First Drive: Hyundai Ioniq
SECTOR Upper Medium PRICE €22,000–€34,000 FUEL 3.4–3.9l/100km (Ioniq Hybrid) CO2 79–92g/km (Ioniq Hybrid)
Petrol, or diesel? It’s been a binary choice for most fleets until recently, but the growing choice of hybrid and plug-in models are adding shades of grey into that decision. With the Ioniq, Hyundai is offering an entirely different set of options.
There will be no conventional petrol or diesel version of this car. Instead, the range is launching with petrol hybrid and fully electric versions, to be joined by a plug-in hybrid next year. Aiming for 32g/km CO2 emissions, low tax is likely to make that third piece of the jigsaw the most popular. Think of this as a Korean rival for the Prius and Leaf, under one line-up.
The Ioniq occupies a similar footprint to the latest Prius and has a similar aerodynamic silhouette. It uses a lightweight platform re-engineered to accommodate the bulky parts of an electric drivetrain, with EV versions marked out by copper accents instead of blue for the hybrid, and a closed grille. These are variants, not different models.
But there are big differences underneath. The Hybrid is expected to be the bigger seller at launch, and it’s offered in a choice of three trim levels, with the option to add larger wheels to the top-spec version. There’s a compact battery underneath the rear bench, charged using regenerative braking, which supplies energy to a 43hp electric motor. In turn, the motor can power the wheels for short distances and at low loads, or take some of the work off the 1.6-litre petrol engine with which it shares a six-speed transmission.
This works almost seamlessly. Torque from the motor fills in for the normally unwilling low-rev performance of the engine, particularly around town, and the dual-clutch gearbox means it’s not prone to droning like Toyota and Lexus hybrids while accelerating to motorway speeds. Sport mode, available by pushing the gear lever to the side – sharpens steering, throttle and gearchanges for bursts of acceleration.
The Ioniq Electric is a little less conventional to drive. It uses a 120hp electric motor, supplied with energy from a 28kWh lithium-ion polymer battery under the boot floor and rear bench. While that’s slightly less capacity than the latest Leaf, the Ioniq is energy-efficient enough to return a claimed 174-mile range, which puts it among the best in on the market, and DC rapid charging via the port under the fuel flap can restore 80% of the range in around half an hour.
It’s easy to get used to, despite dispensing with a conventional gearstick in favour of a bank of buttons on the centre console. The motor delivers strong straight-line performance, even up to cruising speeds, and the lack of engine rumble doesn’t expose wind or road noise. Paddles behind the steering wheel mean drivers can vary regenerative braking power, it feels a little slowing through the gears of a conventional gearbox.
But there are compromises. Accommodating the large battery means the Ioniq Electric misses out on the Hybrid’s sophisticated multi-link rear axle, and it feels noticeably more unsettled on rough surfaces as a result. It also gets less boot space, the centre console is more plasticky, and prioritising aerodynamics means both versions of the Ioniq are tight on headroom.
All of which makes this a very tightly focused environmental choice, and that’s no bad thing. The Ioniq is a car for fleets and drivers with green credentials at the top of their priority lists and, once all three drivetrains are available, it’s got the potential to offer an eco-friendly alternative for most drivers’ needs. Shades of grey that are well worth considering.
Clever and genuinely effective technology, packaged in a car which is ruthlessly pursuing efficiency, the Ioniq should have no problems muscling in on cars like the Prius and LEAF. But the platform-shared Kia Niro crossover is a more versatile car which perhaps has wider appeal.