In 2016, Hyundai entered the plug-in hybrid family sedan segment with a PHEV version of its sixth-generation Sonata, which debuted a year earlier in combustion-only form.
The Sonata PHEV was Hyundai’s first plug-in vehicle of any kind, beating the PHEV and all-electric versions of the Ioniq to market by two years.
Powering the Sonata PHEV is a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a six-speed automatic transmission that team up for 202 hp.
Energy consumption estimates
In 2016, Hyundai rated the Sonata PHEV’s fuel consumption at 6.1/5.7 L/100 km (city/highway), and adjusted those figures to 6.3/5.6 L/100 km for 2018 and 2019 models.
On a full charge of its battery, the 2016 Sonata PHEV promised 43 km of all-electric driving, which improved to 45 km in 2019. Hyundai estimates the car’s energy consumption at 2.4 Le/100 km.
The 2018 model year is the only one for which Carfax Canada has Hyundai Sonata PHEV resale values, which start at an average of $30,427. As we write this, prices for used Sonata PHEV models listed on AutoTrader.ca range from about $24,500 to $38,000.
Trim levels and features
In 2016, 2017 and 2019, the Sonata PHEV came in a single Ultimate trim level, while the 2018 version was dressed up in Limited trim. Regardless of model year, if you buy a Sonata PHEV, you’re getting just about every feature that was available in a Sonata at the time.
In 2016, the Sonata PHEV Ultimate came with 17-inch wheels, xenon HID headlights, heated/ventilated/power-adjustable front seats, heated rear seats, rear side sunshades, dual-zone A/C, leather upholstery, nine-speaker audio, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation. Hyundai also included its then-full suite of driver safety assists: automatic high beams, lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
A 2018 refresh updated the Sonata PHEV’s styling, replaced the HID headlights with LEDs, and added a few more features: wireless phone charging, driver attention warning, forward pedestrian detection, and lane keep assist.
Listen for the telltale sound of failing connecting rod bearings
The Hyundai Sonata PHEV’s big durability issue is the potential for faulty connecting rod bearings in its gas engine. The connecting rods are the pieces that connect the pistons to the crankshaft, and their bearings are critical to the engine’s functioning.
If a bearing fails, the connecting rod can break and, under the right conditions, punch a hole in the side of the engine block. Thankfully, a failing connecting rod bearing will usually make an obvious metallic knocking sound when it’s running and should give you enough warning to get the car into the shop – preferably on a tow truck – before it lets go and destroys the rest of the engine. The oil pressure warning light may also turn on.
As you’ll read later in this article, Hyundai recalled the Sonata PHEV to inspect engines for worn bearings. You can find out whether that recall work has been done on the car by checking the manufacturer’s website.
How does the transmission shift?
When test-driving a Sonata PHEV, pay attention to the transmission’s performance and watch for rough or hard shifting as it moves from gear to gear. Any shifting issues will be especially apparent when the car is running in electric mode without engine noise and vibration to mask abnormal transmission behaviour. If you do sense any abrupt shifting, the cause is more likely to be a faulty electronic sensor than a mechanical problem with the transmission itself.
Does the backup camera work?
The Sonata PHEV’s other transmission-related quirk involves the car’s backup camera, which should broadcast its image to the car’s dash display when you shift into reverse. With the car parked safely, shift into reverse from park, and then into neutral or drive, and then back into reverse. Repeat this several times to make sure the backup camera image comes up every time. A faulty camera is relatively inexpensive to replace, but if the issue is with the in-dash infotainment unit, you could be looking at a pricey repair.
Hands-free trunk is not always handy
Hyundai fitted every Sonata PHEV with a hands-free trunk that is designed to open on its own when you stand near the rear of the car with the smart key fob on your person. A few owners complain that this feature doesn’t work reliably, while others say the trunk sometimes opens when they don’t want it to. Try it out during your test drive to make sure it works properly.
Watch for a weak 12-volt battery
Finally, watch for any odd problems with the car’s electrical and electronic systems. If you note any unexplainable warning lights, infotainment malfunctions, or power accessory issues, check the car’s 12-volt battery before attempting to troubleshoot anything else. A weak battery that no longer holds a full charge may be able to boot up the car’s engine control system and let you drive away, but its low voltage can cause all kinds of other problems.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not test the Sonata PHEV’s crashworthiness, but it did evaluate the non-plug-in Sonata, giving it five stars all around for occupant protection in front and side impacts and four stars for rollover protection.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Sonata its “good” rating in its front and side impact tests. The IIHS noted a chance of lower leg or foot injuries in driver’s side front crashes, and a front passenger airbag that could allow the passenger’s head to hit the front window structure.
In 2016 models, the IIHS gave the HID headlights in early Sonata PHEV models a “poor” rating; the redesigned 2018 model got a “good” rating for its LEDs.
In 2022, Hyundai recalled the 2016-2019 Sonata PHEV to update the engine control module to provide earlier warning of a loss of engine power. This recall was an expansion of a 2017 campaign to fix faulty connecting rod bearings that could cause a catastrophic engine failure if not detected early enough.
Hyundai issued a 2021 recall to reprogram turn signals that could light up the left blinker when the driver turns right, and vice versa.
This 2018 recall aimed to address an electrical system fault that could cut power to the Sonata PHEV’s electric motor.