One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
Late last month, Hyundai announced that after the current 2012 Formula Drift and Global RallyCross Championship season, it will end its (winning) relationship with Rhys Millen Racing of Huntington Beach.
Hyundai, whose new North American headquarters are rising along the 405 freeway in Fountain Valley, explained it's abandoning motorsports here (for now) for "new marketing strategies."
That's not to say the South Korean automaker is abandoning drivers' need for speed, as I experienced in my test drives of the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. See the metallic blue sucker below? More than the styling screams, "FAST."
Trust me, the thing bolts, up hills, along flat freeways and, yes, around many solely gas-powered vehicles. Getting my four-door sedan where I was going faster than expected right from the get-go was a 2.4 liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine that generates 206 horsepower (166 from the gas engine and 40 more from the electric).
Wondering just what was up, I picked and chose spots over the next several days where I could open it up, however briefly--and certainly within the posted speed limits, officers. I must say the thing performed more like a standard European sportscar than your hippie boss' clunky old hybrid.
Here's a look under the hood:
That I'd entered a brave new driving world became obvious speeding up a hill on Jamboree Road in Newport Beach. Know how standard gas-powered vehicles have that pause and slight dip backward as gears change automatically going uphill (or dip even worse with a manual)? The Sonata Shiftronics transmission system does just the opposite, shifting you quickly and smoothy into the higher climb speed with an upward push, as if a booster rocket just went off. It's quite a thrill.
Weirder still, because of the up and down nature of the road I was on, and the hybrid system generating battery power from braking, I wound up using very little gasoline and actually added power to the battery by the time the trip was over. The longer I drove it, the more I was able to finally get the gasoline-tank needle to move down. But not much. The Sonata Hybrid EPA fuel economy estimates are 35 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway.
The 2012 model has been rated the fifth most affordable midsize on the market (out of 15 cars), with a base price of $25,607. The Sonata I had was loaded--the "Ultimate Package" it what they call it--and was therefore listed at $32,260. Among the extras I got with that were: Sirus XM radio; leather seating; touchscreen navigation; a rear backup camera; a really cool panoramic sunroof that can automatically open over the heavens to the front and back seats; and much more.
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More than that stuff, it'll be the smoothness of the six-speed automatic I'll remember most. Every morning, about half a block from my house, you could sense the car was sluggishly sizing up the ride ahead, as we all do. Only, instead of wondering whether to finally tell the hippie boss off, the car seems to be plotting whether to run on gas or electric. Less often, later in the drive, I would hear the gas engine kick on. More often, I'd see such a change indicated on the graphically appealing instrument panel. Perhaps I had the XM radio on too loud to hear it those other times.
By the way, you can also drive it in the "Blue" eco mode--or should I, like the little emblem on the side of the car--spell it "Blué?" I would imagine that would be pronounced like the end of the name of singer Michael Bublé. I must confess, it didn't drive Blue/Blué enough to pass sound judgment.
Otherwise, I was Bluén away.