Hyundai, which has until now merely dabbled in the hybrid realm with its Sonata midsize sedan, moves into the green-car genre in a big way this year with the introduction of the Ioniq compact sedan.
And to show that it’s serious about this new endeavor, Hyundai has become the first automaker to introduce the same vehicle in three electric configurations: a conventional hybrid, like the groundbreaking Toyota Prius; a plug-in hybrid that gives owners both a regular hybrid setup and an EV drive mode; and a pure EV version similar to the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt.
The first version to arrive is the Ioniq Hybrid, which is now on sale at Hyundai dealerships nationwide with a starting price of $22,200 (plus $835 freight) and a maximum EPA fuel-economy rating of 58 mpg – better than the most-fuel-efficient Prius.
Coming in April will be the 2017 Ioniq EV, with a starting price of $29,500 – or just $22,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit. It will be available at dealerships in California, or by special order only at dealers outside California.
Powered by a lithium-ion polymer battery pack, the Ioniq EV has a published range of 124 miles on a full charge. Like other pure electrics, it will not have a gasoline backup engine, so it will need to be recharged from an external source once the battery runs down.
Coming this fall, as a 2018 model, will be the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid. No prices have been announced yet, but it will have a range of 27 miles on battery power alone, which means that owners who have short daily commutes might not need to buy gasoline very often. The gasoline engine kicks in when the battery gets low, or the driver switches to “Sport” driving mode.
As for the regular Ioniq Hybrid, which doesn’t require outside charging, there are three trim levels: the base Blue model ($22,200), the midlevel SEL ($23,950), and the top-of-the-line Limited ($27,500).
For this report, we tested the SEL model, which, like the Limited, has slightly lower EPA ratings than the Blue model. Where the Blue (base) version is rated 59 mpg city/57 highway/58 combined, the SEL and Limited are rated 55/54/55. (In comparison, the base Prius is rated 54/50/52.)
The exterior of the Ioniq Hybrid is similar in appearance to that of the regular Prius, including having the two glass panels in the rear liftgate – the larger one on top, and smaller one underneath.
As with the Prius, the Ioniq seats up to five people. It’s an inch shorter and two inches wider than the Prius, but has five cubic feet more interior space overall.
Another key difference is that the Ionic Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid come with a six-speed double-clutch automatic transmission, while the Prius comes with a continuously variable automatic.
That gives the Ioniq the edge in the overall driving experience, particularly when the gearshift lever is pushed to the left to engage the Sport mode. That raises the shift points, keeps the gasoline engine on full-time, and allows for spirited driving. On some two-lane country roads where we needed to pass some slower vehicles, Sport mode was perfect for quick pickup to overtake the other cars.
Hyundai designed the Ioniq to be much more of a driver’s car than hybrids such as the Prius. The goal is to give consumers a car that does more than just conserve fuel – it also can be quite fun to drive.
The reasoning behind this strategy is to try to attract buyers to the Ioniq who might otherwise never consider a hybrid. Hyundai says the Ioniq is “not a Prius fighter,” and was designed to compete against regular compact sedans such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. Prices are in line with those vehicles as well, so there’s no big cost premium for the hybrid drive system.
As for the name itself, Hyundai says it’s a combination of “ion” and “unique,” with the “ion” part signifying that it’s electrified.
In our Ioniq SEL, the ride was fairly smooth even on some not-so-smooth roads, and the cabin was generally quiet – probably slightly more so than that of the Prius. Overall roadhandling was more crisp and sure than that of the Prius, as well, and in Sport mode, we had better acceleration.
To help keep the weight down, the Ioniq was designed with an aluminum hood and liftgate, and it also has no conventional 12-volt battery to power the starter and other accessories. Instead, four cells of the large lithium-ion battery pack are used to create a 12-volt power source, eliminating the weight of the traditional 12-volt battery.
Under the hood of the Ioniq Hybrid is a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, paired with a 32-kilowatt electric motor. The gasoline engine is individually rated at 104 horsepower and 109 foot-pounds of torque. The electric motor has 43 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque. Total system power is 139 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is standard.
The lithium-ion battery pack is under the rear seat, so the Ioniq still has a roomy cargo area, with 26.6 cubic feet of space. There is no spare tire – just a “tire mending kit.”
Recyclable or renewable materials were used throughout the car, including an interior that is 25 percent made of sugar cane.
Standard on the Ioniq Hybrid are 15-inch Eco-Spoke wheels and P195/65R15 tires. Available are 17-inch wheels. Our SEL model came with automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, body-color heated outside mirrors with turn signals, and body-color door handles with approach lights built in.
Other standard features included a seven-inch color touch-screen audio system with backup camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, HD/AM/FM/satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone system; a 4.2-inch color driver-information screen above the steering column; dual automatic climate control; heated front seats; leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel and shifter knob; power windows/door locks with proximity key entry and pushbutton start; and cloth seats with power-adjustable driver’s seat and lumbar support.
Safety gear included electronic stability control with traction control; four-wheel antilock disc brakes with power-regenerative braking, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist; front side-impact air bags, side-curtain air bags for both rows, and driver-knee air bag; blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist; the rearview camera; and individual tire-pressure monitoring.
Our SEL tester came with the Tech Package ($1,000), which added automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, and lane-departure warning. We also had carpeted floor mats ($125).
Total sticker price for our vehicle was $25,910, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
The package: Compact, five-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder gasoline/electric motor, front-wheel-drive hybrid sedan.
Highlights: All new for 2017, the Ioniq Hybrid is similar to the Toyota Prius, but with a roomier interior, better fuel economy, lower starting price, and a conventional automatic transmission instead of a continuously variable automatic. It will also come in pure electric and plug-in hybrid configurations.
Negatives: Back seat a tight fit for three people (common in this segment).
Engine/powertrain: 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine with 32-kw electric motor.
Transmission: Six-speed double-clutch automatic.
Power/torque: 104 HP./109 foot-pounds (1.4-liter); 43 HP./125 foot-pounds (electric motor); 139 total system horsepower.
Length: 176 inches.
Curb weight range: 2,996-3,172 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Trunk volume: 26.5 cubic feet.
Air bags: Front; driver’s front knee; front seat-mounted side; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 11.9 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 59 mpg city/57 highway/58 combined (base); 55/54/55 (SEL, Limited grades).
Major competitors: Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza.
Base price range: $22,200-$27,500, plus $835 freight.
Price as tested: $25,910, including freight and options (SEL, Tech Package).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.