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First drive: Hyundai claims i45 hybrid high ground

Trumping Toyota: Hyundai claims its hybrid system, linked to a traditional torque-converter automatic, offers better efficiency, value-for-money and driver satisfaction than Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive.

Hyundai says its i45/Sonata hybrid is superior in every way to Toyota’s hybrid Camry

Hyundai logo4 Nov 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

HYUNDAI says its i45-based Sonata Hybrid is quicker, more powerful and more fuel-efficient than its most direct rival in Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, which employs a petrol-electric drive system that it claims will soon be “obsolete”.

Toyota launched the Camry Hybrid as Australia’s first locally produced petrol-electric vehicle in February this year, and while the Sonata Hybrid goes on sale in North America next month, it appears unlikely to be built in right-hand drive and therefore may never be released in Australia.

After a brief drive at the South Korean car-making giant’s Namyang test track this week, GoAuto can say the Sonata Hybrid certainly feels quicker both off the line and from highway speeds than the petrol-electric Camry, and is also quieter and more refined during hard acceleration.

1 center imageThe latter is partly a result of the Sonata Hybrid’s traditional six-speed automatic transmission rather than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as seen in the Camry Hybrid, which also eliminates the disconcerting ‘slipping clutch’ feel associated with all CVTs and makes the Hyundai feel more like its conventional petrol-powered sibling.

Like the Camry Hybrid though, the petrol-electric i45/Sonata comes with more performance than the four-cylinder petrol-powered medium sedan upon which it is based, offering more satisfying acceleration both off the line, when the petrol engine kicks in to assist the electric motor, and at medium to high speeds, when the electric motor can be felt giving the petrol four a healthy serve of additional torque.

Otherwise, as with the Camry Hybrid, the Sonata Hybrid is just like the garden-variety i45 to drive, offering high levels of comfort and refinement in a user-friendly mid-size sedan that returns significantly lower fuel consumption in most driving conditions.

However, the president of Hyundai-Kia Motors’ research and development division, Woong-chul Yang, told Australian journalists this week in South Korea that Hyundai’s hybrid system – which sandwiches a clutch between its electric motor and petrol engine - is superior in every way to the more complex two-motor parallel (two-mode) hybrid drive system found in both the Camry and Toyota’s hybrid icon, the Prius, which has now found more than two million homes worldwide.

While the Japanese brand’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system employs two powerful electric motors - one to drive the front wheels, one to generate electricity – powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, the South Korean car-maker’s simpler system comprises a small starter-generator and just one electric drive motor powered by a more advanced lithium-polymer battery pack.

Dr Yang said that not only was Hyundai’s hybrid system less costly than Toyota’s, it was also more – rather than less – fuel-efficient than the equivalent petrol-only model away from stop/start city traffic at highway speeds.

“Toyota has invested so much in it (hybrid technology) that they can’t get away for a while from nickel-metal hydride (batteries),” he said.

“They are less efficient, more heavy (than Hyundai’s lithium-polymer batteries). We are the first to go with lithium-polymer in a hybrid, which are slightly different to lithium-ion batteries but are safer without losing the performance.

“There are two deficiencies with (Toyota) hybrids. One is the highway drive - it is less fuel-efficient than a regular car because of a lot of mass and a lot of friction.

‘The second deficiency is that acceleration… it is not fun. There’s the electric CVT feeling. It’s not fun to drive.

“At high speed, the Prius’ (fuel consumption) is worse than a regular car. Our car is better than regular cars. We have better efficiency on the highway and we also have a six-speed transmission that has a more dynamic feeling,” said Dr Yang.

According to Hyundai, in North America the Sonata Hybrid produces maximum power of 206hp (154kW), accelerates to 100km/h in 9.2 seconds and returns fuel consumption of 40 miles per gallon (about 5.9L/100km).

Hyundai says that in the US the Camry Hybrid delivers 187hp (140kW), offers 0-100km/h acceleration in 9.3 seconds (8.9 seconds in Australia) and returns 35mpg - which equates to 6.7L/100km (6.0L/100km in Australia).

Meantime, the Sonata Hybrid’s other chief US rival, Ford’s Fusion Hybrid (an example of which has been tested by Ford in Australia for some time), is claimed to produce 191hp (142kW), accelerate to 100km/h in 10.3 seconds and return 36mpg (6.5L/100km).

Like the Camry Hybrid, Ford’s petrol-electric medium sedan comes only with a CVT.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago Toyota chose its (hybrid) system. Our system was also available to us then, but the technology to engage the clutch at speed wasn’t available then.

“We made it possible by using modern technology… The clutch system is how we can have better fuel economy, performance and is more fun to drive.

“We have a motor and an engine and a clutch in between. By disengaging it we have all kinds of modes… In the past it wasn’t possible but modern control computers makes this possible.

“Toyota was very clever going around this, but with (the extra) cost of having more motors. Hardware-wise Toyota has two very carefully co-ordinated motors – one for driving and one for power generation. It’s already a pretty old idea.

“Mazda, Ford and Nissan are all using Toyota (hybrid) technology. My expectation is that sooner or later it’s going to become obsolete,” said Dr Yang.

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