There are few certainties in life. But here is one. If Hyundai set about building an eco car on a bespoke platform with a variety of new green powertrains, it would be good. Prius-bothering good. Confidence brimming then, the Korean firm has pulled the wraps of the Ioniq, its first full-blown foray into clean technology, a car it claims both looks and drives better than the current crop of hybrid five-door hatches, and one that will also be offered in full electric guise.
Having spent the past decade expanding relentlessly into all corners of the globe, it comes as no surprise that Hyundai has started future proofing, nor is it anything other than entirely as expected that it has made a pretty fine fist of it.
The Ioniq does, indeed, look the part. Its front three-quarter is that perfectly contemporary tango of function artfully leading form; hi-tech aero packaging managing to make the bold promise of both efficiency and performance. The body panels are not cluttered with crimping and sculpture, but instead look clean, without fuss or artifice. The rear end, where critical air flow is seldom dealt with elegantly, looks much like the Prius, which at least suggests that where drag coefficients come first, this is just what you get.
All in, this is a striking car, sportier at the kerbside than a Prius, for what that’s worth. More importantly it looks sharp and modern enough that it’s likely to age well in this fast-changing market.
Hyundai is offering the Ioniq with three different powertrains: standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric. The entry-level regulation hybrid, available a few months ahead of the plug-in, uses an all-new 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and equally box fresh 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery, for a total output of 139bhp and 265Nm of torque. Hyundai claims that its lithium-ion tech is far more efficient at both charging and discharging than the conventional nickel batteries of the Prius. Perhaps more tangible a difference is the presence of a proper dual-clutch gearbox instead of the slushy CVT from the ubiquitous Toyota. This should make for a far more authentic driving experience, something Hyundai is keen to press home with its insistent banner of ‘No Compromise’. It wants the Ioniq to be fun to drive, even if the overwhelming majority of buyers will probably be far more concerned about fuel and emissions efficiency.
With that in mind, there is a Sport mode, which makes the digital dash get all aggressive and squeezes a little more out of the power units, holding the revs on upshifts and creating an improbable roar from somewhere in this otherwise eerily quiet cabin. It’s really hard to imagine someone taking the decision to buy a hybrid vehicle and then using the Sport mode more than once out of idle curiosity. But how nice to know you can.
In general, the Ioniq hybrid drives very well. It pulls away smoothly and silently, even if the engine engages very quickly to support the electric motor. That twin-clutch ’box is indeed a great improvement over CVT, with a punchy response to firm throttle input that makes the Ioniq a refreshingly immediate creature when compared with the slightly removed, automated nature of the Prius. Autonomous Emergency Braking and Lane Keeping Assist are attractive safety features, too, both proving rapid and effective when provoked.
It’s not all roses, however. The steering isn’t great, with a strange rubbery response to gradual input that sometimes requires a firm hand. But it’s light and positive enough to be welcomed by what will be an overwhelmingly urban demographic. A bigger criticism would be the ride quality. Primary ride is fine, with the long chassis and multi-link rear suspension soaking up the major undulations with ease, but the secondary ride is quite brittle, with a lot of chatter from the road surface vibrating up into the cabin.
None of this is deal-breaker stuff, though. Nor is the mix and match of quality versus economy in the cabin. Plush trim and slick styling are offset by some cheap and flimsy switch gear, particularly on the door panels, which feel like they’ve been dug out of a Hyundai parts bin labelled ‘The Bad Old Days.’ But it’s important to remember that the Ioniq is here to undercut the Prius, and to do so it needs to be leaner on luxury. It’s still a comfortable, well-appointed cabin with plenty of space up front and enough in the rear to just about accommodate a couple of adults. The boot space is excellent, too, making it a practical family option or, as it will certainly be in various markets, the go-to taxi.
The full-electric version is Hyundai’s first out-and-out EV, using a 118bhp motor with an impressive 295Nm of torque, powered this time by a hefty 28kWh battery. Hyundai claims this is good for a 280km range depending on conditions and driving style, and that it can fast charge to 80 per cent capacity in 23 minutes. On board regeneration has four manually programmable modes that vary the ratio of harshness with which it recoups energy to maximise passenger comfort. We have yet to test drive the Ioniq Electric, but its combination of range, grunt and adaptability are compelling.
More so than the inevitable Sport mode. Guaranteed to obliterate your useable range, it will also drop the 0-100kph time from 10.2 to 9.9 seconds. Elon Musk will not be losing any sleep.
But Toyota might be. The Ioniq will be significantly cheaper and actually better to drive than the Prius. No rabbits have been pulled out of hats here, but Hyundai has immediately established itself as a serious contender in the eco segment.