2018 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid gets makeover in beauty, power departments

The hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants of the Hyundai Sonata just received the same visual updates as the non-electrified version, plus an array of mechanical tweaks that promise to improve efficiency across the board. Both hybrid models made their debut at the annual Chicago Auto Show.

Let’s start with what you see: The Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid now fall in line with Hyundai’s current design language. They get a more expressive face that incorporates the cascading grille seen on other members of the lineup, including the second-generation Veloster introduced last month. Hyundai also updated the interior with a new instrument panel and a redesigned steering wheel.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come standard. The list of electronic driving aids now includes a blind-spot monitoring system, lane change assist, and rear cross traffic alert. Buyers can order lane-keeping assist and automatic braking at an extra cost.

Peel back the Sonata Hybrid’s sheet metal and you’ll find a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that shifts though a six-speed automatic transmission. Place the gearbox in an X-ray machine and you’ll see it integrates an electric motor that, at 38 kilowatts, is bigger than the unit found in the outgoing car. The Sonata can decouple its four-cylinder engine from the rest of the drivetrain and rely solely on the electric motor for forward motion as long as it doesn’t exceed 75 mph. The firm hasn’t published driving range yet.

The Sonata Hybrid boasts 193 horsepower with both power sources turned on. Hyundai expects the model will return 39 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway, and 42 mpg in a combined cycle, figures that fall on the low side in the segment. The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid returns 46 mpg; the Toyota Camry Hybrid leads the pack at 52 mpg.

The Sonata Plug-In Hybrid follows a similar recipe with different ingredients. It gets the same 2.0-liter and six-speed as the plug-less Sonata, but it benefits from a 50-kilowatt electric motor and a battery pack that’s five times larger. The end result is a 202-horsepower plug-in powertrain with an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated electric-only range of up to 27 miles. Recharging the battery takes approximately three hours when the Sonata draws electricity through a level two charger.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will go on sale in the first quarter of the year. Buyers ogling the plug-in hybrid model will need to wait until the second quarter. Both hybrids will roll off the same assembly line in Asan, South Korea. Look for a pricing announcement before then.