Admittedly, this comparison isn't exactly coming at prime time for the midsize hybrid sedan segment. We're pretty sure we can hear a cricket or two chirping. Not only are midsize sedans waning in popularity as crossovers boom, so are conventional hybrids, as eco-minded shoppers are increasingly looking to fully electric cars to save/eliminate fuel.
Nevertheless, there's a redesigned hybrid sedan to be talked about, having just been revealed at the Chicago Auto Show: the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Unlike past Sonata hybrids, Hyundai has thankfully not besmirched it with some ghastly creature-of-the-deep styling to make it different from the regular, gas-only version. Nope, like the 2020 Honda Accord Hybrid and 2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid, you have to look at the badge to tell that there's a giant battery pack lurking inside. That's a good thing as the new Sonata is quite the distinctive, if not classically pretty, sedan that at least has a chance of attracting buyers for reasons other than "good value" or "long warranty."
Let's take a look at the specs and dimensions of each of these midsize hybrid sedans (and yes, there are technically others, but the Kia Optima is about to be redesigned, the Ford Fusion is about to die and the Chevy Malibu has already met its maker).
Obviously, when talking about hybrids, this is the big stat. You'll note that the 2020 Sonata Hybrid comes with two numbers, one for its SEL and Limited trims and another for its base, fuel-economy-focused Sonata Hybrid Blue trim level. The Blue comes with lighter 16-inch wheels and lower-rolling-resistance tires along with less equipment and a lower curb weight. It's basically the same reason why the base Camry Hybrid LE gets better fuel economy.
As you can see, the Sonata Blue and Camry LE are tied for the best fuel economy at 52 mpg combined. That's actually the same as most Toyota Prius trim levels. The other trims, however, are actually 1 or 2 mpg combined lower than the Accord's single 48 mpg combined figure. Given that the majority of consumers opt for something other than a base trim, looking at those numbers is probably more realistic.
That said, how much of a difference are we really looking at here? When MPG figures start climbing this high, the differences between them greatly diminish in terms of actual gallons of gas used. For instance, the Camry's figures of 52 mpg and 46 mpg may seem huge, but according to the EPA, that's only a difference of 0.3 gallons of gas per 100 miles, or a difference of only $100 per year on average. The Accord's 48 mpg combined equates to being $50 in between them.
Performance and driving experience
You'll note in the above chart we didn't provide the usual description of engines and transmissions. That was on purpose. Hybrid powertrains are so complex that such specs about engine displacement or transmissions can be deceptive or require far more context than can be provided in a spreadsheet cell. In this case, it comes down to the fact that each of these hybrids utilizes an inherently different powertrain design. For instance, Hyundai utilizes a six-speed automatic, Toyota uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (which is not the same thing as a belt-driven CVT), and the Accord Hybrid is more like a series hybrid that utilizes its electric motor to power the wheels with the engine pretty much there to replenish the battery like a range-extender ... except in certain cases, such as when in a constant highway cruise, where the engine can in fact directly power the wheels. Now, how are we going to put that in a spreadsheet? Furthermore, no one system is necessary a better solution than another — although we're sure the respective engineers of each company would have an opinion on that.
In practical terms, it means the Accord Hybrid feels a little more like an electric car when behind the wheel, whereas you're bound to feel and hear the engine engaging at the behest of your right foot in the Camry and Sonata. You'll also hear and feel the Sonata shifting gears, whereas there are no gears to shift in the others. Basically, drive them all, see if any of these characteristics annoys you, and move on.
In terms of performance, at least, you can see that the new Sonata has less overall system horsepower than the surprisingly robust Accord and Camry hybrids that surpass the 200-horsepower mark. Impressive.
According to the specs, the Accord has a whopping 5.6 extra inches of rear legroom than the new Sonata. As we discovered in our midsize sedan comparison test, the Accord's back seat really is limo-like, but eclipsing the Sonata by nearly half a foot is surprising to say the least. Happily, we dispatched Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale to the Chicago Auto Show floor to see for himself the real-world differences between them:
"Despite the significant difference on paper, each of these sedans is quite close on rear seat comfort. I'm just shy of 6 feet tall and at least 250 pounds, and I could fit behind myself very comfortably. The Accord has a bit more legroom than the others, but a bit less headroom. The Camry and Sonata feel almost identical. All three had fairly flat rear seats, but they all had a comfortable amount of recline and would be pleasant for both short and long journeys."
So there you go. Looks like there might be some differences in measurement practices involved, which would not be unusual.
To that point, as we've seen numerous times in luggage tests, numbers don't tell the whole story in the trunk. We do know that in real-world testing, however, the Accord's trunk really is bigger and more useful than the Camry's. If the numbers are indeed accurate, then the Sonata should fit between them.
That's not the important point here, though. Instead, all these hybrids have the same trunk capacity as their gas-only siblings. Unlike past hybrid sedans, their trunks aren't filled with batteries. The old Sonata's was actually better than most, but nevertheless, this is a great advancement.
Each of these midsize hybrid sedans looks compelling on paper, and unlike their anonymous predecessors, each offers distinctive style. Really, there's never been a better time to get one of these spacious, comfortable and ultra-efficient cars ... too bad everyone's buying SUVs instead.