Poor Chicago. North America’s largest show (in terms of square footage) ends up with a lot of B-list intros, including the face-lifted 2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid. These debutants are indeed being unveiled for the first time here, but all we’re seeing is essentially the same exterior and interior upgrades made to the rest of the Sonata lineup at last year’s New York auto show applied to the two familiar carryover hybrid models. The changes don’t even alter the hybrid models’ drag coefficient advantage over the rest of the lineup (which remains an impressive 0.24 versus 0.27).
Outside, badging, clear taillamp lenses, headlights with blue bezels around the bulbs, and a lower-drag aluminum Ecospoke wheel design are about the only distinguishing features separating the hybrids from the base Sonata. Inside, most of the retooled parts are identical to those of the base 2018 Sonata, except the cluster includes a redesigned power gauge in place of the tach in gas-only models, and of course there are the unique hybrid-related center display screens. The new climate control system again offers a “driver only” button that promises to conserve heating and cooling energy when rolling solo.
The various driver-coaching and hybrid-system info screens and the instrument cluster design are all reimagined with slightly spiffier graphics and different uses of color, but most of the info looks pretty similar. One new feature that escaped our notice last year: Your first six SiriusXM preset stations buffer a 22-minute recording of the channel’s content, so if you change channels and find yourself in to the middle of your favorite song or a crucial news or sports story you’d like to hear the beginning of, you can rewind it and play it back.
To recap the most important stats of the 2018 Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid, both are powered by 2.0-liter Nu engine producing 154 hp and 140 lb-ft, and both sandwich an electric motor in between the engine and six-speed automatic transmission in place of a traditional torque converter. In the Hybrid, it’s a 51-hp, 151-lb-ft motor that brings total system power to 193 horses; in the Plug-in it’s a 67-hp, 151-lb-ft motor good for 202 total system horsepower. The Hybrid’s lithium-polymer battery holds 1.76 kilowatt-hours of energy and leaves 13.3 cubic feet of cargo space; the PHEV’s 9.8-kW-hr pack reduces cargo space to 9.9 cubes. (Gas-only Sonatas can hold 16.3 cubic feet.) The base Hybrid SE’s estimated EPA fuel economy ratings are 39/45/42 mpg city/highway/combined (same as last year), and the Plug-in should average 33 mpg combined on gasoline or 99 mpg-e combined with a 27-mile all-electric range. The same federal tax credit of $4,919 is expected to carry over for the PHEV, but pricing is not yet available.