2017 Hyundai Ioniq road test with price, photos, specs and horsepower
After four generations and 20 years as the most influential, beloved and yes, loathed hybrid, the Toyota Prius is finally going to have some direct competition — the Hyundai Ioniq.
“(Toyota has) spent an enormous amount of engineering resources and put their best people on those (Prius) projects,” says Michael O’Brien, Hyundai’s vice president of corporate and product planning. “They had such a lead over the rest of the industry in terms of the technology and the fuel-economy potential with those cars.”
He would know. Before his current stint at Hyundai, O’Brien spent 14 years at Toyota. But instead of simply taking on the regular Prius, Hyundai is also building a plug-in hybrid as well as a dedicated EV. All three ride on a new platform engineered for electrified vehicles, one shared with Kia’s recently launched Niro. And that new architecture means 54 percent of the Ioniq’s structure is composed of high-strength steel. It’s stiffer torsionally than either the Elantra or Sonata. The approach of offering three different electrified powertrains for a single model is unique. And it proves just how serious Hyundai is about succeeding in this “green” space.
“We have a few key advantages,” O’Brien says. “Toyota is wedded to a planetary gearset CVT technology, which is a very good technology.” But he explains that because the CVT has a fixed ratio range, engineers really have to prioritize for either fuel economy on the highway or acceleration. “In our case, we have a dual-clutch transmission. There are no limitations. We can tune for best highway fuel economy and great launch characteristics,” he says.
Under the hood of both the Ioniq hybrid and plug-in hybrid is the company’s 1.6-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine with 104 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque paired to the aforementioned six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The hybrid uses a 32-kW electric motor and a 1.56-kWh battery pack fitted underneath the back seat. The plug-in hybrid has a more powerful 44.5-kW motor and larger 8.9-kWh unit that provides an electric-only range of almost 30 miles. The Ioniq electric has a 6.6-kW onboard charger, an 88-kW motor and a 28-kWh battery pack that provides a range of around 124 miles. All three models use a lithium-ion polymer battery pack, but the electric model has one with unique chemistry to handle deep cycle operation.
“We chose a very robust chemistry and structure for the battery itself,” says O’Brien. “We wanted a battery that would allow us to offer a lifetime warranty.”
The handsome lines of the Ioniq might seem almost bland when parked next to the flamboyant Prius. Hyundai theorizes that a radical design isn’t what most buyers are after.
“We have to have a vehicle that people are going to shop just like they shop a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle,” says O’Brien. “We want this product to be considered along Elantra, Corolla, Cruze and Focus where it delivers all the attributes they want in a compact car with incredible fuel economy and carbon reduction. That’s our goal.”
The Ioniq is a dedicated hybrid that really doesn’t drive like one. In eco drive mode, it’s smooth, silent and pleasant. Treat the right pedal kindly and the EPA says you’ll see 58 mpg combined — two better than the Prius Eco. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder certainly couldn’t be considered strong in terms of acceleration, but it generates so few decibels inside the cabin even at full throttle, it’s honestly hard to fault. Slap the shifter over to the left to engage sport mode and the car’s personality changes. In sport, the Ioniq drives more like a good compact sedan with a conventional powertrain, rather than a hybrid. The shift strategy for the dual-clutch transmission is remapped for fun, the steering carries more weight and the car moves off the line quicker and feels more responsive.
Bend it into a set of tight corners as we did in the foothills surrounding Santa Barbara, California, and the Ioniq’s MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspensions feel both supple and stable. Hey, it’s no sport sedan, but is it better to drive than the Prius for an enthusiast? You bet. And what’s most impressive is that the only version we drove was the least expensive Blue model wearing skinny 15-inch Michelin Energy Saver tires, so we can only gather that an Ioniq with the optional 17-inch tires would be even better.
And logging so many hours driving that base Blue model was no hardship. It just doesn’t feel like it should be the least expensive model. Even this low-buck Ioniq includes impressive eco-friendly plastics and fabrics. One of the coolest features is the consolidated 12V battery, which can be recharged at the push of the reset button on the dash. You’ll never have to buy another Diehard again. The standard equipment on that least expensive model is a hefty list that includes dual-zone climate control (with a driver-only HVAC function), a sweet tilt and telescoping flat-bottom steering wheel, push-button start and a 7-inch infotainment screen. The higher trim levels offer safety tech like blind-spot warning with cross traffic alert, smart cruise control and automatic emergency braking. An 8-inch screen is part of the Limited’s Ultimate Package, but compared to the Prius’ iPad-size screen, it still seems tiny.
Speaking of the Prius, the Ioniq is roomy inside, and Hyundai’s specs say there’s slightly more passenger and cargo volume in total. However, after sitting in both front seats and back, they feel evenly matched. In fact, for our 6-foot frame, the Prius actually has the edge on leg and headroom in that rear seat. Both share a roofline that required us to duck our head when exiting that rear seat.
After spending the morning in the hybrid, we slid into the electric model for our afternoon drive. The Electric, which will initially be offered in California only, is virtually indistinguishable from the hybrid save for the sealed-off grill area and unique LEDs. But inside, the electric loses the DCT shifter in the center console and replaces it with a slick push-button system with drive modes for normal, eco and sport. To make room for that larger battery pack, the trunk space shrinks by a very minimal 2.7 cubic feet and the rear multilink suspension is replaced by a beam axle. That might seem like a compromise, but on our short drive, we never felt it lacked poise in the corners.
The Ioniq electric’s 118 (equivalent) hp is better than the Nissan Leaf but falls short of the power produced by just about every other EV it competes with. Translation? The Ioniq electric doesn’t move off the line with much gusto. A Chevy Bolt feels like a muscle car by comparison. However, the Ioniq electric rides better and feels more refined than the Bolt. Hyundai does give the electric a pair of paddle shifters behind the wheel. Instead of tapping them to shift gears, these paddles dial in four levels of regenerative braking. And it’s certainly fun to use the most extreme setting and hardly ever touch the brake pedal. It provides so much drag that Hyundai makes the brake lights come on in this mode.
As much as we like the Ioniq electric, the elephant in the room is driving range. At 124 miles, it’s quite a bit less than the Bolt’s 238 miles. Sure, the Bolt costs around $7,000 more, but buyers want that safety net. Hyundai stresses that the Ioniq, which is about 400 pounds lighter, is more efficient, with a fuel-economy equivalent figure of 136 mpg to the Bolt’s 119 mpge.
“Yes, range is important, but we have to inform customers that efficiency is important, too, because that’s a key component in carbon reduction,” says O’Brien. “We’re going to have another product coming in the future with that kind of a range (like the Bolt), but it won’t be nearly as efficient. It can’t be because you are adding a ton of weight.”
The Ioniq electric can recharge 80 percent of the battery (around 100 miles) in just 23 minutes using 100-kW DC fast charging. And that’s impressive. Through Hyundai’s Blue Link connectivity, Ioniq electric owners can set up charging schedules, check the battery status and more from a smartphone. And if you have an Amazon Alexa, you can simply tell it to charge your Ioniq.
The Kia Niro crossover hybrid will start at $23,785, including destination, when it goes on sale before the end of this quarter. It will be offered in five trims: FE, LX, EX, Launch Edition and …
We didn’t get a chance to sample all versions of the Ioniq, but we do know that the least expensive Blue model, at just over $23,000, is efficient, excellent to drive and a good value. Hyundai’s strategy of offering three levels of electrification in one vehicle line could prove to be a smart one — there’s a level of efficiency for every budget. And the Ioniq’s handsome design and zesty driving character should prove attractive to a wide range of buyers. Look out, Toyota.
On Sale: Now (Ionic Electric and Hybrid), Fall (Plug-in Hybrid)
Base Price: $23,035 (Blue), $24,875 (SEL), $28,335 (Limited), $30,335 (Electric), $33,335 (Electric Limited)
Drivetrain: 1.6-liter I4, six-speed dual-clutch, 32 kW electric motor, 1.56 kWh battery pack (hybrid); 1.6-liter I4, six-speed dual-clutch, 44.5 kW electric motor, 8.9 kWh battery pack (Plug-in Hybrid), 88 kW electric motor, 28 kWh battery pack (Electric)
Output: Total System 139 hp (Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid), 118 hp (Electric)
Curb Weight: 2,996 lbs. to 3,172 lbs. (Hybrid), 3,164 lbs. (Electric)
Observed Fuel Economy: 57 mpg city, 59 mpg highway (Blue), 55 mpg city, 54 mpg highway (SEL/Limited), 136 MPGe (Electric)
Pros: Clean styling, Smart powertrain choices, Athletic
Cons: Relatively slow, Small Infotainment touchscreen
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