We were gathered in a conference room, and, honestly, it felt like maybe we were being played. The Hyundai team had not one, but three vehicles with alternative powertrains to show off; with only 3 percent of the U.S. market share controlled by electric vehicles, it seemed like a bit of a stretch. But the new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq is enjoyable to drive, and, with an aggressive sticker price and familiar look, it could transform EV-skeptical consumers into electrified believers.
(Full Disclosure: Hyundai wanted me to drive the new Ioniq EV, Plug-In Hybrid, and Hybrid so badly, they flew me to Santa Barbara, California, put me up in a hotel and paid for my food, while I cruised around the area in all three vehicles. A fun time was had by all involved.)
Way back in early 2016, Hyundai announced a new hybrid and electric family, in the form of the Ioniq. It was aimed at scoring some environmentalist cred, in particular with an all-electric model that had a range of over 100 miles and an interior designed with—no joke—volcanic rock. (From which volcano, I don’t know. Hyundai spokespeople couldn’t say.)
Hyundai clearly sees a long-game for the Ioniq, too: at this year’s CES, the Korean automaker trotted out an autonomous Ioniq prototype, the frame of the new electric fleet is designed to eventually be equipped with hi-tech self-driving gadgetry.
Above all, what stands out here is the price. At $22,000 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit), the all-electric Ioniq is going to hit the market at a far-more digestible cost than the new Chevrolet Bolt, albeit with only half the Bolt’s range 238 miles of range. But with both of these cars on the market months ahead of Tesla’s Model 3, they have the chance to wrestle some gas-guzzling classicists away and turn them onto EVs.
With an MSRP that comes in several thousand dollars less than the Bolt, the Ioniq could prevail in that fight. And the hybrid model’s fuel economy averages 58 MPG, a possibly tolerable concession for the Ioniq’s basic performance capabilities.
So why should tech-averse enthusiasts care? Because the car’s a hell of a good bargain, and that makes it worth noticing.
What Is It?
Here’s the basics. Given the Ioniq’s plug-in hybrid version remains in pre-production, there were no official specs, but the other two models I tested are ready to go. The all-electric model carries 124 miles of range, 88 kW of battery power, 0 to 60 reportedly in a lethargic 10 seconds (Hyundai said it doesn’t release performance figures but some surfaced when the Ioniq was announced), 118 horsepower and 215 lb-ft of torque.
The hybrid, interestingly, has a dual clutch transmission, with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a 44.5 kW electric motor, similar 0-60 times, 125 HP and 125 lb-ft of torque.
Starting price for the base electric model is $29,500 before a $7,500 tax credit, while the base hybrid trim comes in close at $22,200. In states partial to EVs, like California, where the all-electric model will first be sold, an additional tax credit could drop the price below $20,000.
The trims all come with Hyundai’s lifetime battery warranty, and a new subscription model will be tested in a pilot program to offer a 36-month lease that gives you unlimited mileage. Pending how that goes, Hyundai reps said the program could be later expanded.
Both the EV and hybrid have clean, friendly appearances. You know how hybrids and EVs all looked like spaceships for a while? Yeah, these don’t, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Hyundai didn’t say the Ioniq was aimed at siphoning off Prius diehards—more so, the traditionally sedan-happy demographic of several automakers. That mentality seems to have paid off. The layout of the interior is intuitive and should be a comfortable transition for, say, a Toyota Corolla-lifer who’s looking for their first alternative powertrain vehicle.
Why Does It Matter?
At the risk of sounding like a cheapass, the aggressive pricing of the Ioniq — along with Hyundai’s clear intention to using it as a vehicle to developing an accessible autonomous car down the line — is the most notable point. Carrying a range of more than 120 miles, the Ioniq doesn’t quite reach the new major benchmark cemented by the Bolt, but it jumps ahead of the outdated Focus EV, Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV, which typically carry claimed ranges of up to 110 miles.
But slicing nearly a quarter of the cost off the Bolt, the Ioniq takes itself into newer territory. Long-distance commuters with, say, 40 miles one way to work, could make their daily trek—and then head out to dinner with the comfort of knowing their car won’t crap out and die on the way home. No, it’s not where the Bolt is, or where Tesla vehicles are already at, but again: cost.
Hyundai tried driving the point home, highlighting a AAA survey that said Americans only drive 43 miles daily, and 98 percent of new car buyers don’t intend to drive more than 100 miles on a daily basis.
It might make weekend camping trips up north a bit of a tedious chore, but for a daily commuting car, the Ioniq doubles down on the case made by Chevy’s new Bolt: EVs, more and more, seem viable. If an electric revolution is before us thanks to the Bolt, the Ioniq is what might cement it.
A handful of competitor vehicles to benchmark were on-site, and when I drove the new Prius Prime and the Ioniq back-to-back, the normalcy of Hyundai’s compact car stood out. The layout of the center dashboard felt comfortably like hopping into your first junker at 16: here is the volume knob so I can play music excessively loud. Here is the climate control, oh shit it all actually works.
For the younger kids — because, of course, Hyundai noted that it’s about The Millennials® — there’s included smartphone integration and wireless charging. For everyone else, there’s piano key controls, and a 7-inch Blue Link infotainment system that had a sleek, clean, and easy-to-navigate interface.
Though the similarities between the hybrid and all-electric models were prevalent, I particularly appreciated the intuitive design of the EVs drive selector control. Putting a Park (expertly labeled ‘P’) button next to a drive button. Brilliant!
And the placement of the regenerative braking level-controls on the wheel made cruising about the California roadways much more pleasant. Right for more natural coast; left for more regeneration. Not bad at all.
To further boost efficiency, the hybrid and plug-in models have a so-called Eco-Driving assistant system, which guides you on how to drive if you’ve entered a destination into the GPS system. Using topographical data from a 3D mapping system, the car’s interface will calmly alert you when you’ll be approaching hills or turns to prepare to coast, thereby saving energy.
Hyundai’s Blue Link functionality might be found as the most convenient tool for potential EV buyers. Though a smartphone app, you can schedule times to charge the vehicle, or if you have an Amazon Alexa — because that’s all the rage for automakers these days — you’ll eventually be able to just tell her to make it happen.
Placing the battery under the rear-passenger seats also allowed Hyundai to keep the Ioniq’s seating for a party of five, and thereby freeing up some cargo space in the back. Hyundai says the EVs are equipped with a SAE Combo charging port to handle a Level-3 DC Fast Charger, which could deliver a full charge in about a half hour. Third-party charger outfit ChargePoint also said it’ll be able to provide juice for Ioniqs across the U.S.
But like we said about the Bolt last month, that does present limitations for middling about the U.S on longer-distance drives — and perhaps makes a stronger case for having this as a daily commuter vehicle.
Good Lord, did we hear about the interior as the purported emblem of the Ioniq’s eco-friendly nature. There’s sugar cane (ooh!), along with powdered rock and volcanic stone, which Hyundai said reduced the cars weight by 20 percent (ahh!). With all the build-up, however, the cabin was relatively underwhelming.
It didn’t take away from the comfort of the car, per se. The upholstery was fine, and the layout made it easy to relax while driving. But there’s something about volcanic stone that sets off your senses, and really, I just wasn’t feeling it.
A minor qualm was the placement of the wireless charging slot for the hybrid model. It was tucked deep into the center console, whereas the EV has a slot nicely in the middle, well-within reach. Then again, maybe that’s good for it to be out of reach.
If there was ever a moment where the Ioniq was supposed to make sense, it was cruising in the mid-40s, whirling around the road in a steady stream of traffic. The drag from regenerative braking not only maximizes the car’s range, but it’s legit enjoyable to drive.
If you set the regeneration level to one of the higher marks, you quickly find yourself using the “one-pedal” technique of driving. I weaved about and barely tapped the brakes in a stream of traffic.
Imagine driving on an uncongested Lakeshore Boulevard in Chicago or Outer Drive in Detroit, lightly tapping your foot up and down like an adept pianist. It’s nice. For those who don’t find themselves constantly buried in a sea of traffic, and instead have more tolerable commutes, it’s arguably one of the defining features here.
And the hybrid model handled turns along bends of the mountain roadways we drove with relative ease. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, with its flat bottom, was a joy to use, and made it relatively easy to handle sharp turns along the way.
The second half of our day was said to be the time to thrash the Ioniq around at high speed. The Ioniq comes with a Sport mode, and flipping that on accomplishes little more than transforming the instrument cluster into something that reflects more of a, uh, sport-vibe, I suppose. There’s a slightly-noticeable punch, at first, but that’s about it.
The car has enough pep to pick up steam in short order, and that’s definitely more noticeable once Sport mode is on. But like I said earlier, it levels off quick, and by the time you transition into higher speeds, the feeling’s kind of whatever. But really, I can’t expect standard consumers to notice a huge difference between the two. It’s there, but you really have to be looking for it.
Who’s It For?
Honestly, I think the Ioniq could find a welcoming crowd with past Fusion or Camry owners — particularly new compact car buyers who want to be convinced that EVs can save them money on the back-end, but haven’t found the urge to take the leap and give it a shot.
For anyone not willing to enter the EVs domain, both hybrids — the plug-in will have an all-electric range of about 27 miles — might smooth out the transition.
Is it going to be in-use for a weekend camping trip? No. But for consumers in areas with growing infrastructure for EVs, this might be the car that finally wins over electrification skeptics.
Not every major metropolitan area has robust public transit, so if you’re in a place like that, and you’re worried about cutting car costs down, the economic efficiency here is the most valuable thing.
The Ioniq’s practical, and depending on what trim you select, it seems like a good car for under $30,000; with the more expensive packages, you’d secure helpful driver aids like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and smart cruise control. But, in a market that hasn’t seen EVs take off yet, the fact the standard all-electric Ioniq could be fetched for under $20,000 — if you’re in a state with generous tax credits — could alone be a game-changer.
No, it’s probably not the car for enthusiasts—but I can see enthusiasts who want an easy-to-use electrified car to tool about on their daily itineraries seeing the value here.
For now, the Ioniq hybrid is already available; the electric goes for sale in California starting in April. But Hyundai says the vehicles will be available to the public in all 50 U.S. states by this spring. The plug-in hybrid will be ready to go by the fourth quarter.
Is it going to boost EV sales? It certainly has a shot. Hyundai reps didn’t seem phased when I asked if the new Ioniq was entering the market at a strange time, when crossovers are dominating everything. (One exec brushed off crossovers in particular, saying he believes it very well may be a fad. Companies like Fiat Chrysler and General Motors are banking on the exact opposite, so we’ll see!)
What you’d be getting is a thoughtful EV that tries to be more of a car than a New Green-Friendly Electric Vehicle. Hyundai says it wasn’t attempting to be a Prius killer, that it simply wanted to make a Good Car.
Who knows? Maybe the EV market needed a shot of normalcy. If that’s the case, Hyundai’s going to have a jump on the competition.
Engine: 32 kW interior-permanent magnet synchronous motor with 1.6-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine (Hybrid); 44.5 kW kWh interior-permanent magnet synchronous motor with 1.6-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine (Plug-In Hybrid); 88 kW interior-permanent magnet synchronous motor (Electric)
Power: 139 HP combined (Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid), 118 HP combined (Electric)/125 lb-ft (Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid), 215 lb-ft (Electric)
Transmission: 6-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission (Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid); Single-speed reduction gear (Electric)
0-60 Time: Reportedly, 10-10.8 seconds
Top Speed: Reportedly, 103 MPH
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Curb Weight: 2,996 lbs (Hybrid); 3,164 lbs (Electric); TBD (Plug-In)
Seating: 5 people
MPGe: From EPA — 57 City / 59 Highway (Hybrid); 136 combined (Electric); TBD (Plug-In)
MSRP: $22,200 for Blue trim, $30,500 for Limited, (Hybrid); $29,500 (Electric, not including $7,500 federal tax credit)
Correction: A previous version of this story said the Hyundai Ioniq has a dual CHAdeMO charging port. It comes equipped with a SAE Combo charging port. We regret this error.