bottle, two other critical things when you’re bubbling in the car. Everything else I needed to have with me was in easy reach. When I was alone, I left my bag on the passenger’s seat. When I had passengers, it went on the rear seat or on the floor behind me. It was easy to reach in any of those places.
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5. A smart key
Get in and out of your car faster and manage things like grocery bags and coffee runs without having to fumble for a key. Hyundai has long offered smart keys, even on its more affordable models, and it’s a great thing: with your key in your handbag, just pull the door handle and the car unlocks. To lock it, push the indentation on the door handle when you leave the car. This makes the rest of bubbling so easy.
6. A solid sound system
Yes, a great sound system is important for those long drives when you just need to relax or you want to get pumped for the day. But what about listening to a podcast or making a phone call? If you’re working in the car or spending a lot of time waiting for people or deliveries, it’s a great time to get those calls out of the way or catch up on The Daily. On the road it’s also great for turn by turn directions, especially if you’re driving in an unfamiliar place. The Sonata Hybrid Limited comes equipped with a Bose Premium sound system, and it came through beautifully every time.
7. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Plug in your phone with the USB, go through the initial setup and then bingo, every time you get in the car and plug in the phone, Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto) pops on. It’s great to pre-load directions in to your maps, set up a Spotify playlist and to read your messages.
8. Comfortable seats — for everyone
Honestly, if you’re going to sit in a car for 8 hours it better be comfortable. And it was. Even the backseat was comfortable and offered a reasonable amount of legroom, which was great for when I wanted a change of scenery.
9. Flexible cargo space
Bubbling in the car means you may need accommodate things you might not normally carry so you can save trips, time and exposure. The rear seats in the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid fold flat in a 60/40 split so we were able to easily slide in a golf bag during our drive and still have room for our luggage. We could have fit more and probably could have wedged the golf bag in crosswise, but it was just easier to put the seat down. Plus, the smaller rear seat gave our dog Eli a cozier place to sleep on the drive.
10. Get out and stretch or go for a walk
You’re already in the car, so it’s easy to find a park or a greenway and stretch or go for a walk. Getting out for some fresh air and exercise are particularly important these days. Even more so if you’re sitting all day.
I’ve long worked in my car when traveling or find myself with an hour to kill while waiting for my kids, so I’m used to it. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid was a delightful surprise. I thought working in a sedan would be a compromise, but between the ample space and the hybrid engine, it was a delight. And, even though the Limited model with the solar cell roof carries the heftiest price tag, if you work in your car often it will likely pay for itself. I was really surprised at how little gas the Sonata Hybrid used despite all the time I spent in it with the engine on.
On the road we average about 44MPG, slightly less than the 47MPG that it’s estimated to get. That’s probably because I ran the car all day every day. Even so, those are impressive numbers. Typically when you use up the hybrid battery power, the gas engine has to replenish it and that, of course, takes gas.
It’s been refreshing to get out of the house and to be able to bubble safely in the car. And while working in the car and walking in the same parks week after week isn’t perfect, it sure is a nice change of pace in a pandemic.
Disclosure: Hyundai provided the Sonata Hybrid for this test drive. All opinions are my own.