Whenever I tell a friend I am writing about an electric or plug-in hybrid car, the first question I am invariably asked is, "Will it get you to San Francisco?" Why yes. Eventually. The people asking don't drive to the Bay Area as much as I do; I have family up there. But the question points to a car-buying mindset that minimizes every-day driving because, I guess, people figure if a vehicle can take you 414 miles in one trip (with a stop or two to fill up), it will automatically take care of their shorter commuting needs.
Those who fear an electric leaving them stranded atop the Grapevine and others who can't wrap their head around a car that uses battery juice around town and gasoline on the highway will be happy to know the Sonata Eco runs solely on unleaded petrol.
But Hyundai has squeezed everything it knows about saving gas into this really comfortable mid-size sedan. A standard Sonata has a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but the Eco packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged four. The standard also has a six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, compared to the Eco's seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
You know how at a stop a Prius or other hybrids will hesitate for a split second as the engine kicks back in? The Sonata Eco does this as well, and the result of all of this is 28 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway--which is 4/3 mpg more respectively than the standard Sonata.
From the outside, you would not notice a difference between the two Sonatas. My test vehicle would retail for just over $28,000 or $23,275 without all the bells and whistles. The 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and chrome exterior door handles gave it a look of a much more expensive sedan. Then you climb into the cabin and feel as if you are in a Beemer thanks to the leather seating surfaces with premium cloth trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and leatherette interior door panel inserts.
The power driver seat came with 10-way lumbar support and, like the front passenger seat, it can be heated.
The Eco drove like a dream on a long trip not to Frisco but San Berdoo, which thanks to the never-to-be-completed 91/215 freeway construction provided open-road, bumper-to-bumper and every traffic condition in between. Speaking of which, it took some getting used to the electronic brakes, which stop on a dime and give you change back.
Standard features that came in handy over my week with the Eco included the rearview camera, the automatic headlights and the color touchscreen display that controlled the navigation system, the SiriusXM satellite radio and the Bluetooth.
As I was being cut off on a clogged freeway, an added feature kicked in: a warning sound. A blind spot detection system with rear cross-traffic alert is among the extras, as is a remote you can keep in your pocket as you push a button to unlock a front door or start the car. The remote also includes a hands-free trunk opener.
Best of all, like Sonata Eco buyers on Hyundai lots, I was given a new car with a full tank of gas. After the trip to the I.E., the long way home thanks to a stop in Westminster and normal daily driving in Orange County, I still never put any more gas in the Eco and gave it back with more than half a tank.