Hybrids are known for their efficiency. And they’re also often known for being not much fun to drive.
Partly, that’s because they often have transmissions that deliver sloppy shifts, whether that’s because they’re CVTs or just conventional automatics with long, slow, lethargic shift programming.
Now Hyundai aims to remedy that with new shift logic it calls Active Shift Control in the 6-speed automatic transmission of the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which it revealed Monday. In the Sonata Hybrid, Hyundai continues to use a conventional automatic transmission, which delivers fixed ratios that some drivers might find more reassuring.
In hybrids, those transmissions have still been slow to shift, because, the drive system has to declutch before matching the engine’s (or motor’s) revs to the next planned gear and reconnecting the clutch.
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid transmission with Active Shift Control
Other modern automatic transmissions do much the same thing, but with a fluid-coupling torque converter, they can be less precise. The transmission fluid soaks up any discrepancy. In Hyundai’s hybrid system, the electric motor replaces the torque converter, so engineers have to be much more precise in matching the revs, or the car will feel jerky.
That’s where Hyundai says ASC comes in. A sensor in the electric motor samples its rotational speed 500 times per second to aid with synchronizing its speed with that of the engine. This cuts down the shift times—the time between when the transmission disengages one gear and engages the next—by 30 percent, from 500 milliseconds to 350, Hyundai says.
Not only does that make the shifts feel both snappier and smoother to the driver, it can also improve acceleration, fuel economy, and the durability of the transmission—a potential win, win, win.
In addition to ASC, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes with a new solar roof, Hyundai’s new smartphone-based digital key technology, and what we anticipate will be an even better suite of active-safety features. Once again, the six-speed hybrid transmission will be fitted to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine tuned especially for the hybrid application.
We can’t wait to try it out in the new Sonata Hybrid to see if this feature works as well as it sounds—and to see if this, among other improvements, boosts the model’s mpg above the 39 mpg city, 44 highway, 41 combined for the outgoing 2019 model. The company did not announce when it will go on sale in the U.S.