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Sonata Hybrid Goes Coast to Coast, Stopping to Fill Up Only Once

RP Siegel | Friday January 7th, 2011 | 7 Comments

Imagine driving across the country, from San Diego, California to Jekyll Island, Georgia. You fill up the car once at the beginning of the trip, then fill it up once more halfway across. When you arrive at your destination you still have two gallons of gas left. That’s what Wayne Gerdes did in a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. No, he wasn’t pulling a trailer full of gasoline behind him. This was a stock, standard Hybrid Sonata.

The only thing non-standard about the trip was the driver. Wayne Gerdes is a hyper-miler, a professional driver who has mastered the art of wringing every possible yard out of a drop of gasoline. Gerdes is generally considered to be the world champion hyper-miler.

Back in 2007, he navigated a regular Honda Accord across the Midwest one summer achieving 59 mpg. That’s far from his record. He also averaged 109 mpg in a Toyota Prius at a mileage marathon in Pittsburgh, traveling 1397 miles on a single tank of gas.

His trip in the Sonata, across the Southwest during the winter, with its mountains and temperature fluctuations was a little more challenging than the other rides, which underscores the fact that not all miles are created equal, something any cyclist knows all too well.

The new Sonata Hybrid made the 2269 mile trip look easy with its 20 gallon fuel tank. Its EPA mileage rating is 37/39. Wayne achieved 59.7 mpg on this trip, under real world conditions, just edging out his legendary Accord performance. He certainly could have exceeded that mark under more benign conditions. As a point of comparison, an ordinary driver, achieving the EPA-rated 39 mpg on the highway, would have required an additional tank of gas for a total of 58 gallons which still ain’t bad.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata was introduced last March as a challenger to the Camry and Fusion hybrids. It utilizes Hyundai’s new Blue Drive Technology, a parallel hybrid system, which allows drivers to use the 2.4-liter Theta II gas engine (running on the Atkinson Cycle, producing 169 hp at 6,000 RPM and 156 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 RPM), or the 30 kW electric motor (151 lb-ft of torque), or both. The two prime movers are coupled to the drive wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. This differs from a number of other hybrids like the Camry and the Altima which both utilize a continuously variable transmission or CVT. The Sonata hybrid’s coefficient of drag is 0.25, the same as on the 2010 Prius. According to Gerdes, “This demonstration shows how the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid can deliver extremely impressive fuel economy and range for drivers who value fuel savings… Driving on the interstate at the posted speed limit (or 65 mph, whichever is slower), the Sonata Hybrid will exceed or equal its competition while offering a much larger, roomier, and comfortable car.”

Gerdes best mark ever was the 2,254 miles he drove on a single 13.7-gallon tank of gas during the Honda Insight Marathon in Oklahoma back in 2007, where he averaged 164.53 miles per gallon over the whole distance. Another team that Gerdes was involved in achieved 81.5 mpg in a Ford Fusion Hybrid back in the spring of 2009.

For those of you still filling up your cars more than once a month, you should really take a few tips from these experts:

  • Accelerate smoothly up to the posted speed limit
  • Apply the “Pulse and Glide” technique while maintaining the flow of traffic
  • Anticipate traffic signals and traffic patterns, slow down to minimize stops
  • Coast up to red lights and stop signs to avoid fuel waste and brake wear
  • Minimize the use of vehicle systems such as heated seats and air conditioning
  • Keep windows closed whenever possible to reduce drag
  • Minimize excessive engine workload by using the vehicle’s forward momentum
  • Avoid bumps and potholes that can reduce momentum

If you do it will save you money, allow your car to last longer and reduce your impact on the environment.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor TrailsLike airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter


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  • nh driver

    I say bull feathers. Hypermileing
    would only add 10-15 mpg’s This is
    a hyudai phony publicity stunt to sell
    korean rust boxes

    • http://twitter.com/panixed JC

      Like BMW, Nissan, and Toyota, they are manufactured in the US, and are among the best vehicle brands for service and performance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Sirach/1335883051 Mike Sirach

    NH Driver: Please get educated about how the EPA ratings are conducted and you will see that there is a large deficit in what the potential is and the official number. The definition of Hypermiler is: “A driver who strives to exceed their vehicle’s EPA fuel economy rating.” It is very possible to get 50%, 100%, or even 200% of the EPA rating on automobiles. It is not a stunt, but a method of driving that a growing number of Americans are starting to practice.

  • dennis driscoll sr

    bull crap these manufactures test tht crap out of vihicles when they 40 mpg its under exellent condition what magic wond do you have to close 50% better mpgs the billion corporation could if any believes your crock ive got land in florida for sale

    • xlthim

      I have a ’10 4-cylinder Sonata. It had an EPA rating of 32 MPG. I drive an hour to work, constant moving most of the way. I regularly get 36-37 MPG per tank. I’m not a fanatical “hyperdriver”, but I do drive to not waste gas.
      If everyone were to start thinking about their driving habits, we could put a small dent in the foreign oil demand. And yes, I remember being 20 and not caring.

    • BJ

      Haha, bull crap? I have a 2003 Crysler Town and Country 3.8l and my wife and I are averaging a little over 25mpg hand calculated. That’s about 30% over EPA rating.
      The manufacturers are not the ones giving mpg ratings, it’s the EPA. If you read up on the EPA test cycle and how they calculate fuel economy, it’s no mystery why people can exceed that by a large margin. Even with the crappy ethanol laced fuel most are stuck with.

  • http://twitter.com/panixed JC

    In 2010 I rented a standard Hyundai Sonata, took it on an 8650 miles cross country road trip, and only needed to fill up the car 8 times. Averaging 45 mpg.And hitting long stretches of 50+ averages while cruising at 70 mph. I spent less than $400 on gas, even in California, where we paid a max of $2.93/ Gallon at a Safeway off the PCH near Sea Cliff/Santa Cruz.