The Prius and Ioniq are almost equally matched.
With the introduction of the Ioniq hybrid, a true Toyota Prius challenger, we figured it was time to pit these two electrified jelly beans against each other for total green supremacy. Let’s go to the tale of the tape!
The Prius and Ioniq are almost equally matched.
Moving to transmissions, that same Ioniq — we’re talking the cheap models here, Ioniq Blue and Prius Two– has a dual-clutch as opposed to the Prius’ CVT. Advantage: Ioniq
In fuel mileage, and here’s where Hyundai needed a win to even compete with the Toyota juggernaut, combined EPA figures are 58 for the Ioniq and 56 for the Prius. You can’t beat the champ without the most important stat for green buyers. Advantage: Ioniq
Electric motors back up the engines in both the Ioniq and Prius. Both use the permanent magnet synchronous type, but Toyota’s is bigger, putting out 71 hp to the Ioniq’s 43 hp. But Hyundai’s challenger makes 125 lb-ft of torque, 5 more than the Prius. Still, Toyota leads in ponies. Advantage: Prius
The new Prius gets a double-wishbone rear suspension setup, and it shows in driving character. The Ioniq stays true with a multilink, better than a torsion bar, but still not quite up to an enthusiast’s standards. That’s more important than you think. As an enthusiast, I’d like my track car stored for the winter and something extremely efficient, but also fun, to drive daily. Every penny I save on gas can be spent at the parts store. Advantage: Prius
These cars are close in price, with the veteran Prius topping the Ioniq by about $1,000. The Prius has been around much longer and Toyota has learned a ton since its debut, so we think this is an acceptable premium. Still, we’re just concerned with the numbers for now. Advantage: Ioniq
Finally, we come to total system output. The Ioniq has 18 horses over the reigning champ. That might seem like a significant amount, but on the road, we’d bet you wouldn’t feel the difference. Neither of these rides covers a quarter-mile in less than a calendar year anyway. Advantage: Ioniq
We just drove the Ioniq hybrid through the curvy, forested-but-leafless mid-Michigan roads and right off the bat, we notice the good brakes. Well, not good, but not terrible like most regenerative clampers. They have a progressive, analog stroke — that’s hard to do while still recouping some power. Acceleration is not annoyingly slow, good enough for a hybrid, and the engine stop/start is exceptionally smooth. Sport mode quickens things up, but it never gets thrilling.
The dual-clutch isn’t set for lap times, so it’s smooth with the changes, even at slow speeds. When we kick the throttle hard, changes get a little faster. But even set up for efficiency, we’ll take a DCT over a CVT every damn time.
The Hyundai is tuned to understeer in corners, something we tested on a nice, empty roundabout. The body stays mostly flat in corners due to the extra battery weight under the seat. Still, it comes in at about 3,000 pounds, right near the Prius.
The Ioniq’s interior feels pretty much like a regular car. There are no gauges with growing leaves or eco badges plastered all over and the seats are firm but comfortable. The Ioniq hybrid has a normal shifter, as opposed to the Ioniq EV with its push-button setup. It takes some getting used to.
Space is good front and back, and the cargo area is big, probably enough for two half-barrels of beer set longitudinally. The rear seats also fold down for extra room.
–Jake Lingeman, road test editor
The Prius demands gentle acceleration because that’s all you’re going to get unless you mat it. It’s not slow, exactly, but the gradual way it builds speed takes getting used to. If you’ve got a sudden need for max power, stomp on the pedal and the little Prius throws its whole Hybrid Synergy heart into things. The result is a decent blast of power but not something you want to have to use at every stoplight.
The Prius’ brakes take even more getting used to. If you want to impress the little eco-meter on the dash (and you will want to — it’s a clever mind game), you need to brake smoothly and more gradually than in a normal car. For more immediate stops, the Prius brake pedal has to be pushed through the regenerative phase, then through a gradual slowing zone before your foot reaches the “stop the damn car already” portion of brake travel. The lack of linearity is disconcerting, and I never fully got used to it.
Other than the right foot retraining, though, the Prius is an easy compact car to live with, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside. Interior design and materials quality are vastly improved over earlier Prius generations, with sweeping curves and smooth white plastics accented with soft, textured black synthetics.
My conclusion, I suppose, is that I get it — I can see why efficiency-minded small-car buyers flock to the Prius (or did — sales are down in this generation). To me, it’s more interesting to drive than a Corolla or another conventional compact for the same reason a good sports car is more interesting than a sedan: It’s a machine that rewards an engaged, skilled driver — in this case, not with improved lap times, but rather 50-plus-mpg fuel efficiency.
–Andrew Stoy, digital editor
We hate to get anticlimactic here, but these are both great choices. The Hyundai arguably looks a little cooler, but the Toyota looks more like a hybrid. We’ll hand on-road feel and fun-to-drive-ness to the Prius with its better suspension and surprisingly good steering feel. Our one big gripe is the Toyota does a ton to remind you it’s a hybrid, and not just in looks, while the Ioniq keeps its hybridness to itself.
For now, the Prius retains its crown, but Hyundai is like Rocky in the first movie. It loses in a judge’s draw, but it earned respect from both the champion and its piloting driver. The Prius had a 20-year head start on the Ioniq, but by the next generation, look out Toyota.
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