Hybrid technology continues to evolve and improve as more manufacturers jump on the gas-electric bandwagon and the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid falls right in step as a competent hybrid.
The Sonata Hybrid certainly has eye-catching styling, with sleek, sculptured sheet metal that gives it a wind-cheating drag coefficient that's better than a lot of two-door performance cars.
The interior of the Sonata Hybrid follows the pattern set by the conventional Sonata with a modern, contemporary look and feel, similar to what you'd see in a Volvo or Saab. It's sturdy and stylish but not overly glitzy. There's just a single trim level with a couple of option packages that add some comfort and convenience features.
The Leather Package gets you heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. The Ultimate Package brings you a nav system, larger wheels, and panoramic sunroof.
Hyundai's Blue Drive hybrid system really sets it apart from the competition. The batteries are lithium polymer, not lithium ion as in most other hybrids, and Hyundai says they'll never have to be replaced during the vehicle's lifespan.
Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty on all the hybrid components is a sign of how confident they are of the Sonata's mechanical durability.
The driving experience is mostly positive. It's got peppy acceleration from a dead stop and enough power for highway passing. The front-wheel drive Sonata Hybrid's 2.4-liter, inline 4 delivers 166 horsepower and shares the work with a 40-horsepower electric motor mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. That's not a lot of power so while highway performance is ok, driving in the city will take some getting used to.
That's because going from gasoline to electric operation isn't as smooth as in most other hybrids. Parallel parking can be nerve-wracking when the gasoline engine starts up as you step on the throttle in reverse. Braking is also a bit strange when the regenerative braking function kicks in.
Outside of those differences, the Sonata Hybrid drives and behaves much like a good-quality mid-size sedan should, especially on the open road.
EPA mileage estimates range from 35 mpg city to 40 mpg highway, but our observed city mileage wasn't quite as good.
The Sonata Hybrid's list of safety equipment is extensive, including full airbag protection, giving the Sonata Hybrid 4 out of 5 stars in frontal crash testing and 5 out of 5 in side-impact collisions.
The base sticker price on the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid of $25,850 has got to be considered a bargain. Even when optioned to the max, we think the Sonata Hybrid remains affordable. And Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty is a class leader.
The toughest heads-up competition comes from the Kia Optima Hybrid. It's priced about the same, has sharp European styling, it gets the same fuel economy as the Sonata and you even get the same Lithium Polymer battery.
The Sonata Hybrid is more at home on the highway than in the city, so if you spend most of your driving time on the interstate, we think the Sonata Hybrid will be a really good fit.
If you've held off on looking at a hybrid because you think they're all about fuel economy without the fun, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid deserves a chance to change your mind.