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2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid review: Striking design meets strong efficiency

Mention mid-size sedan to the average person and he or she will likely think of a humble four-door with seating for five and a big trunk. That is until they see the 2021 Hyundai Sonata. The current-generation Sonata is a striking piece of automotive art that you’ll either love or hate. Look closer and you’ll find there’s more to this sedan than looks, especially in hybrid guise.

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid exterior

2021 Hyundai Sonata rear light design. Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

If the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s design doesn’t get you to say something, then you have no soul. That unmistakable front fascia and signature LED daytime running lights integrated into the metal trim draws your attention. The svelte side profile screams sexy while the short rear deck lid and full width LED taillights highlight the car’s curvaceousness. Range-topping Limited hybrid models get solar panels on the roof, giving the car another way to generate electricity to replenish the battery and improve overall efficiency.

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid interior

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s cabin is an exercise in restraint. You get a familiar, user-friendly dash layout packed with modern tech features. Knobs, buttons, and switches operate with a satisfying level of quality every time you use them. Fit and finish impress thanks to the generous swathes of padded surfaces, soft plastics, and strategically placing harder bits away from touchpoints. Wind noise at highway speeds remains an issue; you get a lot of buffeting over the B-pillars. Road and tire noise, on the other hand, are kept to a minimum.

For consumers planning to use the Sonata Hybrid as a family or road trip vehicle, fear not. The swoopy exterior hasn’t affected the car’s practicality. Four adults fit comfortably while five will be fine in a pinch. With the lithium-ion battery positioned under the rear seats, the trunk measures 16.0 cubic feet, the same as non-hybrid models. The rear seat backs also split 60/40 for added flexibility. The driver’s seat could use more vertical adjustment because it doesn’t lower enough for taller people to clear their heads from the headliner. Better cushioning and bolstering are needed too because the front seats feel flat and lack sufficient thigh support.

Hyundai remains a multimedia tech leader. The available 10.25-inch touch screen is quick, responsive, and laid out sensibly. An optional 12.3-inch digital cluster logically presents information and has cool animations when you switch drive modes. You can also pick and choose which information to put between the speedometer and power gauge. We wish the shortcut buttons around the main screen were physical instead of capacitive, though, because they require you to take your eyes off the road when using them. The 12-speaker Bose surround sound system, on the other hand, is one of the best in the segment thanks to its clarity and even sound immersion throughout the cabin.

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid driving impressions

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

If you’re looking for a hybrid that drives more like a traditional, non-electrified car, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid should be high on your list. Unlike the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid, the Sonata sticks to a more conventional powertrain layout. The 2.0-liter I4 is paired to an electric motor, a 1.62-kWh lithium-ion battery, and a six-speed automatic transmission. At 192 hp combined, the Sonata Hybrid is down 16 to 20 hp versus its competitors. Fortunately, it never feels winded even when you point it up a steep hill or during passing and merging.

For the majority of driving situations, the Sonata Hybrid operates without much fuss. Gear changes are crisp and quick 95 percent of the time. However, shifts get a little clunky at low speeds, particularly in Eco mode. The gearbox also hunts during enthusiastic driving, even in Sport mode. Both are likely byproducts of the transmission’s efficiency-minded calibration. Smart mode keeps the powertrain functioning at its smoothest.

Braking, on the other hand, impresses. Transitions between regenerative and mechanical braking are imperceptible, allowing you to accurately gauge how much stopping power you’re inputting. The pedal feel is nice and firm, further adding to the familiar driving experience.

Like its non-electrified siblings, the Sonata Hybrid’s chassis and suspension exude confidence. Excellent body control and accurate, communicative steering give the car a composed feel on the road. The Sonata turns in eagerly, allowing the driver to easily execute evasive maneuvers. Just make sure you don’t push the car too hard because the eco-focused tires howl quickly as the suspension overwhelms them. Where the Sonata Hybrid falls behind the Honda Accord slightly is in impact harshness. The Accord’s ability to make road imperfections disappear while providing borderline sports sedan handling is second to none, especially in Touring trim with adaptive dampers. The Sonata’s suspension lets you feel more of the road, which can sometimes lead to it not absorbing sharper impacts as adeptly.

The Sonata Hybrid’s driver assistance technologies are some of the most accurate available. With lane-centering active, the car easily navigates gentle turns at highway speeds and will even tug the steering wheel to alert you that it needs more steering input for an incoming turn. Following distances with adaptive cruise control active are on point, you have space for emergency maneuvers but not enough for another car to cut you off. In traffic, the car accelerates and decelerates without bobbing your head around.

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid pricing

We drove the range-topping Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited, which stickers for $36,275 including destination. Our test vehicle cost $36,430 due to the $155 accessory floor mats that came with it. A base Sonata Hybrid Blue starts at $28,745.

Final verdict

Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Hyundai continues to impress with its latest vehicles and the Sonata Hybrid is no exception. This sedan is now among the best thanks to its impressive suite of tech features, a roomy interior, and extroverted design. More polish and refinement are needed, however, to realize the Sonata Hybrid’s full potential. A transmission that shifts more decisively and isn’t in a hurry to get to the highest gear and a suspension that dispatches harder impacts better would go a long way toward that. Even with its quirks, the Sonata Hybrid remains a formidable mid-size sedan.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Hyundai
  • Model: Sonata Hybrid
  • Trim: Limited
  • Type: 4-door mid-size sedan
  • Combined horsepower: 192 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 45/51/47 (Blue: 50/54/52)
  • Pros: Excellent fuel efficiency, class-above interior build quality
  • Cons: Front seats lack sufficient vertical adjustment, suspension could be a little more compliant
  • Base: $28,745
  • Price as tested: $36,430
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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