2016 Sonata Hybrid is a good hedge

Midsize gasoline-electric hybrids like the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited come with at least two inevitable weaknesses, compared with their conventional versions. They cost more, and the hybrid batteries consume some of the trunk space. When gasoline prices are high, however, hybrids are desirable because of their fuel-economy advantage.

It so happened that we drove a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at a time of declining fuel prices. The Danbury, Conn., gasoline station we patronize gave up 8 cents a gallon, to $2.09, in the course of a few days in early December. In short, if you're inclined to do the math, you'll find hybrid models make less sense today than they did when prices broke the $4 barrier a couple years of ago.

That said, the Sonata hybrid is a nice hedge against future gasoline-price spikes, and it's a pleasing car all around, too. Its assets include a near-luxury ride and accommodations; 39 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway; styling that promises to remain fresh over the long haul; a 100,000-mile or 10-year power-train warranty; a lifetime warranty on the hybrid battery for the original owner; 5-star crash-test ratings; and a reputation for better-than-average reliability. The Sonata also has a roomy back seat, a 13-cubic-foot trunk, and many standard features that cost extra on some competing models.

Our Venetian Red Pearl test car had a sticker price of $35,765. The base price for the Hybrid Limited model is $30,100. Adding to the bottom line was the Ultimate Package: panoramic sunroof, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic high-beam assist, rear parking assistance, smart cruise control, navigation system, audio upgrade and other features.

Challenging the Sonata hybrid in its own showroom is the Sonata SE, which is rated at 25 mpg city, 38 highway, and has a base price $4,250 below that of the base hybrid model. If gasoline stays at $2.09 a gallon or lower, the hybrid's savings will start to accrue about the time the car hits the 65,000-mile mark.

For those with a strong urge to conserve fuel and minimize emissions, however, the hybrid represents a sound compromise between the functional limitations of electric vehicles and the versatility of conventional cars. Hyundai also offers a plug-in hybrid model, which has a base price of $34,600. It is rated at 99 mpg (equivalent) because it'll go up to 27 miles in EV mode.

The Sonata Hybrid Limited's standard-equipment list includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, automatic climate control, blind-spot detection system with rear cross-traffic alert, and rear-view camera.

Hybrid sales have been slumping as gasoline prices have dropped, but Hyundai is ready in the event of an increase. “It is true that there is not a great market demand for these (alternative fuel) cars,” John Shon, a Hyundai planner, told Fortune magazine. “But it’s also true that we are developing and refining technologies that could be very big in the future.”

 Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Price: $35,765

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four with electric motor, 193 horsepower combined

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,560 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17-in. Eco-Spoke alloy

Tires: P215/55R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 13.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons

Fuel economy: 39 mpg city, 43 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline