The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid may not be twins, but they share much of the same DNA. The sheet metal looks different, but under the skin they are virtually the same.
Built on the same platforms, both the Sonata and Optima Hybrids use a 2.4-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine, complemented by an electric drive system using a 34-kilowatt lithium polymer battery pack. Both offer similar cabin electronics, a flash-memory-based navigation system with traffic and weather, solid MP3 playback, and a Bluetooth phone system. They even use the same Infinity audio systems.
Priced about the same, the only question remaining is whether you like the looks of one over the other. The Sonata Hybrid's body exhibits Hyundai's fluidic sculpture design, with organic contours and curves over the body. It appears futuristic, a car for a new space age, whereas the Kia shows more-traditional lines.
A nice comfort feature of the Sonata Hybrid is the glass roof, which allows dual sunroofs inside the vehicle, one over each set of seats. Of course, the Optima Hybrid also gets this feature.
Responsive cabin interface
The cabin tech suite in the Sonata Hybrid, which all comes as part of a $5,000 package, includes navigation, the Infinity audio system, and some useful connected features. Navigation uses maps stored in flash memory, and here Hyundai really demonstrates how well this technology can work.
Using the center touch screen, the system reacts promptly to every button push. Moving the map around by touch shows absolutely no delay. There is no frustration or double tapping while waiting for the system to respond. But Hyundai also limits this system to 2D maps--there is no perspective view.
The system uses traffic data from satellite to offer detours when it finds traffic jams on a programmed route, and also shows traffic flow information on the maps. Other connected data includes weather, stocks, and sports. Again, the interface is very responsive for these features.
Along with the iPod integration, USB drive compatibility, and satellite radio you might expect in a modern car, the Sonata Hybrid adds HD Radio and Bluetooth audio streaming. Typically, the Bluetooth streaming does not include track information, just skip and pause controls, through the car's interface.
The Infinity audio system, with a 400-watt amp and seven speakers, including a subwoofer, delivers a very nice listening experience. The system is tuned for balance, with crisp, detailed highs and ample bass. The frequency spread does not sound quite as broad as from some other high-end systems, but it is still quite satisfying.
The Bluetooth phone system features a full interface, with a number pad and access to contacts on the touch screen. Voice command also lets you dial by name with this system.
An upcoming divergence in cabin tech between Kia and Hyundai is UVO voice command in the former, and Blue Link (video) in the latter. Kia's UVO system will offer voice command over MP3 players, something not available from Hyundai. Blue Link will bring in a telematic service to Hyundai vehicles, with a voice command system to a variety of offboard data, such as weather and local search.
Graphic hybrid displays
Hyundai also uses the touch screen to display an abundance of information about the hybrid power train and the efficiency of your driving. A screen titled Earth shows the globe with an engine on one side and motor on the other. The more you use the engine, the browner the globe appears, while the motor greens up the earth.