Hyundai Sonata Hybrids will get to US dealers in late March or early April

Article by Christian Andrei, on March 7, 2011

Dealerships will not be getting Hyundai’s initial Sonata Hybrids until at least late March. There had been a delay because the brand is working to change the car’s device that emits an artificial engine noise at low speeds. Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said that the car was scheduled to be available in January but currently, there are few vehicles in dealer stock.

Trainor didn’t specify the number of Sonata Hybrids that has arrived in the U.S., but said that about 700 units are in port or at sea.

Trainor said that the cars will start to arrive in dealerships before becoming more widely available in late March or early April. Late last year, Hyundai chose to change the car’s “virtual engine sound system,” which alerts pedestrians of the approaching car when being driven at low speeds.

The sound is similar to an idling gasoline engine. In January, U.S. lawmakers passed a law to require carmakers to install sound-emitting devices due to the risk that pedestrians face as they can’t hear the hybrids.

Under this law, all hybrids will be required to be fitted with such devices in a few years. The rule is being written by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Trainor said that Hyundai had initially planned to put a button on the Sonata Hybrid’s instrument panel to enable the driver to turn the virtual engine sound system on and off. But upon learning that the NHTSA is thinking about banning these switches, Hyundai decided late last year not to install them.

In terms of fuel efficiency on highway cruising, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is expected to lead its class at 39 mpg. Moreover, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is projected to deliver a city fuel economy of 37 mpg. According to government studies, a typical driver in the United States is on the highway around 57 percent of the time.

This means that Hyundai’s focus on offering a best-in-class highway fuel economy should be able to offer something that is in the mid-size sedan hybrid market while differentiating Hyundai Sonata Hybrid from the hybrid offerings of rivals like Toyota and Ford. While the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid returns a hybrid city fuel economy comparable to its rivals, it offers to return superb highway fuel economy on the highway – an arena where its competitors usually fall short.

Moreover, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid offers best-in-class EV operation at speeds of up to 62 mph, with the gasoline engine ready to engage according to state of charge, vehicle speed and acceleration. Combined, the hybrid’s two propulsion units generates up to 209 horsepower of output at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque. This amount of power, along with Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s light nature, leads to a very favorable power-to-weight ratio, which is a vital element for performance and efficiency.

This was achieved thanks to the Sonata’s weight-efficient platform as well as to the lightweight lithium polymer battery pack. In fact, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is the segment-best in terms of weight, at 3,457 pounds, making it 263 pounds lighter than the Fusion Hybrid.

At the core of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is the South Korean carmaker’s proprietary parallel hybrid drive system, in contrast to the power split system -- with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – employed by its rivals. This CVT uses a planetary gear set powered by electric motors, which means less power is used for operating the vehicle.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s full parallel drive system, meanwhile, efficiently uses the power from the electric motor to control the vehicle, which means Hyundai Sonata Hybrid could operate at higher speeds in EV-only function than its rivals in same mode.

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