Tap the “Start” button and an assortment of lights and gauges pop to life, but all in near silence.
As we slip the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid into gear and slowly squeeze the throttle, the sedan begins to creep forward, the tires crunching on the tarmac at the maker’s Namyang Proving Grounds, an hour outside Seoul.
Slapping the accelerator towards the floor, the 2.4-liter I-4 engine under the hood suddenly roars to life, the car launching aggressively down the pavement and hitting 60 in just over 9 seconds – not much off the time of the standard, gasoline-powered 2011 Sonata.
TheDetroitBureau.com braved the long flight over to Seoul, followed by the drive to Namyang to get an early drive in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Though it’s actually the second gasoline-electric model in the maker’s line-up, an earlier battery version of the Elantra has so far been offered only to domestic Korean buyers. The ’11 Sonata will be the first Hyundai hybrid earmarked for the U.S. – though as TheDetroitBureau.com also reports, it won’t be the last. (Click Here for more on Hyundai’s aggressive plans to expand its hybrid line-up.)
The conventionally-powered version of the 2011 midsize sedan, the seventh-generation Sonata, is quickly proving to be a smash hit for the Korean carmaker – “the most highly-rated model we’ve ever seen,” according to George Peterson, of the consulting firm, AutoPacific, Inc. But the Sonata line is about to grow, with the addition of both a 2.0-liter turbo and the new Sonata Hybrid.
Already a striking design statement, the gas-electric model is even more visually distinctive, with a blacked-out hexagonal grille, unique head and taillamps and extensive aerodynamic revisions that reduce the Sonata’s drag coefficient from 0.28 to 0.25. (To put that into perspective, this roughly 10% reduction in wind resistance is itself responsible for boosting fuel economy by 5%, according to Hyundai engineers.)
The new Blue High-Tech system has some technological differences from existing hybrids, as well. To start with, Hyundai has adopted a manganese-doped lithium-polymer battery pack, rather than nickel-metal hydride batteries. That helped the maker reduce both the size and weight of the pack by about a third even though the lithium batteries will hold about 15% more energy.
Lithium-ion, a variation of Hyundai’s polymer battery, will only begin showing up later this year on even more advanced plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles.