Hyundai gets serious about hybrid and electric power with the IONIQ range. Jonathan Crouch checks out what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
We think that the IONIQ is the most impressive car that Hyundai has yet brought us. Here, one design can offer buyers the choice of parallel hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full-electric motoring - and do so at pricing that significantly undercuts the competition. Plus, as we'll see, it offers some genuine advances over rival eco-models already out there on the market.
When the Koreans do something, they do the job properly. Take hybrid and electric cars. Other brands offer a hybrid. Or a Plug-in Hybrid. Or a full-electric contender. With this IONIQ model, Hyundai is able to offer all three. The most affordable parallel hybrid variant is a Toyota Prius rival, the full-electric model is primarily up against the Nissan LEAF and the Plug-in hybrid version is there to take on cars like Volkswagen's Golf GTE and the Plug-in version of the MINI Countryman. It's quite a product offensive.
It's even more impressive to note that Hyundai hasn't just copied its rivals but improved upon them. The parallel hybrid variant, for example, has a combined power output of 139bhp; compare that to the 122bhp figure you get in that rival Toyota Prius. Meanwhile, the full-electric version has an operating range of 174 miles; compare that to the 155 mile figure you get in a Nissan LEAF.
Following a full test, we can confirm that what Hyundai is offering here is very impressive. The parallel hybrid version that most will choose features a 104bhp 1.6-litre Kappa petrol unit that the Koreans say boasts 40% thermal efficiency; apparently, that's very good. It works with an electric motor situated under the rear seats, that powered by a 1.56kWh battery. The combined hybrid system puts out 139bhp, 17bhp more than a Prius. The IONIQ also delivers its performance more smoothly than a Prius too. There's the automatic gearbox that all hybrids of this sort have to have, but in this case, it's a modern DCT dual-clutch affair, rather than the jerky belt-driven CVT auto unit that Toyota persists with. In an IONIQ Plug-in, there's obviously much more potential for extended full-electric use, thanks to the greater capacity of a considerably larger 8.9kWh battery that drives a pokier 61PS electric motor. Despite that, total system output remains pegged at 141PS, so ultimate performance is pretty much the same as it is with the ordinary Hybrid variant. The final option is the full-Electric IONIQ model, which uses a 120PS electric motor powered by a 28kWh battery capable of an NEDC-rated 174 mile driving range.
Whatever IONIQ derivative you choose, on the road, you won't be expecting any handling fireworks - but that's not the point of this kind of car. The ride is good though, as this Hyundai gets an advanced multi-link rear suspension system - or at least the hybrid versions do; the full-EV model has a simpler set-up to free up bootspace. Talking of the full-EV model, its party piece is an impressively long operating range by battery class standards. Hyundai reckons this car will go nearly 20% further on a charge than a comparable Nissan LEAF.
Design and Build
You wouldn't say that this IONIQ is quite as eye-catching as a Toyota Prius, but in its own way, it's quite a smart piece of design, copying its rival's five-door design and size positioning somewhere between a Focus-sized family hatch and a Mondeo-sized medium range model.
Get inside and you might think a Prius was fractionally larger at the back - but there's not much in it. Otherwise, the IONIQ seems to have the advantage. The Hyundai also feels of higher quality inside, not only compared to a rival Prius but also in comparison to a Nissan LEAF. A dash highlight is the 8.0-inch colour touchscreen fitted to top models, which includes Tom Tom navigation.
Both IONIQ Hybrid models can deliver 443-litres of cargo capacity- or 550-litres if you stack your stuff up to the roof. Carriage capacity on fully-electrified IONIQ variants falls to 350-litres - or 455-litres if you load to the roof. When you push the 60:40 split-folding rear bench forward, it doesn't free up a completely flat loading area but you do get as much space as likely buyers will need, 1,505-litres being provided on the Hybrid models like this one, the figure falling to 1,410-litre of the full-Electric version.
Market and Model
No matter how far the Hyundai brand has come, customers still associate it with value for money, something this IONIQ aims to re-define in the automotive eco-sector. Think in terms of the standard Hybrid variant as being the most affordable way into this model line, with the full-Electric model being the most expensive option and the Plug-in Hybrid variant pitching in somewhere in-between. So, how much are we talking about? Well, IONIQ Hybrid motoring starts with a base-spec 'SE' model priced at around £20,000 and you can add either £1,800 or £3,600 to that figure if you want plusher 'Premium' or 'Premium SE' levels of trim.
If you'd prefer the Plug-in version, think in terms of prices in the region of around £23,500 after a bit of dealer negotiation and subtraction of the £2,500 government Plug-in Car Grant. The value of that grant rises to £4,500 for full-battery-powered models like the IONIQ Electric, which means that prices for that variant can begin from just under £25,000, once the Chancellor's contribution has been subtracted. That sum would buy you 'Premium' trim, with another £1,800 necessary to get the top-spec 'Premium SE' model.
Cost of Ownership
You buy a car like this expecting exemplary running cost figures and, by and large, this IONIQ doesn't disappoint. The parallel hybrid version that most will want manages 83.1mpg on the combined cycle and 79g/km of CO2. That's not quite as good as a Prius, but it's not far off and, of course, an IONIQ is quite a bit cheaper to buy. Of course, there'll be few CO2 issues if you opt for one of the other two IONIQ powertrains. The Plug-in Hybrid variant puts out just 26g/km of CO2 and is supposed to be able to return a combined cycle reading of 130mpg - those figures based on NEDC calculations assuming that owners will be making full use of the 39-mile driving range potential provided by this variant's 8.9 kWh battery. That's significantly further than you can go in other rival Plug-in models. A pricier Prius Plug-in, for example, offers a rated 30-mile range. Charging an IONIQ Plug-in Hybrid takes 2hours 15mins using a 3.3 kW AC charger. What else do you need to know? The 174 mile range of the full-Electric version? That's impressive.
Finally, let's talk warranties. Most modern cars come only with an unimpressive three year/60,000 deal. With this IONIQ, in contrast, a much more complete peace of mind package comes as standard thanks to one of the best customer assurance plans in the industry. The Five Year Triple Care warranty includes five years of mechanical cover with no mileage limit, annual vehicle health checks and roadside assistance. That decent warranty will help residual values. There are also two, three and five year fixed price servicing plans to help keep your maintenance outlay down.
Hyundai has clearly thought very carefully before launching itself into the eco-vehicle market and this IONIQ looks a strong contender. No, the parallel hybrid version isn't quite as clean and frugal as a rival Toyota Prius, but it's much cheaper to buy, nicer to sit in and offers a significantly larger boot. All tempting selling points. We're also impressed by the extent to which the brand has been able to increase the operating range of the full-electric version. It brings pure electric motoring that bit closer to being viable for more buyers.
All in all, Hyundai has, here, provided eco-minded motoring at the kind of price you'd pay for something much more conventional. For a large number of family buyers, this car should merit a place on any shortlist.