Hyundai offers a comfort-orientated full-electric contender that's surprisingly appealing. Jonathan Crouch looks all the improved full-electric version of the Korean brand's IONIQ model.
Ten Second Review
Hyundai believes that the market-leading Nissan LEAF has had its own way for far too long in the slowly growing full-electric car segment. They've aimed this full-Electric IONIQ model directly at that car, as well as at other key segment models like the Volkswagen e-Golf. On paper at least, this car certainly seems to offer a package that eco-minded buyers in this class will want to consider. Especially in this revised form, where a larger 38.3 kWh battery features to extend the WLTP-rated driving range to 182 miles.
Once upon a time, Hyundai built simple, cheap, budget brand cars. Now, it makes models like this one, the IONIQ, which was the world's first vehicle to offer the choice of three electrified powertrains. We're looking here at the IONIQ Electric. It's the full-battery-powered version of a design also available in our market with Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid power - and it's very advanced indeed, especially in this improved form.
But then, maybe we should have expected that. Back in 2015, Hyundai was the very first automotive maker to launch and sell a hydrogen-powered vehicle, the ix35 Fuel Cell, and in the same year, its brand partner Kia introduced an all-electric EV version of its Soul small Crossover model, showing that the Korean conglomerate had mastered battery power too. How has it done here? Let's find out.
Hyundai's first ever stab at this market was originally launched with a 28kWh battery but now it gets a gutsier 38.3kWh battery; that's important because the driving range of this car in its original form wasn't especially competitive against some rivals. Now, WLTP-rated at 182 miles, it's bettered in the class only by the BMW i3.
Inevitably, the need for a battery three times the size of the one in the IONIQ Plug-in model mated to a much larger 120PS electric motor means extra weight, the kerbside figure rising by 50kgs. In fact though, because all the bulk is mounted so low down in the car, that has a positive, rather than a negative effect on driveability, reducing the bodyroll that troubles the Hybrid models at speed through tight bends. Hyundai proudly points out that an Electric IONIQ model has a lower centre of gravity than a Volkswagen Golf GTI - which is appropriate because the frantic acceleration you initially get from rest in this variant is very hot hatch-like: the 62mph point still flashes by in a fraction under 10s. Switchable drive modes give you the choice of 'Eco', 'Normal' and 'Sport' settings.
There isn't a gear lever in the full-Electric variant - of course the single-speed transmission doesn't really need one. Instead, small 'Park', 'Neutral', 'Drive' and 'Reverse' buttons are provided, along with what will initially appear to be gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel, which are actually there to allow you to vary the level of regenerative braking.
Design and Build
This Hyundai challenges the eco-motoring status quo in lots of ways and exterior design is another of them. On the battery-powered full-Electric variant, a front grille isn't of course needed - not for cooling anyway. We'd argue that it is required for stylistic reasons, the battery-powered version being saddled with a rather ugly blanking panel that can be ordered in a choice of grey shades or in polar white. Other distinguishing aesthetic features of the battery-powered model include copper-coloured trimming below the front bumper and below the side door rubbing strips.
Inside, the IONIQ Electric does without the conventional auto gearlever you'd find on the hybrid variants, instead featuring a single-speed transmission system offering small buttons for 'Park', 'Neutral', 'Drive' or 'Reverse'. This frees up space for an electronic handbrake switch - on the petrol/electric model, you're stuck with one of those clunky floor pedals. The cabin of this revised model feels of higher quality, not only compared to a rival Prius but also in comparison to a Nissan LEAF. A dash highlight is a now-larger 10.25-inch colour touchscreen, which includes Tom Tom navigation.
With this Electric model, the designers had the headache of having to accommodate a much larger battery. To try and fit it in without too much of an impact on trunk space, they ditched the multi-link rear suspension set-up used on the Hybrid models and at the same time, discarded the space-saver spare wheel also provided with those variants. Ultimately though, only so much could be done: carriage capacity on fully-electrified IONIQ variants falls to 350-litres - or 455-litres if you load to the roof.
Market and Model
There are two trim levels offered to IONIQ Electric buyers; 'Premium', which will cost you just over £27,000 after deduction of the government's £3,500 Plug-in grant; and 'Premium SE', which will cost you a fraction over £29,000, after deduction of said grant.
The most obvious alternative that'll probably spring to mind here for potential buyers is Nissan's LEAF. At first glance, this car does appear to be able to undercut this Hyundai, but it can't be driven as far when fully charged. Plus, to get a version of it that's as well equipped as an IONIQ, you have to pay the kind of figures that would buy you an IONIQ.
This revised model features Hyundai Blue Link, a connected vehicle system which uses embedded telematics to allow drivers of this IONIQ Electric to remote start and stop. And you can use a clever smartphone app that allows you to remotely lock or unlock the car - and activate the climate system so that you can cool or warm the car before you get into it. This technology also allows owners to remotely check the status of their battery so they know when they need to recharge the vehicle. Thanks to Blue Link, charging can be remotely controlled and scheduled via the app.
Cost of Ownership
You buy a car like this expecting exemplary running cost figures and, by and large, this IONIQ doesn't disappoint. With this revised version of the full-Electric IONIQ variant, the improved 38.3kWh battery offers a potential WLTP-rated driving range of 182 miles. That looks more class-competitive: the comparable 39.2kWh version of the brand's Kona Electric model manages a range of 180 miles. In a 40kWh Nissan LEAF, it's 168 miles and in a Volkswagen e-Golf, it's just 144 miles. A BMW i3 manages 192 miles though.
The IONIQ's charging times stack up to segment standards too, it being possible to replenish the lithium-ion cells with a charge of up to 80% in just 33 minutes, providing you've got access to a 50kW DC fast charger. If you haven't, then a home wallbox will re-charge a full-Electric IONIQ model completely in 4 hours 25 minutes. Or, if you're somewhere with only a normal 3-pin plug to connect into, an overnight 12-hour charge should be sufficient to top the car up completely. If you can find a fast-charging 100kW charging station, the battery can reach 80% of charge in only 54 minutes.
Servicing costs will be low. After all, with this IONIQ, there's no starter motor or alternator to go wrong, no drive belts to break and no particulate filter to get clogged up with diesel fumes. The car will need a routine check-up every 12 months or 10,000 miles - depending on which comes round soonest. And you can budget ahead for garage visits by opting for one of the Korean company's fixed-price service plans. There's a three year package that covers you for up to 30,000 miles, or a five year programme that extends that to as much as 50,000 miles.
Don't under-estimate the scale of what Hyundai has done here. Toyota has been perfecting hybrids for a quarter of a century and in the same period, the Renault/Nissan conglomerate has spent billions on electric car technology. Yet neither of these industry giants have produced as complete an eco-motoring solution as is served up by the IONIQ. To come from nowhere and deliver a product as competitive as this is a considerable achievement, particularly when the car in question can undercut the opposition so significantly on price.
Of course, it's not perfect. The looks aren't especially arresting and some rivals can offer you a fraction more all-electric driving range. Still, if you can accept that, get on with the styling and adjust to the frugally-focused manner this car will encourage you to drive in, then we think you'll probably like mostly everything else about it. Less than half a century ago, European car makers helped establish Hyundai. Now, this brand is showing them the future of motoring. Isn't it IONIQ? Don't you think?