Hyundai fits the 2019 Sonata with a total of five different powertrains. The extremes may be the best versions, in terms of value and efficiency,
All Sonatas have a well-balanced ride, which earns the sedan a point above average. Rated against its most popular version—the base and SE trims—we give its performance a 6 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The most common configuration for the 2019 Sonata—whether it’s an SE, SEL, Sport, or Limited—will be one that features a 2.4-liter inline-4 pegged at 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. With direct injection, the big inline-4 sends its power via a 6-speed automatic to the front wheels. It’s a paragon of normality: Nothing this Sonata does is groundbreaking, from its linear and moderate acceleration, to its quiet-enough operation, to its fuss-free shift quality. There’s just enough power to give it moderately engaging feel, and the transmission does what it can to make the most of that, with quick shifts and a blissful lack of hunting, as most 9-speed automatics do in rivals.
There’s a 178-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 in the Sonata Eco, and we haven’t spent much time in it recently. Our first drive in a Sonata with that powertrain left us more impressed with the engine and its flexible power than with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which felt jerky and overwhelmed at low speeds.
In the Sonata Limited, Hyundai offers a massive power upgrade with a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that spins out 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Now mated to an 8-speed automatic, it’s a lively powerplant that couples well to the transmission’s software. Hyundai’s programmed the gearbox to snap off quick shifts, and to make the most of the turbo-4’s broad torque band; peak torque arrives at 1,450 rpm, and tapers off after 4,000 rpm
Among the gas-only models, the “sport” branding is only a suggestion, and this year it doesn’t even apply to the Sonata Sport, which has identical suspension and steering settings to the lower-rung models. All of these Sonatas are compliant and rather softly tuned, with electric power steering that can filter off the worst of the road without an overwhelmingly artificial feel. The neutral, comfortable feel of a Sonata on 17-inch wheels is at its best on mildly challenging roads and decently maintained interstates. Base cars and Eco models with smaller 16-inch wheels have a slightly softer ride.
The Sonata Limited gets a firmer tune, but only when it’s fitted with the 2.-liter turbo-4. It’s hardly rough, but it is notably more firm, and will jostle passengers a bit more when the tires slap across mini-craters in the pavement. The steering grows more heavy, which mimics road feel with its stronger on-center feel. It’s short of the handling virtue on full display in a Honda Accord or Mazda 6, but pleasant is no bad place to be.
Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid
Hyundai Sonatas can be hybrids or plug-in hybrids—and if a greener profile is important, the plug-in math may work better.
The 2019 Sonata Hybrid hasn’t changed in a few years. It pairs a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 154 hp to a 38-kilowatt (51-hp) electric motor that sits between the engine and a 6-speed automatic. Total system output of 193 hp is a notch above the base gas-only inline-4. A 1.6-kwh lithium-ion battery stores power under the trunk floor.
The Hybrid’s batteries and motor provide extra torque for the gas engine, and the motor recharges the batteries when braking. It’s a smooth integration, with the automatic’s conventional gears lending a traditional driving feel free of the CVT-style drone and detached driving feel common to some other hybrids. The Sonata Hybrid can keep up with traffic easily, and drivers may be hard-pressed to tell when the engine turns on and off—since it can be shut off at speeds of up to 75 mph to enable a “sail” mode for better efficiency.
But why stop there? The Sonata Plug-In Hybrid installs a higher-capacity 9.8-kwh battery, which boosts weight to 3,800 pounds (about 500 more than the base car, or 270 more than the hybrid). Our testers have seen fuel economy of better than 41 mpg once the hybrid battery pack is depleted—which comes after it delivers up to 27 miles of battery-only driving range. It can be recharged in about 9 hours on a household outlet, or in as little as 3 hours on a 240-volt outlet. It’s heavy and more expensive, but drivers who aren’t quite ready for a pure battery-electric car might find the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid an ideal stepping stone.
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