When Hyundai's new Sonata Blue Drive hybrid arrives in December, it will bring two all-new technologies to the hybrid market.
Most importantly, the Sonata Blue Drive will be the first conventional full hybrid to use lithium-ion polymer batteries. Hyundai says the manganese spinel electrodes in its new batteries, produced by LG Chem, reduce wear on the batteries compared with other lithium-ion technologies. They add that the lithium batteries are 30 percent lighter, 40 percent smaller, and 10 percent more efficient than nickel-metal hydride batteries. The smaller space gives the Sonata Blue Drive more trunk space.
The other new technology Hyundai is introducing in the Sonata Blue Drive is a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Most full hybrids today use an electronically controlled torque-split device to balance power from the electric motor and gasoline engine.
The engine is connected to the motor-transmission unit with a clutch. By declutching the engine electronically, the car can drive up to 62 mph on electric power, Hyundai says. The system also uses a hybrid starter generator (HSG), connected to the engine with a belt, similar to the system used in the older General Motors belt-alternator-starter hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura and Vue. The HSG can use the engine to charge the battery when needed and also restarts the engine after a stop.
Like most hybrids today, the Sonata Blue Drive uses electric power steering and air conditioning for added efficiency. The main electric motor (the one connected to the transmission) provides regenerative braking.
Hyundai claims the new Sonata Blue Drive hybrid will be EPA-rated at 40 mpg on the highway. The non-hybrid Sonata is rated at 35 mpg.
One key to the Sonata's hybrid strategy is that the Blue Drive sedan uses many of the same parts as the regular Sonata, presumably saving the company money on manufacturing. But Hyundai has not released pricing on the new hybrid, so it remains to be seen if this cost-saving approach to hybrids will benefit consumers.
We'll soon take another look at the Blue Drive hybrid, providing more details on this model that will soon join the well-liked Sonata and Sonata Turbo. (See our Sonata road test and ratings.)