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. To start with, there's a choice of either a parallel hybrid variant (think Toyota Prius rival) or a full-electric model (primarily up against the Nissan LEAF). Shortly, we'll see a Plug-in hybrid version too, there to take on cars like Volkswagen's Golf GTE and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. 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.
We're looking forward to giving the IONIQ a full test because what Hyundai promises here sounds 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 is also likely to deliver its performance more smoothly than a Prius too. There's the automatic gearbox that all hybrids of this sort have to have, but n this case, it's a modern DCT dual-clutch affair, rather than the jerky belt-driven CVT auto unit that Toyota persists with. On the road, you won't be expecting any handling fireworks - but that's not the point of this kind of car. The ride should be good though as this Hyundai gets an advanced multi-link rear suspension system - or at least the hybrid version does; the full-EV model has a simpler set-up for some reason. Talking of the full-EV model, its party piece is an impressively long operating range by battery class standards. Hyundai reckons his 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. It offers 100-litres more bootspace than the Toyota can provide, though the cargo area is rather shallow. And, as you'd expect, the backrest offers a 60/40split so that you can free up extra luggage space if you need it. The Hyundai also feels higher quality inside, not only compared to a Prius but also in comparison to a Nissan LEAF. A dash highlight is the 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, which includes Tom Tom navigation.
Market and Model
Pricing for this initial parallel hybrid model starts at around £20,000; that's for the base 'SE' model; there are also plusher 'Premium' and 'Premium SE' variants at prices ranging up to just under £24,000. You'll probably want to know that this equates to a saving of well over £3,000 in comparison to this model's closest rival, the Toyota Prius. The alternative is the full-electric model. This comes only in 'Premium' or 'Premium SE' guises at prices starting at around £29,000 - so it costs just over £7,000 more than an equivalently-specced version of the Hybrid model. Again, you'll want to know how that compares to rivals, full-electric ones this time. It's fractionally more than a comparably-specced mid-range Nissan LEAF. Like all full-electric models, this one will qualify for a £4,500 government Plug-in Car Grant towards the cost of purchase. Equipment levels are quite comprehensive, with all models featuring items such as 15" alloy wheels, a DAB stereo with Bluetooth, Cruise Control, Rear Parking Sensors and a Rear View Camera. Standard safety features include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System. 'Premium' models add keyless entry with push button start, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED rear combination lamps and a driver's supervision instrument cluster with a 7" LCD display. Integrated satellite navigation with TomTom Live services, an Infinity audio system with Android Auto / Apple CarPlay and Wireless Phone Charging (where supported) also feature as standard.
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. If you're wondering how that compares with, say, a conventional diesel rival, well let's take a Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC diesel, which is priced at around the same level. One of those would take you around 5 miles fewer on every gallon of pricier diesel fuel. And it would put out around 16g/km more CO2, so would cost more to tax. 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.