Last fall, hypermiler Wayne Gerdes proposed to Hyundai that he drive a 2011 Sonata Hybrid across the country to help the automaker get the vehicle from the media launch location in California to Ann Arbor, MI, saying he thought he could do it with fewer than two tanks of gas. Of course, he proposed it on October, when the temperatures were still pretty warm and before he knew what the Sonata Hybrids's fuel tank capacity is. Back then, he told AutoblogGreen today, he thought, the car was "worth 65 [miles per gallon] in the summer. In the winter, with the mountains, that's a crapshoot."
Gerdes recently finished the drive, which totaled 2,269.3 miles and squeezed out 59.58 mpg. Along the way, Gerdes learned that the car can hold at least 20.6 gallons, because that's how much he managed to put in at the first fill up. The Hybrid's official stated capacity is 17.2 gallons (the standard Sonata holds 18.5 gallons), but official numbers are not something that concerns Gerdes too much. The EPA rates the Sonata Hybrid at 40 mpg on the highway, and he would need much more than that to make the drive without filling up three times.
In the end, Gerdes learned that, "This thing, on the highway, will eat up anything. In fact, it came damn near the Prius, but it's a heavier car. And I'm a big Prius fan." The Sonata Hybrid is not a great city car, Gerdes said, but he did have plenty more praise for the vehicle that took him coast to coast (he first drove to Georgia before coming north to Michigan), and you can find that after the jump.
Gerdes set up the cross-country route to be as efficient as possible, but was still uncertain he could meet his target. Once on the open road, one thing Gerdes learned is that the Sonata Hybrid's claimed top all-electric cruise limit of 62 miles per hour doesn't exist and he could get the car to go much faster in EV mode. "I stopped at 88 mph," he said. "That's what's so cool about this. The car does it automatically."
Gerdes wanted to clarify some details about the three different hypermile experiments he has been on recently and that we mentioned yesterday: the Sonata Hybrid drive, a standard Sonata trip over 1,065 miles that resulted in 66.285 mpg and a 1,445-mile Ford Fusion Hybrid trip where he got 81.5 mpg. Each adventure was unique and intended to do different things. The Sonata Hybrid trip was meant to see if the two-tank drive was possible, the regular Sonata was a way to get from Wisconsin to New Jersey and the Fusion Hybrid was along a special route that Gerdes designed with Ford in and around Washington, D.C. as a showcase to politicians there. It was planned to stay on roads that had a maximum speed limit of 40 mph, which helped the Fusion – which Gerdes called "a great city vehicle" that is limited on the highway by its 47 mph EV glide speed – and it happened when the temperatures were between 70 and 90 degrees. The standard Sonata drive was also done in warm temperatures and he had a slight tailwind along the way. While the drives are not directly comparable, Gerdes had enough seat time in each vehicle to figure out where they shine:
Even though he's become a big fan of the Sonata, Gerdes told AutoblogGreen he thinks the Chevrolet Volt will win the 2011 Car of the Year award. Having driven the Volt, his staff was overall unhappy with the car, especially given the limited back seat space, but he thinks the judges will end up picking GM's halo car."The Fusion Hybrid will give you good city performance but the Sonata is a highway cruiser like I've never experienced before. You don't want to get in a Prius and drive 500 miles. It's not a highway vehicle, but that's where the Sonata kicks ass. It's not an appliance.
Lastly, it's worth noting that while Gerdes' CleanMPG forum has a disclaimer – "Some posts may describe situations which may in some cases be unsafe or illegal in some jurisdictions. Please use common sense and consult your local laws to make sure you do not hurt yourself or others or break any laws" – he told AutoblogGreen that he did nothing dangerous or illegal during the drive. He stayed within posted speed limits and did not draft behind semi trucks, preferring to say around 3-7 seconds behind the car in front of him. He also didn't do the drive for money (although Hyundai did promise to pay for his fuel), but to challenge himself and to see what the Sonata Hybrid was capable of. That's the most important thing he learned: it's capable of a lot. You can get more details of the drive – and we mean lots more details – over at CleanMPG.