GOLETA, California—Hyundai has offered hybrid versions of its cars alongside its mainstream models in the past, but the new Ioniq was designed as a hybrid-electric line from the ground up, and by the end of the year you can expect standard and plug-in hybrids and a battery-electric.
Yet Hyundai prefers you see it more as just a compact car that’s fun to drive, cost-conscious, and delivers great fuel consumption in the process. Does it?
All three models share basic body panels, including an aluminum hood and hatch for weight reduction, with a familiar Hyundai nose and Kammback tail. All about drag reduction, it matches the best in class without pushing any questionable styling boundaries.
The battery version has LED headlights, 16-inch wheels, and no grille, replaced by a gloss-black (matte gray on black cars) panel of the same outline, while the other two have active grille shutters and top-line cars’ hood emblems hiding safety system sensors.
The plug-in has a “fuel” door front (battery) and rear (gasoline), and the hybrid’s wheels are 15-inch with 17s optional—Hyundai literature clearly shows the consumption penalty for larger rolling stock.
Only badges differentiate the rear, unless you look underneath for an exhaust pipe. A split rear window is nicely integrated but direct rear visibility isn’t ideal, and worse in weather as you’d need three wipers to clear all of it.
For a car bent on fuel economy the Ioniq is pleasantly conventional inside. Abundant real buttons allow instant climate and entertainment adjustments, the shifter’s grab-and-go (except for the push-button on the electric) and while it has a few mileage/efficiency display options you’re not bombarded with graphics about how efficient you’re being. Or not.
There’s even a – gasp – sport mode with dominant red-tinged tachometer, and a flat-bottom steering wheel lest you’re used to steering by tiller rather than helm.
Sample Limited trim models sported heated leather seats with checkered-flag piping, rear seat vents, driver memory, and a decent range of steering wheel adjustments, and the wheel leather felt higher-than-average grade.
We parked a trio of six-foot-plus bodies in—headroom in back was better than expected as long as you don’t lean forward or sideways, and the rear occupant generally lasted 45 or 60 minutes before broaching a stop-and-stretch inquiry. Room shouldn’t be an issue and climate control has a “driver-only” setting for efficiency.
Trunk depth was a positive surprise, too, and it was reasonably easy to load. The bin underfloor will carry a spare, but on the plug-in that space goes to additional batteries, and the electric has a shallower-but-still-flat floor for about 10 percent less volume. Rear seatbacks fold for more on all of them.
Expect a 7-inch display and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD and XM radio, and proximity key on every base model. You’ll need higher trim for Blue Link integration with Amazon Echo and Google Home, Infinity Clari-Fi audio, Qi wireless charging, lane departure and blind spot warning, smart cruise control and collision mitigation braking (full brake from 80 kph, pedestrian detected full brake from 70 kph, warning and partial braking to 180 kph).
A few months earlier I rode in an autonomous Ioniq that committed no traffic offenses and delivered us unscathed, and notably the car had no extra batteries or computers eating up trunk or cabin space, only a couple of monitors so we could see what the car was “seeing.”
And some of that mapping software has crept into the Ioniq hybrids’ nav system (again, a top-trim item) so when the car is following a GPS route it takes into account terrain and road data to use as little gasoline as possible.
Hyundai’s choice of a six-speed twin-clutch automatic is the main reason the Ioniq doesn’t feel like a hybrid. It shifts gears like most are used to, even at full-throttle, avoiding the annoying constant high-rpm buzz that plagues most hybrids’ continuously variable transmissions. And while the steering is electric-assist it feels artificial only in sport mode.
It’s not fast – neither was that the point – yet with 250 kg on board we never worried about passing or merging. Ride quality and handling are competitive—I’d not compare to a Focus but it’s better than some non-hybrids and hybrids alike; the electric version’s rear beam axle doesn’t cope with bumps and road irregularities as well as the Hybrids’ full independent setup, but the extra battery mass makes it more amusing to rotate. Road, wind and electronics noise are all moderated.
The brake pedal is less spongy-springy than many hybrids, and the electric Ioniq has wheel paddles to select from zero through three levels of regeneration. With the slightest forethought, level three lets you drive anywhere above five kph without using the brake pedal.
Hyundai says 4.1 L/100 km average for the base hybrid; 1.7 Le/100 km for the plug-in we didn’t drive; and a 200-km range for the electric with 4.5-hour recharge on 240 volts or 35 minutes on a 450-volt public/fast DC station.
With three people, wipers, defrost and roads rarely flat or straight, I averaged 5.0 in the fully-optioned hybrid; in the electric it showed 215 km range when we began and my colleague did 6.7 km/kWh over 50 km while I managed 8.8 over 50 km with a net elevation drop of 160 metres.
Regardless of how close it got to rated consumption you’ll need a spreadsheet and perhaps a tax consultant to sort this out. Canadian pricing isn’t finalized but the U.S. Ioniq hybrid parallels Prius money, while the electric version slightly undercuts the LEAF. And they all come with a lifetime battery warranty.
The Ioniq feels less hybrid-like than its competitors, delivers excellent efficiency, and appears to present a compelling value argument. But I’m a pessimist and any Kammback-profile, aero-cheating-wheel hatchback looks like a hybrid to me.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.
Vehicles driven were U.S. specification but Canadian versions are expected to be of identical performance.