► Hybrid, Electric and Plug-in Hybrid in single bodystyle
► Six-speed dual-clutch transmission in hybrid model
► Electric promises 178-mile range, instant 217lb ft
Ioniq. As slightly silly, made up car names go, Hyundai’s pitched this about right – sounding a bit iconic (if also possibly ironic), hinting at ions and therefore electrickery, and with the ever useful letter q signifying something definitely techy at the end. If it was tacked onto the boot of a crap car, it would probably be worthy of quite a ribbing. But it isn’t.
At face value, the new Hyundai Ioniq is pretty obviously a Toyota Prius rival. If that same-again aero-friendly silhouette didn’t give it away, the blue accents around the exterior are by now a well-established indicator of part-electric motivation.
Hyundai, however, is calling a world first with this car, because in addition to the conventional hybrid powertrain, the Ioniq is also offered as a dedicated electric vehicle (copper accents), and as of next year will be available as a plug-in hybrid as well (accents TBC). No other carmaker offers all three forms of electrified go in the same model.
Check out our Best Hybrids and Plug-In Electric cars list
Er, so what?
Well, indeed. But with this full court press approach Hyundai is hoping to ingratiate itself into the realm of progressive car manufacturers that squats in the subconscious of buyers’ minds. And in so doing transcend from being a mere maker of credible rivals to the mainstream’s meat and potatoes into a brand with its finger on the cutting edge.
You make it sound like Hyundai’s about to cut itself…
This is unlikely. Sales targets are realistic, and the strategy seems sound. For instance, park an Ioniq Hybrid alongside the latest Prius, and although the generic hybrid cues are obviously apparent, only one of them shouts ‘Eco evangelist! Avoid! Avoid!’ – and that’s the weird-looking Toyota. Ditto the Electric version versus the Nissan Leaf.
Hyundai has deliberately aimed to give its eco warrior a less affronting, more stylish appearance, with a sleek modernity that would just about withstand claims of ‘It’s a bit like a Tesla’ as explanation of ownership to your friends.
Then there's the pricing...
What’s the Hyundai Ioniq’s pricing like?
Aggressive. The entry-level Hybrid starts at £19,995, the Electric version costs from £28,995 – and that’s before the £4500 government grant for ‘class one’ electric vehicles.
Prius pricing starts at £23,295, for comparison – and while you can buy a Leaf for as little as £16,395, it will come with the smaller 24kWh battery pack on a monthly rental agreement, good for 124-miles max per charge; to outright purchase an Ioniq-equivalent Leaf with 30kWh battery and claimed 155-mile range costs £29,730 (before grant).
So what’s the range of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric?
Hyundai is particularly proud of the Ioniq Electric’s compact lithium-ion polymer battery – with 28kWh capacity and the car’s high-strength steel and aluminium construction helping keep weight down to 1420kg, it claims a 174-mile range. Driving somewhat unsympathetically on the launch, it didn’t look like our test car was going to manage that, but equally the battery pack didn’t expel its contents like a juice cartoon when confronted with a heavy right foot.
Turning the Electric’s front wheels is an 88kW motor – that’s equivalent to 118bhp – delivering an instantaneous 217lb ft of torque. Using a rapid charger, you can top up the battery to 80% in just 23 minutes; with a domestic supply you’ll still need to leave it plugged in overnight for a full charge, while a more powerful home wallbox completes the job in four hours 25 minutes.
Anything novel about the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid?
Like the platform-sharing Kia Niro, the Ioniq Hybrid uses a 103bhp 1.6-litre GDI direct injection petrol engine from Hyundai’s ‘Kappa’ family – switched here to an Atkinson cycle for improved thermal efficiency. With this raised to a class leading 40%, the engine makes more energy from every drop of fuel at the expense of some performance (which is why most engines use the alternative Otto cycle).
Filling in this performance deficit, and allowing the Hybrid to operate on electric power alone for (very) short periods, the petrol engine is permanently attached to a 32kW/42bhp electric motor powered by a 1.56kWh lithium-ion polymer battery. Petrol and electric together produce a total system output of 139bhp and 195lb ft, while returning a claimed 83.1mpg and 79g/km on the standard 15-inch wheels.
That’s not quite as parsimonious as a Prius, but nor is any of it the novel element. The novel element is that instead of using a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) like most dedicated hybrids, the Ioniq Hybrid features a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The additional weight of this costs the car some on-paper efficiency but aims to make the driving experience much more enjoyable, doing away with the disconnect between intrusively lowing engine noise and lacklustre response you get with a CVT.
What’s the Hyundai Ioniq like to drive?
We drove the Hybrid first, and found it tolerably pleasant, but not sensational. The dual-clutch gearbox is a definite enhancement, but it’s still quite a noisy thing whenever you put your foot down, and since there are no paddleshifters on the steering wheel (what owner would bother, we suppose) and the manual shift on the central selector is the wrong way round (up for up may seem logical but it’s less intuitive in practice) there’s little incentive to moderate this yourself.
It’s also rather roly-poly through the corners, and while this translates into a relatively cosseting ride, the optional 17s tend to exacerbate sudden surface disturbances, sending little shockwaves through the structure.
There’s a Sport mode, which flips the all-digital instrument cluster over to a rev-counter and weights up the steering, but you’re offered no other control over the drivetrain, meaning the Ioniq Hybrid makes its own decisions about when the battery is used. Overall it left us with the impression of disinterested competence – a car that demands scant effort from its driver, but elicits scant enthusiasm in response.
How about the Electric version?
You’ll drive about 200 yards before concluding that this is how the Ioniq is supposed to be. Like most electric cars it has a single-speed gearbox, but the instant torque delivery makes it much punchier than the Hybrid from a standing start and lower speeds – and although the impact of this drops away as you go faster, the refinement and sense of futuristic calm this brings with it remains a constant companion that lifts the whole driving experience.
With the larger battery pack mounted mostly below the rear seats (you do lose 93 litres of boot capacity from the Hybrid’s 443-litre load space), the Ioniq Electric apparently has a lower centre of gravity than the latest Golf GTI, so it corners harder than the Hybrid, too, and unexpectedly seems to ride better.
Switchable drive modes give you a choice of Eco, Normal and Sport settings, with the latter releasing the final 22lb ft that brings the Electric up to its 217lb ft max; using this has an inevitable impact on the driving range, but if you’re smart about deploying the four levels of brake regeneration available via paddleshifters on the steering wheel it is possible to travel quickly and efficiently. All told the Ioniq Electric is a very likeable machine.
Will I have to put up with a Star Trek interior?
Not really. Aside from featuring Hyundai’s first digital instrument cluster and a rather odd shade of dark beige-brown plastic, there’s nothing especially outlandish about the Ioniq’s cabin. Again the idea is to appease people who may be put off by the nerdy NASA vibe of Prius and Leaf. Quality is acceptably good rather than mind-blowing.
Distinguishing between the two versions are different centre consoles (the Electric doing without any form of conventional transmission) and the Hybrid features blue accents; in the Electric these accents are copper coloured – as they are on the outside, where you’ll also find a plain grey panel in place of the Hybrid’s slatted grille.
The Electric gets a slightly higher level of standard equipment – though the kit list is hardly ungenerous in the Hybrid – and does without the entry-level SE trim, helping to further explain the price difference. This means sat-nav is standard on the EV, as it is on higher spec Hybrids. This includes free lifetime updates, so the vital list of charging points should always be usefully current (boom boom).
If you like the look of this new Hyundai, and can stomach the extra cost and manage the inconvenience of keeping the battery pack replete, we’d recommend the Ioniq Electric – it has a tranquility and completeness about it that the Hybrid somehow lacks. Don’t let that put you off the Hybrid if it’s a more viable option for you; it’s still a fine example of this burgeoning sector.
Those not in a hurry to buy, however, may yet be better served by the plug-in hybrid version, which might just deliver the best of both worlds – all-electric tranquilly on the average commute after a night on the grid, together with the convenience of unencumbered longer-range travel – at a price that promises to split the difference between the existing two.
We’ll drive the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid early in 2017.
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