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First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Korean carmaker charges into the battery-electric segment.

by on Jul.19, 2010

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. takes a test drive in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. 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 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.)

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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.


Hyundai Expecting Hybrids to Generate 20% of 2020 Sales Mix

Korean maker developing numerous new models, including dedicated hybrid-only offerings.

by on Jun.23, 2010

With its distinctive grille, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is expected to usher in a wave of new gas-electric models from the Korean carmaker.

Though its first hybrid model won’t reach U.S. showrooms for some months, Hyundai is already planning a big assault on the growing global market for gasoline-electric vehicles.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will likely be followed by a mix of models, including dedicated hybrid offerings, much like the popular Toyota Prius, said senior Korean officials, with the technology expected to account for as much as 20% of the maker’s total global volume by the end of the decade.

But while plug-in models could be included in the mix, Hyundai is skeptical about the potential market for pure battery-electric vehicles, barring either significant improvements in battery technology or a significant shift in what consumers expect from their vehicles.

Stay Informed! paid a visit to Seoul to test the new Sonata Hybrid – a review of which we’ll post in the coming weeks — the first gasoline-electric model targeting the U.S., but the second in the Hyundai line-up, which saw a smaller HEV launch in Korean showrooms last year.

“We are spending a fortune on hybrid development,” said Hyun-Soon Lee, the automaker’s vice chairman.


First Look: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Blue Drive

Korean maker to debut first hybrid at NY Auto Show; along with new Sonata Turbo.

by on Mar.26, 2010

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will be the first to use lithium-polymer batteries.

Sadly, we can only offer this sneak peek at the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybid Blue Drive, the Korean maker’s first gas-electric model to reach U.S. shores, but what you’ll likely first notice isn’t the hybrid powertrain – which remains hidden beneath the skin – but the sedan’s distinctive front end, clearly meant to give this model a more up-market feel.

Hyundai officials are saving most of the details for the Sonata Hybrid’s official debut, which will come at next week’s New York International Auto Show, but we’ve been able to “gather string,” as journalists often put it, collecting just enough details to highlight what Hyundai has in store.

(For one thing, the NY Auto Show preview will reveal not only the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, but also a new high-performance Sonata Turbo model.)

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One of the more intriguing details about the Sonata Hybrid Blue Drive, to use its formal name, will be the first production gas-electric model to use a lithium polymer battery.  Its competitors, ranging from the Toyota Prius to the new 2011Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (Click Here for a review) all rely on older nickel-metal hybrid (NiMH)  battery technology.