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    Expert Advice Versus Real-World Opinions

    By Philip Ruth–

    Sometimes the experts tell only part of the story, and I found this to be true while evaluating this article’s 40-mpg-plus hybrid sedans: the $29,971 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Nightshade Edition and $38,350 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited. 

    The Corolla Hybrid gave very different impressions to my client than it did to me. He was seeking a fuel-efficient car for local driving to care for an elderly friend while also going long distances to visit prisoners in his trans activism work. Upscale brands were anathema to his blue-collar sensibility, and the pre-owned Hondas and Toyotas carried stupidly high prices. 

    Then I found a few dealers offering new Corolla Hybrid LEs for about the same prices as our used selections—in theory, at least, because even before these Corolla Hybrid LEs hit the showrooms, they were sold. Except for one at San Francisco Toyota, which we just barely laid claim to ahead of another buyer. 

    This Corolla Hybrid was a screaming deal, priced thousands less than any competing Hyundai Elantra Hybrid in the Bay Area. My client expressed frustration with his Corolla Hybrid’s center-screen interface (as most clients do, no matter the brand), but otherwise he loved the car, remarking on its power, easy cruising, and comfort. 

    A week later, I received this Corolla Hybrid Nightshade Edition, and while I liked its spiffy copper-colored wheels and red interior flourishes, I didn’t enjoy driving it. The noisy engine, vague transmission response, limited visibility, and stool-like driver’s seat cushion were all turn-offs. I marveled that my client had a completely different take on it. 

    Regarding the Sonata: “I hate the name,” said a friend. “Sounds like ‘snot.’” I’d never thought of that in the years since the Sonata’s 1988 debut. Accord, Altima, Galant, and Sonata are all examples of Asian brands leveraging the sonorous side of the letter A. These names are designed to roll off the tongue in any accent, and it was surprising that he focused on the consonants. 

    Aside from its updated front and rear styling, this Sonata Hybrid was yet another silver mid-sized sedan in Castro traffic, with a don’t-mind-me look that blended in with its Uber-like camouflage. 

    This anonymity quickly became an asset, as the Sonata Hybrid revealed itself to be an actual sport sedan. A decade or so ago, a mainstream car with the Sonata Hybrid’s elevated agility would be a pricey version with blackout trim aimed at a subset of enthusiast buyers; now, it’s just how they all roll, and it’s heartwarming to see this kind of motoring fun being available to all. 

    The Sonata Hybrid had a commanding driving position and clear sightlines all around. The throttle response was strong. On the curved entrance ramp from Duboce Street to the Bay Bridge, the Sonata Hybrid calmly held its line, and then merging summoned instant thrust. The engine was occasionally loud but not grating, and the geared transmission was on-point. It added up to a well-rounded tourer.

    Both these hybrids have attractive appeal, depending on your perspective. 

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant with an automotive staging service.

    Published on May 23, 2024