- The 2021 Hyundai Sonata starts at $23,950, while the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid starts at $27,750.
- We drove the Sonata Hybrid’s top trim, which totaled $36,464, for a week. It’s a great car!
- But most importantly, it’s a reminder that everyday cars can and should be exceptionally stylish.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I was out photographing a red 2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at sunset, the car parked across a few empty spaces in front of a closed boutique. As the sky went from blue to pink and purple, a person walked up to ask me why I was sprawled in the middle of the street.
“Taking photos,” I responded. Then they looked at my subject.
“Oh yeah,” they said. “What even is that?”
It’s not a question you’d expect to field about an everyday sedan that starts at $24,000 regularly and $28,000 in hybrid form.
Everyone knows what a Toyota Camry or a Honda Civic looks like — normal, which is what they are — but Hyundai’s long been great at taking normal cars and making them look anything but.
Hyundai first taught me that around 2010, when I was a 15-year-old kid who didn’t care a bit about street cars. Then the 2011 Hyundai Sonata made me stop and pay attention.
That probably sounds silly. A Sonata? The world has Lamborghinis! Ferraris! McLarens! Bugattis! Who cares about a Sonata?
I did. I was a year away from my driver’s license and suddenly, I had to pay attention to average commuter cars. And in a sea of vehicles that all looked the same to me, the 2011 Sonata finally brought something different. It wasn’t flashy, but it certainly wasn’t average. It looked distinct.
The 2011 Sonata marked a new, sixth generation of the car. The outgoing model had a dated, flat face full of slightly curved rectangles — a commuter, not a looker.
But the new Sonata? It was a looker.
Its face kind of looked like a satellite view of a hurricane. Its diagonal headlights, each slanting up and outward toward the sides of the car, framed a grille and front bumper whose sculpted curves wrap into a spiraling, ovoidal form.
But different is good. A shimmering red Sonata even adorned the cover of Motor Trend in May 2010 with the tagline: “America’s next best-seller? It’s fast, good looking, and loaded. What’s not to love?” I felt the same way.
Ten years and two car-reviewing jobs later, the debut of the 2020 Hyundai Sonata gave me the same feeling I had as a car-shunning teenager.
It would mark the eighth generation of the car, which debuted with radical new styling after a rather normal-looking seventh generation — kind of like a sharp, angular bass fish with a strip of white not only framing the headlights, but running the length of the hood toward the passenger compartment.
But the new Sonata isn’t just a looker — it’s a good car all around.
The non-hybrid version pairs style with functionality, while the hybrid takes it to another level.
The 2021 Sonata Hybrid comes with a 192-horsepower gas-electric powertrain and a six-speed automatic transmission, and it only has two paint options that aren’t a shade of white, silver, or black: dark blue and the stunning red this loaner wore.
Buyers also have three trim levels to choose from:
- Sonata Hybrid Blue ($27,750, 52 mpg combined city-highway): comes with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, and 16-inch wheels
- Sonata Hybrid SEL ($29,900, 47 mpg combined city-highway): adds 17-inch wheels, Hyundai’s digital key that allows users to start and unlock the car with their smartphone (currently Android only, not iPhone), wireless phone charging, and an upgraded Bose audio system
- Sonata Hybrid Limited ($35,300, 47 mpg combined city-highway): adds a solar roof, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a blind-spot view monitor
The Sonata Hybrid loaner I had for a week was from the top Limited trim. Its sticker came to $36,464 after optional carpeted floor mats ($169) and fees.
Inside, the Sonata Hybrid’s optional light-gray interior is airy and bright, even without a sunroof or moonroof due to the solar panels up there.
The back seat is comfortably big, while the car’s basic dashboard design — without any intricate materials or designs, just a strip of silver running through the middle of it — looks clean and like it’ll both wear and age gracefully.
The interior includes a thick strip of light gray on a high-touch area of the Sonata Hybrid’s door panel, though, which made me worry about getting scuffs and marks on it.
The Limited trim of the Sonata Hybrid comes with a shiny 10.25-inch touchscreen and shiny buttons on each side of it, and shiny surfaces inside cars are good for one thing: trapping grime. (This is common with new cars, as shown by the Kia Seltos here.)
Don’t dream of cleaning while the screen is on, either, because it’ll think you’re trying to change the radio station instead.
The Sonata’s driver-safety tech includes a set of cameras that automatically pop into the driver’s digital gauges when they hit their turn signal, showing cars or other objects that might be in their blind spot. But don’t get too dependent on them — find yourself in a monsoon and the camera lenses can quickly go from helpful to looking like you’ve opened your eyes underwater.
Otherwise, the Sonata Hybrid is good for driving across town and on road trips. It’s comfortable. You’ll get medium-loud road noise on rough stretches of pavement, and wind noise is there but tolerable. Passengers in the back seat don’t get climate control or seat heaters, but they do have two air vents and a phone-charging port.
The only real drawback on the Limited trim is its navigation system, which wouldn’t give me directions until the last second. When a navigation system does that, it leaves me in a fluster — am I just taking this exit, or am I taking this exit then keeping left? — which makes me less attentive to the road and more likely to make quicker, riskier maneuvers.
Overall, the Sonata Hybrid is a good commuter car, like many are. But what it — and its 2011 ancestor — remind me is that to get the attention of people who wouldn’t care otherwise, you have to be more than a good commuter car. You have to be a good commuter car that looks good. The kind of car people remember 10 years later, and the kind that makes them ask “What even is that?” now.
If there’s anything the Sonata has mastered, it’s that. Whether that’ll pay off is up to the buyers in the market for it.