The Car Connection Hyundai Ioniq Overview
The Hyundai Ioniq breaks new ground among green cars by offering three different powertrains in a dedicated compact hatchback body that's intended to look relatively normal, rather than grabbing attention for its unique propulsion. The Ioniq was launched as a hybrid and a battery-electric model for 2017. The third and final version, a plug-in hybrid, will be a 2018 model that goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The hybrid Ioniq competes most notably with the Toyota Prius, and Hyundai has managed to beat that car's EPA ratings for fuel economy. Other competitors include the Ford C-Max tall hatchback and hybrid versions of several mid-size sedans, including the Hyundai Sonata, as well as the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry. The electric Ioniq, on the other hand, faces off against the Chevy Bolt EV, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and Volkswagen e-Golf, while the plug-in hybrid model—the last to arrive—will go up against the Chevrolet Volt, the plug-in Toyota Prius Prime, and plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max, Fusion, Sonata, and Optima.
MORE: Read our 2017 Hyundai Ioniq review
A few of the Ioniq's underpinnings are derived from the Elantra compact sedan, but the greener model is a dedicated design, meaning there's no version with only a gasoline powertrain. And Hyundai has deliberately given the Ioniq a conventional design, within the shape of a high-tailed five-door hatchback with an aerodynamically slippery shape. Hyundai's trapezoidal grille is flanked by headlights that sweep back into the fenders. The windshield is steeply raked, and a horizontal crease along the flat body sides has none of the curves and dips of other alternatively-powered vehicles. The Ioniq is no Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf: it may pass unnoticed in traffic, and that's by design. Hyundai says the Ioniq has a drag coefficient of 0.24, among the lowest for production cars.
The two hybrid versions of the Ioniq are powered by a direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine putting out an estimated 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft of torque. In the conventional hybrid, a single 32-kilowatt (43-hp) electric motor sits between the engine and a 6-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Maximum output of the powertrain is 139 hp, and it drives the front wheels. The hybrid's 1.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack recaptures otherwise wasted energy, returning it to power the electric motor, which can supplement the engine torque or power the Ioniq by itself under light loads at low speeds. The plug-in hybrid version for 2018 will have a more powerful motor, at 45 kw (60 hp), with an estimated range of 27 miles or more from its 8.9-kwh battery pack.
The battery-electric Ioniq has several differences from the other two. Its grille is replaced by a blanking panel that gives it visual distinction. Inside, conventional shift and parking-brake levers on the tunnel are replaced with a set of buttons and a controller for the interactive vehicle-information display. The 28-kwh battery pack is sited under the rear seat, between the rear wheels, and under the load bay. The Ioniq Electric is expected to achieve a range rating of approximately 110 miles, and it's driven by an 88-kw (120-hp) electric motor. The regenerative braking system on all versions is Hyundai's third-generation system, said to offer better a blending of friction and regenerative brake force as the car slows.
In terms of safety, the Ioniq has seven airbags, and includes as standard or optional equipment a long list of the latest active-safety systems, including blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
The Ioniq Hybrid's better-than-Prius looks and fuel economy, and the Ioniq Electric's 124-mile electric range, would have put the car toward the top of those segments two years ago. But the 2016 Toyota Prius turned out to have considerably improved driving behavior and roadholding—if even more bizarre looks than previous Priuses. And the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV simply reset the bar for affordable electric hatchbacks; it has almost twice the range of the electric Ioniq for about $7,000 more. Hyundai executives in South Korea have said a higher-capacity battery is on the way.