Hyundai has lofty dreams. And it is working overtime to turn those dreams into reality, fast. From being an insignificant speck in the rear-view mirror of major players a couple of decades ago, the South Korean carmaker has turned itself into a force to reckon with in the automotive world. A force that has Volkswagen and Toyota in its sights. A force big enough for Volkswagen’s former CEO Martin Winterkorn to publicly acknowledge that he sees Hyundai as a bigger rival than Toyota. That was in 2010, and the brand has made even greater strides in those seven years, churning out well-built, yet reasonably priced models in every segment. But there was one segment which it couldn’t make a mark on, and that was the green car market. While Toyota has the petrol-electric hybrid market cornered, GM, Nissan and Tesla share the spoils of the pure electric vehicle sector.
So, when Hyundai decided to enter this territory, it had a plan. A plan that could kill three birds with one stone. And that stone is the Ioniq. Touted as the world’s first car model to have three electrified powertrains, the Ioniq can be eventually had in three flavours – pure electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid. While the electric and plug-in variants could land here sometime in the future, the hybrid version has already made it to our shores, and we’re the first to drive it in the UAE.
There’s nothing ground-breaking in the looks department. As we’ve seen with the Prius, design in a green car is dictated by wind tunnel rules. So for minds conditioned by the uninspiring lines of the Prius, there isn’t anything refreshing that the Ioniq brings. That said, it doesn’t look bad either. Within the limitations set by aerodynamics, Hyundai has managed to infuse a certain amount of grace into the Ioniq. It essentially looks like the new Elantra with a Prius-like hatchback. It also has the same wheelbase as the Elantra and shares many mechanicals including the front and rear suspensions. Even inside, most of the buttons and controls are similar to those in the mid-size saloon. Unlike the futuristic cockpit of the Prius, the Ioniq’s cabin is pretty conventional, and you wouldn’t need to spend extra time trying to figure things out. Seats are comfortable with ample space for a driver and front passenger of above average height. Even the rear compartment is generously roomy. The biggest practical advantage the Ioniq has over the Elantra is the boot, which will take in a lot more cargo than a saloon will, thanks to the tall hatch.
However, the big selling point obviously is the petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. A 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine is mated to a 32kW electric motor that is also good for 169Nm of torque. In combination, this arrangement puts out a total of 138bhp and 264Nm of torque. There’s something unique about the Ioniq’s hybrid setup though. While traditionally, hybrid cars used either nickel-metal-hydride or lithium-ion batteries for the hybrid system or a separate lead-acid 12-volt battery for starting the internal combustion engine. But Hyundai has used a 12-volt lithium-ion battery instead and packed it together with the 240-volt 1.56-kWh main battery in a single compartment under the rear seats.
While we have always seen hybrids as a stop-gap measure before full electrification of vehicles, the Ioniq did impress us with its thriftiness. It does well especially in stop-and-go traffic situations, and in Eco mode returned a very frugal 4.8 litres per 100km. But unlike the hybrid Porsche on the cover, there’s a trade-off, and that’s lack of thrills. Trying to squeeze out decent performance from the powertrain is a challenge, especially in Eco mode. There is a Sport mode, but it doesn’t make any sense in this sort of a car. One other aspect that I wish Hyundai did a better job in is the information display. Unlike the prominently placed, colourful screens of the Prius, the Ioniq displays all info regarding efficiency, regenerative braking etc. on a small area in the middle of the instrument panel in front of the driver. It does the job alright, but a bit more elaboration would go a long way in encouraging you to drive more economically.
As Hyundai’s first effort at making a Prius rival, the Ioniq is impressive. With prices starting at Dh75,900, it’s an attractive proposition even for those who aren’t in the market for a hybrid. It’s more roomy and practical than many mid-size saloons in this price range and is more penny-wise to boot.