A new hybrid is coming to town.
There’s a new hybrid electric car to watch for debuting this fall- the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). While the 2016 Sonata Hybrid will be available nationwide, the release of the Plug-In model will be limited to California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon Rhode Island, and Vermont. Luckily for me, I live in one of those states, and I recently had the opportunity to preview and test-drive the 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.
Now, I’m not a gear-head, I don’t frequent auto shows, and I couldn’t begin to compare engine torque and tech specs with any kind of authority. But I AM a consumer whose “life happens in cars.” I’m a mom, I have two dogs, I surf, and I have a desire to be comfortable and safe whether I’m commuting to Los Angeles for the day or taking a road trip with the family for a week. I enjoy driving, and I care about reducing environmental impact wherever possible. So, I’m all kinds of excited about Hyundai’s new Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.
Fully charged, the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is expected to have an all-electric range of up to 24 miles, which is rather impressive for a mid-size sedan. That’s certainly enough to shuttle the kids to school and run daily errands without using any gas. Recharging can be done using a standard 120V outlet at home (and will take about 9 hours, so, overnight), or you can recharge at a 240V Level Two charging station in less than three hours.
For longer hauls, once the electric charge has depleted, it automatically shifts into hybrid mode, using power from a gasoline engine, and a braking system that returns charge to the battery. Hyundai estimates an expected delivery of 93 mpg when driven in combined EV and hybrid mode.
It looks like an ordinary car. And it drives like an ordinary car…without the noise, CO2 emissions, and frequency of visits to the gas station.
When I sat in the driver’s seat for the first time, the seat self-adjusted according to my height and leg length. Every time I got back in, it remembered. The front seats are ventilated and may be individually heated, and the steering wheel is also heated! Ventilated temperature controls are individualized.
The dashboard and instrument cluster is logical and doesn’t require hours of study to navigate the menu. The technology is convenient and useful, and displays are easy to interpret and just make sense.
Taking the drive
Driving the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is smooth, intuitive, and comfortable. The safety features include seven airbags, an ABS and Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, and a rear view camera. Advanced safety technology comes standard, with features like Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (for backing out of spaces), Lane Change Assist, and a Lane Departure Warning System. Sometimes the audible alerts were overly cautious, but they can be muted since the visual cues are equally helpful and warning lights appear on the dashboard and the side rear mirrors.
The fun stuff
I have to admit, I do get excited about the little things. USB input jacks, without having to use an adapter plug, brilliant. Sirius XM satellite radio and Bluetooth phone connectivity, awesome. Voice command navigation, superb. And the hands-free Smart Trunk is great for loading groceries, dogs, or surfboards into the spacious (13.4 cubic foot) cargo hold with 60/40 split folding rear seats.
There’s an exclusive Blue Link smartphone app for your phone, and even for the Apple watch! The app allows owners to perform functions like starting the engine, locking doors, and setting navigation directions remotely. The app also features the ability to set a charging schedule and access vehicle diagnostics, existing battery level, electric and fuel range, and time left until fully charged.
The stuff that could be more fun
While the Apple watch comes in many fun colors, the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid does not. Basically, you have four simple color choices with fancy names that really just mean white, black, gray, and “Seaport Mist” that isn’t quite green, isn’t quite blue, and isn’t quite remarkable. I looked around me recently on the freeway, and noted that Hyundai is not alone is producing dull generic car colors. How I would love to see this green “Blue Drive” Sonata actually be offered in a bright blue or green. That would be not only fun, but fitting.
The prices and perks
I can’t tell you the price, because Hyundai won’t be announcing it before the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid goes on sale in the fall. But I can tell you that there are perks, in the form of tax credits. Buyers will be eligible for a $2,500 fixed federal tax credit, and an additional variable federal tax credit based on battery capacity that will be over $2,000. California buyers will benefit from the clean vehicle incentive rebate of an additional $1,500, and will receive the Clean Air Vehicle decal stickers that allow single drivers to use the carpool HOV lanes. These stickers alone are deal-sealers for southern California commuters!