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2011 Hyundai Sonata looks to woo hybrid lovers

June 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In just 10 years, car showrooms have gone from having only two hybrid models on hand to nearly 30.

Most major car brands want to offer a hybrid, and this year marks Hyundai's turn with the Sonata Hybrid.

Like many hybrid models, it's a gas-electric version of an existing model. But unlike most hybrid sedans you find today, Hyundai engineered this one with a unique transmission arrangement that lets it work differently.

"When you look at other hybrids that are focused on good city fuel economy, this hybrid is focused on good - and best, in fact - highway fuel economy," Hyundai spokesman Michael O'Brien said.

Depending on how you drive, the Sonata Hybrid can travel in pure electric mode at up to 60 miles per hour or more.

When stopped or traveling at low speeds, fuel savings can add up too. The roomy hybrid sedan is rated at 35 MPG city and 40 on the highway.

Part of the way a hybrid like the Sonata saves fuel is that the gas engine is completely off when moving slowly or stopped, but safety experts have raised the issue that impaired pedestrians could be at risk near a relatively silent car.

Regulations will go into effect soon mandating that hybrid vehicles produce some kind of noise while moving with the engine off. Since this is an all-new model, Hyundai decided to go ahead and incorporate it.

"You can either choose to make a noise that's not a vehicle sound, or you can choose to make an engine sound, and we decided to do the latter because we basically wanted to do what regular cars do," O'Brien said.

It doesn't exactly sound like a conventional car, but it complies with the regulations.

Beyond the drive system, the Sonata Hybrid gets a distinct, high-tech look. Its wheels are exclusive to the hybrid model, and the badges and emblems wear a blue hue. For those who drive a newer Toyota or Lexus hybrid, the look of them may be familiar.

Before long, just about every car company will have a hybrid of some type.

This hybrid entry from Hyundai isn't the first, but it does combine the stylish Sonata design with fuel-saving technology and new ideas.

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