Used 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid Review
Like asparagus and anchovies, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are an acquired taste. And so far, car shoppers in the United States seem to think they won't taste very good, even though most have never tried one. As of this writing, PHEVs account for fewer than 1 percent of the new-car market. But with the all-new 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, Hyundai is hoping to leave a better taste in shoppers' mouths, even though it will only grace dealerships in the so-called ZEV states that follow California's zero emission vehicles rules.
Subtle styling changes and special badging are the only visual cues distinguishing the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.
The appeal of a PHEV is that it couples a useful amount of all-electric driving capability with a conventional gas-electric hybrid system like what you'd find in a Toyota Prius. You can buzz around solely on battery power for a certain number of miles, and when your juice runs out, the car automatically switches to the hybrid powertrain. That means there's none of the range anxiety you get with a "pure" electric vehicle (EV), but you can still enjoy genuine EV functionality on short trips. The downside is that PHEVs generally cost considerably more than regular hybrids, though federal and state tax credits can make that hit a lot less painful.
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is the company's first try at a PHEV, and it certainly makes a splash with its 27 miles of all-electric range. It features a larger battery and electric motor than the conventional Sonata Hybrid, and even when you've depleted the battery's charge in EV mode, you can still expect 40 mpg overall in gas-electric hybrid mode. An unusual charge-on-the-go feature — theoretically enabling full battery recharging during hybrid operation — rounds out the Sonata PHEV's very competitive package. Between drives, it takes just under three hours to recharge a parked Sonata plug-in's battery using a 240-volt power source.
As it is based on the Edmunds "A-rated" 2016 Sonata, the new Sonata Plug-In also offers plenty of interior room, an easy-driving demeanor and a fully up-to-date feature set. If you're interested in other family sedan PHEVs, the Ford Fusion Energi is the only game in town for 2016, and it trails the Hyundai with its roughly 20 miles of all-electric range and 38-mpg hybrid fuel economy. The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt provides a whopping 53 miles of EV range, but it's a significantly smaller car, leaving the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid in a very favorable position within this eco-conscious niche.
trim levels & features
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is a midsize family sedan offered in two trim levels: base and Limited.
The base Sonata plug-in carries a fairly impressive list of standard equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, LED running lights and taillights, a hands-free trunk lid, keyless entry and ignition, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leatherette door trim, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, a 4.2-inch color driver information center, an auto dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, Bluetooth connectivity, an 8-inch touchscreen and a premium Dimension audio system with a subwoofer, USB and auxiliary inputs, HD radio and satellite radio.
The 2016 Sonata PHEV's interior is mostly standard-issue Sonata, and that's a good thing.
Stepping up to the Limited gets you xenon headlights with automatic high beams, an electronic parking brake, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a six-way power front passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, driver memory settings, accent stitching on the door trim, woodgrain-look interior inlays and an upgraded Infinity sound system. Additions to safety equipment include adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning system, lane-departure warning and rear parking sensors.
The sole factory option, offered only on the Limited, is a 3D "tech appearance" interior trim package with blue leather.
performance & mpg
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid has a 154-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine mated to a 50-kilowatt, 67-hp (peak) electric motor. Total system output is 202 hp, delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. A 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery feeds power to the electric motor and is recharged by the engine and a regenerative braking system once the initial charge is gone.
While not particularly powerful by PHEV standards, the Sonata plug-in's electric motor is strong enough to sustain speeds of up to 75 mph in EV mode, Hyundai says. Fuel efficiency is an EPA-estimated 40 mpg combined when operating in standard hybrid mode and 99 miles per gallon-equivalent (MPGe) when the all-electric range is combined with standard gas-electric mode. Estimated range using just electric power is 27 miles, which is above-average for a plug-in family sedan.
Standard safety equipment on the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, front-seat side-impact airbags, a rearview camera and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. The Limited trim adds rear parking sensors, lane-departure alert, a forward collision warning system and adaptive cruise control with stop-start capability and Hyundai's Blue Link telematics and emergency communications system.
Recognizing that pedestrians may not hear hybrids when they are operating in virtually silent all-electric mode, Hyundai has equipped the 2016 Sonata PHEV with a "virtual engine sound system." It broadcasts the sound of a gas engine via front-mounted speakers when the car is operating in EV mode at speeds lower than 20 mph.
Although there is currently no crash-test data specifically on the Sonata PHEV, the standard 2016 Sonata received the top five-star crash safety rating in government testing, including five stars for both frontal and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2016 Sonata its highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact, roof-strength and rear-impact (head restraints and seats) crash tests, while a second-best "Acceptable" rating was awarded in the small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid's ride is silky smooth on all kinds of pavement, and the cabin remains remarkably quiet at speed. There's not a lot of feedback from the electric steering, but the Sonata PHEV goes where you point it with no drama, and it feels stable and secure through corners.
Drivers can select from two driving modes — Eco and Normal — with Eco as the default mode. Throttle response and shift points are adjusted for each. Hyundai's six-speed automatic provides for smooth acceleration in either mode without the irritating drone associated with the continually variable transmissions (CVTs) used by many hybrids. A flick of the wrist pops the shifter lever into its manual gate for those who want a little more control in hybrid mode.
The Sonata PHEV is an enjoyable hybrid to drive, boasting a responsive six-speed automatic, a supple ride and reasonably confident dynamics.
Drivers also can select from among EV, Hybrid and Charge modes. In EV mode, the car remains under all-electric power unless conditions such as steep hills or spirited acceleration demand help from the gas engine. In Hybrid mode, or HEV, the Sonata plug-in operates as a standard hybrid. Depressing the HEV button for several seconds kicks things into Charge mode for recharging the battery pack from engine and regenerative-braking energy. In our test-drive, we managed to replenish 22 miles of all-electric range while using "Charge" mode on the highway.
The 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid features the same interior layout introduced with the redesign of the standard Sonata in 2015. The aesthetically pleasing dashboard and center stack substitute restraint and maturity for the somewhat flashy look of the previous model. Materials quality is very good for the segment, and Hyundai nicely provides real knobs and buttons for its audio and climate controls. If you prefer the modern poke-and-swipe method, the standard 8-inch touchscreen is one of the most user-friendly you'll find.
A PHEV-specific energy information center replaces the tachometer in the gauge cluster, while both the 4.2-inch driver information screen (between the gauges) and the 8-inch central touchscreen provide all sorts of data about energy flow, regenerative braking, fuel efficiency, range and battery capacity. A "Coasting Guide" screen coaches drivers on when to let up on the accelerator when approaching turns, highway exits and stops. Hyundai claims that you can boost fuel efficiency by 3 percent if you follow its prompts.
The Sonata plug-in's central touchscreen provides loads of PHEV-specific information, including charging station locations
The Sonata plug-in's cabin is roomy and comfortable, although the larger battery pack takes up a bit of room in the trunk, cutting cargo space to just 9.9 cubic feet from the regular Sonata Hybrid's 13.3 cubes. Nonetheless, the Sonata PHEV handily beats the Fusion Energi, which can only muster 8.2 cubes. As in other Sonata models, passenger space is a strength, with adult-size accommodations provided in both rows.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.