Hyundai Sonata Hybrid leads midsize pack for another year

We rated some of the country’s best-selling midsize sedans to find the greenest of the 2012 models. Focusing on the more fuel-efficient trims (and so excluding V6 versions, for example), the contenders are similar to those of prior years.  Among this set of cars, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid again earns the best score, with this year’s eRating notching up even higher at 172*.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

The Sonata’s “Blue Drive” hybrid system, detailed in last year’s feature, helps it achieve the top eRating through low tailpipe emissions, an efficient turbocharged direct-injection engine and vehicle mileage optimized for highway rather than city travel. The road-trip-tuned powertrain is especially important as over half of U.S. driving is done at highway speeds. The Sonata’s tailpipe emissions are the lowest among the group of cars rated here, certifying to a level 33 percent cleaner than the Fusion and Camry hybrids.  That also helps explain why the Sonata Hybrid comes out on top of the midsize sedan eRatings.


Following right behind with an eRating of 170, the redesigned Toyota Camry Hybrid stands out thanks to large efficiency gains over last year’s model.   Significant changes to the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” include a new 2.5 Liter engine, which now boasts an electric water pump, variable-output oil pump and water-cooled exhaust gas recirculation.

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

The Camry’s changes reduce drag on the engine and keep combustion temperatures lower, increasing power at the wheels and reducing emissions. Notable energy savings also come from an increase in the regenerative braking performance and a smaller, air-cooled nickel-metal-hydride battery. The 2012 improvements, along with overall reduced vehicle mass, push combined mileage up to 40 mpg, 21 percent higher than last year’s model.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid’s rating of 161, though lower than its hybrid peers, is still 41 percent better than the average eRating of 114 for conventional midsize sedans. Earlier this year Ford revealed a revamped hybrid as part of its all-new 2013 Fusion, due in showrooms later this year. The preliminary specs promise to push it toward the top of the midsize pack, and we’ll rate all of the next-generation versions of the Fusion when they hit the market.

As in last year’s midsize sedan roundup, we again handicap the race by omitting the uniquely fuel-efficient Toyota Prius. With a combined mileage of 50 mpg, the 2012 Prius earns an eRating of 195 for the federal tailpipe version. Worth noting is the narrowing gap between hybridized midsize sedans and the Prius. The 2011 Sonata Hybrid lagged the Prius by 35 percent along the AutoEcoRating scale of total pollution impact, while this year that gap is trimmed to just 11 percent.

The midsize sedan class average eRating works out to 114, counting all versions (including V6s) over the last full year of published data.  The more fuel-efficient conventional versions evaluated here — all spec’d with four cylinder engines — come in just above this mean. Among this group of nonhybrids, the Toyota Camry’s eRating of 121 is the highest. The Hyundai Sonata earns an eRating of 119 while the Accord, Altima and Fusion all nearly tie with eRatings of 116, 115 and 115, respectively. The sales-weighted class average of 114 is lower because it accounts for all powertrain options, including the V6 models that trade lower fuel economy for higher power performance.

The Sonata Hybrid’s stellar showing and the Camry Hybrid’s 21 percent fuel economy increase highlight the significant gains in efficiency achieved in a relatively short period of time. With Ford offering an all-new Fusion Hybrid and Chevrolet fielding the Malibu Eco, the 2013 editions soon appearing in the market seem likely to prove cleaner still.

Make and Model$MSRPSpecsCity/Hwy/Comb
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid26,625206 hp hybrid drive, 6-speed auto34 / 39 / 36*172*
Toyota Camry Hybrid26,750200 hp hybrid drive, CVT43 / 39 / 40170
Ford Fusion Hybrid29,570191 hp hybrid drive, CVT41 / 36 / 39161
Toyota Camry22,815178 hp 2.5 L 4 cyl., 6-speed auto25 / 35 / 28121
Hyundai Sonata21,570198 hp 2.5 L 4 cyl., 6-speed auto24 / 35 / 28119
Honda Accord23,070177 hp 2.4 L 4 cyl., 5-speed auto23 / 34 / 27116
Nissan Altima23,770175 hp 2.5 L 4 cyl., CVT23 / 32 / 27115
Ford Fusion23,770175 hp 2.5 L 4 cyl., 6-speed auto23 / 33 / 26115
Chevy Malibu22,870169 hp 2.4 L 4 cyl., 6-speed auto22 / 33 / 26113


*Mileage and eRating reflect corrected EPA mileage estimates.


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