Short Report: The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid challenges Toyota’s Prius with better EPA numbers, a lower price and less nerdy looks
RON SESSIONS NOV 2, 2017 11:03 AM
With the price of gasoline hovering near the inflation-adjusted levels of the late 1930s, it would seem an unlikely time to introduce an all-new hybrid small car to take on the biggest seller in the segment, the Toyota Prius. Yet that’s exactly what Hyundai has done with the compact Ioniq.
Like the Prius, the Ioniq comes in a standard gas-electric hybrid variety, adding a new plug-in hybrid variant to match the Prius Prime in 2018. Hyundai does the Prius one better by offering an all-electric, battery-powered version of the Ioniq, as well. Clearly, with the new Ioniq Hybrid, Hyundai is intent on challenging Toyota for eco-friendly vehicle supremacy.
How does an EPA-estimated highway fuel mileage of 59 mpg grab you? That’s the rating for the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid.
IMAGE BY: RON SESSIONS
By Prius standards, the Ioniq looks either plain or dignified, depending on your aesthetic tastes. Its cleanly chiseled lines and wide-mouth grille could be at home on any of Hyundai’s cars, and there’s none of the “Hello Kitty in Space” look of Toyota’s eco warrior. Without snugging up to the hybrid script on the Ioniq’s liftgate or the Blue Drive badges on the front fenders, you’d be forgiven if you mistook the frugal new Hyundai for a 5-door hatchback version of the popular Elantra sedan. In fact, the Ioniq sits on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the Elantra and shares a good portion of the Elantra’s chassis componentry.
The Ioniq, while shorter overall and with a lower roof height than the Prius, is wider than Toyota’s car. Additionally, courtesy of a compact lithium-ion battery tucked neatly under the rear seat, the Ioniq offers more interior space than the Toyota.
Indeed, the Ioniq is a true five-seater. The front seats, cloth in the Base Ioniq Blue and mid-level SEL trims and leather-covered for the uplevel Limited, are comfortable. Front-seat headroom and legroom are in abundance. There’s also decent rear seat legroom, 2.3 inches more than in a Prius, and plenty of headroom. You can’t say either of these things for the Chevy Volt.
As with the Prius, the Ioniq’s 26.5 cubic-foot cargo area is generously sized for this type of car. A standard 60/40-split fold-down rear seatback, a large hatch opening, and splayed rear suspension shock towers add small crossover caliber utility for larger items. Be advised, though, to save weight, there is no spare tire, jack or lug wrench. A canister of goo and an inflation kit handle tire repair duties in the field, something to consider the next time you opt for a cheaper cellphone plan.
Command and control
The Hyundai Ioniq’s cabin layout is refreshingly simple and straightforward, and not all that different from the Elantra.
IMAGE BY: RON SESSIONS
Inside, the simple and straightforward theme continues. There is none of the futuristic whimsy or cartoonish playfulness of the Prius to be found within the Ioniq. If it wasn’t for the battery monitor display in the left side of the electronic gauge panel or the 55+ mpg average fuel economy readout in the trip computer, you might think you’re riding in a conventional compact sedan.
As a result of this approach, the Ioniq’s switchgear is logically arrayed for easy use and fit and finish for a car at this price point – starting just over $22,000 – is exemplary. There’s plenty of stash space in the console ahead of the shifter with 12-volt, auxiliary accessory and USB power ports to keep all of your devices charged and ready. The console also houses a handy armrest-covered bin for valuables and a deep slot for holding a tablet computer.
The no-nonsense theme extends to the Ioniq’s easy-to-use infotainment system. The standard high resolution touchscreen isn’t huge, measuring 7-inches across on Blue and SEL trim levels and 8-inches on the Limited, and the virtual screen controls are bolstered by attractive-looking “piano key” redundant shortcut buttons for frequently used functions and conventional knobs for volume and tuning. Also onboard: standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The automatic shifter itself has a conventional PRNDL layout with a manual shift gate providing the option of driver control for poor weather, mountainous or sporty driving. The sole change for the 2018 model is the addition of paddle shifters on the steering wheel of SEL and Limited models.
As with the Prius, the Ioniq has a split rear liftgate glass bisected by a rear spoiler that blocks some of the view of traffic directly behind you. Luckily, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are standard on SEL and Limited trims. The blind-spot monitoring system is effective, but the yellow warning icon in the applicable side mirror is too small to get your attention in bright sunlight.
An optional Tech Package ($1,000) adds automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control and lane departure warning to the Ioniq SEL, all worthy additions. An Ultimate Package ($3,000) on the Limited also adds these features along with a larger 8-inch infotainment system display, navigation, a premium audio system, dynamic bending headlights, rear parking sensors, and more.
Without trying, the Ioniq returns 50 mpg or more
Unlike most other hybrids, the Hyundai Ioniq features a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers a more conventional step-shift driving experience.
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Depress the standard start button and the Ioniq Hybrid comes alive. The engine, a modest 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with a fuel-sipping Atkinson firing cycle, doesn’t fire up immediately unless you’ve requested maximum cooling or heating, you stomp hard on the accelerator, or the battery charge is low. The gas engine is augmented by a 43-horsepower electric motor for a total system output of 139 horsepower.
A 1.56 kWh, 240-volt lithium-ion battery supplies motive juice and the blending of electric and fossil-fuel propulsion is mostly seamless. If you have switched off the car stereo, you might hear some minor electric motor whirring at low speeds or when jockeying the car into a parking spot. A separate 12-volt lithium-ion battery for operating the lights, accessories and such is incorporated into the hybrid battery pack under the rear seat.
While you won’t win every stoplight grands prix on the way to work, performance is peppy enough for a car designed to help save the planet. At just under 9 seconds, the Ioniq Hybrid is about a second and a half quicker from rest to 60 mph than a Toyota Prius, but slower to that mark by the same amount than a Chevy Volt.
Still, that’s pretty impressive performance considering the Ioniq’s headline-grabbing EPA fuel-economy estimates: 57-mpg city/59-mpg highway/58-mpg combined for the base Ioniq Blue and 55 /54/55 for the Ioniq SEL and Limited. I saw up 54.2 mpg on the trip computer’s average fuel economy readout in mostly around-town and relaxed back-road driving in 70-degree weather.
The Ioniq Hybrid has two driving modes, Eco and Sport, the former the default mode for chasing those heady 59 mpg fuel economy ratings. As with many other cars, Eco slows throttle response and upshifts the transmission sooner to keep engine speeds lower.
Unlike the continuously variable automatics in most hybrids that can deliver a “rubber band” feel during brisk acceleration, the Ioniq’s 6-speed dual-clutch automatic has a conventional step-shift feel with fixed ratio changes. Be advised there can be some rollback when parking on inclines or stopping at a traffic light on a hill as the dual-clutch automatic gathers itself up and engages first gear.
On the Road
The Ioniq’s split rear-hatch glass creates an annoying blind spot of cars following immediately to the rear.
IMAGE BY: RON SESSIONS
The Ioniq Hybrid’s ride is firmer than that of the Prius, but compliant. With the standard 15-inch wheels and tires, impact harshness over bumps and rough pavement is minimal, and there’s very little body roll in turns.
Unlike some competitors whose brakes have a two-step feel, the Ioniq’s regenerative blending is good with relatively linear feel and decent top-of-pedal response. The Hyundai’s electrically boosted steering, on the other hand, is quite numb but is precise enough to take the car where you point it with confidence and effort is neither too light nor too heavy.
On the highway, the Ioniq tracks straight, requiring no sawing back and forth to stay on center. And despite the dinky 195/65R15 low-rolling-resistance tires that are standard for Blue and SEL trims, the hybrid battery’s location under the rear seat helps impart a low center-of-gravity feel and good front-rear balance.
Optional 17-inch wheels with 225/45 tires are available on Limited models, adding even more grip and doing a better job of filling out the wheel wells, although there is a penalty to be paid in terms of fuel economy.
The Hyundai Ioniq offers surprisingly generous rear seat room. The compact lithium-ion battery lives under the rear seat.
IMAGE BY: RON SESSIONS
Starting at a base price of $22,200 plus $885 destination, the new Ioniq Hybrid costs thousands of dollars less than the base Prius Two. Aside from this, however, the Ioniq presents a compelling challenge to the primacy of the Prius, which has ruled the hybrid roost for nearly two decades. However, the bargain Prius-alternative approach has been tried before, as seen with the ill-fated second-generation Honda Insight.
One could argue the Hyundai is almost too plain in a segment where many Prius owners wear the car’s eco-nerdiness as a badge of planet-saving pride. But the Ioniq is handsome enough and doesn’t scrimp on creature comforts or advanced technology. And, among buyers who still care about such things, its impressive EPA fuel-economy estimates cannot be denied.
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