“Not much to this thing,” I thought as I plopped into the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq’s firm driver’s seat and gripped its rock-hard plastic steering wheel. Then I found the price tag: just over $23,000. Then I found the fuel range: just over... holy crap, 600 miles? As far as new cars go, this is quite a penny pincher.
(Full disclosure: Hyundai let me borrow the Ioniq Hybrid Blue for a week with a full tank of fuel. I barely used any of that fuel, too.)
While I can’t say I would really relish riding in this car for 600 miles, the Ioniq’s value proposition is a solid one if you’re looking for extreme practicality. The car feels reasonably well built, gets the IIHS’s blessing as a “Top Safety Pick,” is EPA rated to 57 mpg in city driving and comes with a ridiculously generous 100,000 mile warranty. The hybrid/electric battery is guaranteed for life.
The Ioniq is a small fastback style car; sort of a hybrid between a sedan and a hatchback. While it ends up with a slightly amorphous exterior, the inside has a lot of usable square footage. 26 cubic feet of cargo storage, according to Hyundai. The whole car measures 176 inches front to back, making city parking a cinch.
There are three trim levels of the 2018 Ioniq: the bare-bones Blue which I drove, and rings up at about $23,000, the $24,000 SEL which gets a few more decorative pieces, paddle shifters and unlocks an optional driver aid package for another $1,000, and the Limited which can be optioned to about $30,000 to have navigation, wireless charging, smart cruise control, a more plush interior, prettier wheels and other niceties.
The higher trim cars are a little heavier and suffer a slight fuel economy penalty for it. The Ioniq SEL and Limited can do a claimed 55 mpg city, 54 highway and 55 in combined driving while the sub-3,000 pound Blue is supposed to be able to do 57 mpg in the city, 59 on the highway and 58 in combined driving.
The car’s fuel tank holds just under 12 gallons of gasoline, and like I already said, the trip computer told me that translated to more than 600 miles of driving range. And it wasn’t even brimmed.
The Ioniq’s propulsion system is a combination of a 1.6-liter four cylinder engine and a 1.56 kWh battery-powered interior-permanent magnet synchronous motor. That all sounds sciencey on paper and a little raspy in person. The electric motor itself is virtually silent, and can move the car at up to 75 mph, but in real-world driving it mostly seemed to whisk the car through parking lots and low-speed traffic. Once you actually get the car out of its own way, the gasoline engine starts with a loud hum.
Despite the electrification, you don’t plug this Hybrid in. The battery is recharged by the gas engine and saps energy off your momentum through regenerative braking.
The Tesla Model 3 has set the bar for “minimalism” too high to call the Ioniq Blue’s interior spartan, but it the cockpit here is pretty much as basic as a traditional modern car can get.
There’s a plain gauge cluster ahead of the driver, a reasonably sized infotainment screen in the middle, and a nice easy climate control center below that. Storage is decent–pockets and bottle holders are plentiful, and the center console even has a storage slot for tablets or giant phones.
The only accent that might pass for personality is the honeycomb pattern on the seats, but, even that looks more like something lifted from a European bus rather than anything painstakingly designed by an automotive craftsperson.
The steering wheel is inexplicably D-shaped and, as I mentioned earlier, oddly hard. Shifting is just a standard console setup, which you can snap to the left from “Drive” to enter “Sport” mode that actually makes the Ioniq feel decidedly unslow from a stop.
The Ioniq Blue’s gauge cluster has a little “EV” light to tell you when the car’s moving without its gas engine, but don’t worry, you’ll know when that furious four-cylinder wakes up.
While the car feels surprisingly refined for the first few seconds of every drive, the 1.6-liter engine is loud when it comes online. And since it’s not a constant sound, you’ll never not notice it while it’s working.
I found this as extra encouragement to drive gently. Easing into the throttle lets the Ioniq stay in its smooth, silent EV mode longer. But even in my idea of cautious driving, the gas engine seemed eager to help.
Road noise isn’t egregiously bad, but it probably would be my primary complaint about the car’s daily drivability. In this base Blue trim, the ride quality was pretty smooth but a lot of sound comes through the body and windows.
As for merging, the car accelerates competently enough when you want it to. If you snap to “Sport” mode and mash the tall pedal, the Ioniq scoots right to the speed limit in what feels like short order. There’s really not much extra energy on tap for aggressive passes, though. You pretty much just have to ride with the flow of traffic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Ergonomics are OK and buttons are easy to find, but the firm seats don’t stay comfortable for all that long and steering wheel just feels so annoyingly cheap. Then again, new cars don’t get much cheaper than $23,000.
Handling around town was responsive enough and the shocks seemed to take potholes in stride. The car didn’t love making panic maneuvers or sudden directional changes, and let me know with some sway, but you’d never feel uneasy about taking this car through cities or across fast highways.
The car feels light, but not delicate. It definitely also feels inexpensive, though. Every piece you touch is pretty hard, there’s not really any reserve power if you mash the accelerator, and if you want fun tech features in the $23,000 Blue trim... you’re just going to have to stick your iPhone on a windshield mount. Which most people will do anyway, so whatever.
I probably spent as much time looking for this car in parking lots as I did driving it. Between its diminutive stature, anonymous silver paint job and exceedingly generic face I honestly forgot what the thing looked like as soon as I climbed in or out of it. It’s not a particularly passion-stoking vehicle, but not everything has to be.
The 2018 Hyundai Ioniq is a lot of efficiency for very little money. If spending the absolute least amount to get from A to B is your jam, but you also insist on buying a brand-new car, this might very well be your play.
There is something to be said for having a 100,000 mile warranty and a hybrid battery that’s warrantied forever, but the Ioniq is about as rewarding as you’d expect the least expensive version of a basic car to be. It’s sufficient for basic transportation, but if you’re looking for speed or flavor you’re going to have a bad time in this thing.
That said, if your hobbies include hypermiling or barely spending any money on gasoline or car maintenance while still being able to go wherever roads are paved, the Ioniq starts looking pretty decent.