Hybrids. Remember those? Not so long ago they were up there with iPod Shuffles and BlackBerrys as the cool thing to have.
Today? Eh, not so much.
Remember when we couldn’t get enough of Toyota’s wonky-looking Prius? Back in 2012, we bought 236,000 of the things. Last year, sales had dropped to 69,000.
There’s a long list of reasons for the hybrid decline. Gas at a buck-99 a gallon doesn’t help their cause. Fully-electric models, like Tesla’s Model 3 and Audi’s e-Tron, are now the cool kids on the block.
Also, in the case of the Prius and gas-electric hybrids like Toyota’s Camry and Honda Accord, we’ve fallen out of like with sedans and switched to SUVs.
All that said, there’s still a lot to love about hybrid four-doors, like the new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid I’ve just spent a week getting to know.
For starters, how about up to 54 to the gallon? That’s on the highway. But even around town, it’ll average a best-in-class 50mpg. Compare that to 27/city with the non-hybrid Sonata.
Even if you think that’s no big deal with gas prices being so low, what it means is fewer stops at the gas station, with the hassle of having to get out and fill ‘er up.
And don’t get me started about having to stand there, forced to listen to screaming ads on the pump TV screen.
More important, in these times of COVID, who wants to hold a pump handle that who-knows-who was gripping two minutes earlier?
But for me, it almost didn’t matter that this sleek-looking new Sonata comes with that eco-weenie “hybrid” badge on its trunk lid.
No, what sets this new Hyundai apart is that the hybrid technology helps make it a really lovely car to drive.
Under the Hybrid Sonata’s curvy hood is a Teflon-smooth 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gas motor that cranks out 150 horseys.
It’s mated to a sizable 56-kilowatt lithium-ion polymer battery pack and electric motor which brings 51-hp and, more importantly, 151 extra torques to the party.
Hyundai says the combined output is 192-horsepower, though doesn’t quote a combined torque figure. It’s a lot.
And you feel the combined force the second you hit the throttle from a stop light. The electric motor, coupled with a bit of gas motor power, gives you instant thrust. It feels like there’s a V6 under the hood.
Surprise and Delight Part Two is that instead of the typical, and usually nasty, CVT transmission that comes with most hybrids, the Sonata features a lovely, super-responsive, regular six-speed automatic.
Now for the drum-roll moment: Built into the roof of the Sonata Hybrid Limited model — $35,300 very nicely loaded — is an honest-to-goodness solar panel. What a concept.
Here in sun-drenched Florida, Hyundai reckons that six hours parked in the sun can give an extra two miles of range a day, and over 700 “free” miles a year. Watt’s not to like about that?
And trust me, having solar panels built into your car’s glass roof is really going to impress the neighbors.
They’ll also likely be wowed by the cool new look of this 2020 Sonata. Its long, low fastback stance is a real head-turner, enhanced by that bold, wide-faced grille and cool LED lighting.
Gaze at it in profile and it’s hard not to love the elegant sweep of the roof, the dramatic body curves and intricate “aero” wheel design.
It’s a car, especially in Limited trim, that looks way more expensive than its sticker which, as tested, only came to $36,275.
Inside it’s all fancy perforated leather with heated and ventilated front seats, Bose stereo with 12 speakers and subwoofer, a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a whole host of safety tech.
It’s roomy, too, with generous rear-seat kneeroom, folding rear seats, and the kind of trunk space that would impress Tony Soprano.
Would I prefer an all-electric Sonata with a 300-mile range? Of course. But until that comes along, this high-value, high-mileage Sonata Hybrid checks plenty of boxes.
Test drive the 2020 Sonata Hybrid at Courtesy Hyundai of Tampa; Crown Hyundai of St. Pete; Fitzgerald Hyundai of Clearwater; Brandon Hyundai; Hyundai of Wesley Chapel; and Hyundai New Port Richey.