SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA—BMW has its green “i” brand, but its two cars (the i3 and i8) are vastly different. Hyundai is trying something else with Ioniq—three eco-themed powertrains on one midsized platform. The buyer’s choice is hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric.
Hyundai is committing to Earth-friendly cars in a confusing time. The green segment (including anything with a plug, plus hybrids) has been hovering around three percent of the market, reports Hyundai Vice President Mike O’Brien, and has even declined a bit from there (2.87 percent now). “There’s been some settling,” he said. There are fewer hybrid models, and more plug-in hybrids. Battery electrics are showing good growth, both in sales per model and available options.
Millennials are playing it cagey about whether they’ll purchase cars like the rest of us or switch en masse to vehicle sharing—but data says they could be 40 percent of the car-buying public as early as 2020. Overall, the public is showing steady ardor for the crossover SUV segment, but automakers are just a single phase of model introductions away from having to field a lineup that averages 54.5 mpg—unless that federal fuel economy goal gets abandoned by the Trump administration. As I said, an unsettled and unsettling time.
Hyundai’s approach is green without the associated pain. In keeping with the company’s reputation for leading in price, all these Ioniqs are bargains in their class. In all but introductory models, the cars come loaded (big screens, lots of safety technology)—and are designed not as Spartan transportation for the virtuous, but as competitors to mainstream Cruzes and Corollas.
And all have their superlatives, Hyundai says. The Ioniq battery car has more interior room than any other EV. With 136 miles per gallon equivalent, it’s the most efficient battery car, too. It’s the lowest in operating costs. All the cars have aerodynamic profiles of 0.24 CD, which is tied for lowest on the market. The hybrid, at 58 mpg combined, has the best fuel economy of any car anywhere.
Hyundai’s Glenn Kim says his team was given a “Mission Impossible”—coming up with cars that were the greenest in their segments (without knowing would actually be offered when they debuted) and doing it without sacrificing driving dynamics.
The funny thing is that Hyundai actually achieved that. On the green (thanks to recent rains) cow-dotted hills around Santa Barbara, all three Ioniqs were fun to drive, rated like this 1) electric, 2) plug-in hybrid, 3) hybrid. Like most battery cars, the Ioniq has great low-end torque and spins up with alacrity. It offers a Sport mode that justifies its name, plus steering wheel paddles to dial in one-to-three levels of regenerative braking.
With Sport engaged and regen dialed up, the electric (with an 88-kilowatt, 118-horsepower electric motor) feels like a more-efficient BMW i3, though its interior—while nicely appointed—doesn’t have that car’s Euro design flair.
One area where the Ioniq doesn’t lead the class is in range. A charge (which takes 4.5 hours at 240-volt Level II) yields 124 miles of travel from the 28-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and that doesn’t grab headlines like the Chevy Bolt’s 238 miles (and 200 horsepower). But Hyundai gave us a Bolt to drive, and they didn’t feel as unmatched as the numbers suggested. The Bolt’s heavier by 500 pounds, and it’s also more expensive by $7,120.
The Ioniq has the nicer cabin, but the Bolt boasts a really big, readable view screen. They’re both very good cars, and if long-distance travel is unavoidable, the Bolt’s for you. The Ioniq would meet most driving needs, though, and its $29,500 base price is attractive—especially since in states like California, that goes down to $19,500 with rebates. For me in Connecticut, it’s even better, $19k even. Order the loaded Ultimate Unlimited (sunroof, leather, more) and the price is under $37,000.
The battery Ioniq is available in 50 states, but only some states will have them on hand at dealerships, and only in California is there a special three-year subscription lease option that covers everything you could possibly imagine, including maintenance and the cost of charging (even dealer prep and registration).
The plug-in Ioniq has the same basic driving dynamics, without the dial-in regen—though it could be added. There is 27 miles of all-electric travel before the gas engine kicks in for a total range of over 600 miles. It’s not as high-tech and space age as a Prius Prime (which we also sampled) but it gets the job done. Pricing isn’t available yet.
The hybrid was great--sprightlier than a Prius--and offers 139 horsepower combined from its 1.6-liter Atkinson-Cycle engine (shared with the plug-in hybrid, and offering 104 horsepower) and 43-horsepower electric motor.
There are a lot of hybrids out there, with Toyota claiming the bulk of the market, but the $22,200 entry point offers a lot for the money. Interesting, though, is the fact that (because of the subsidies) a base electric Ioniq is actually cheaper for many consumers than the hybrid version. If you can live with 124 miles of range—this may be the time to make the jump to 100 percent zero emission. The battery has a lifetime guarantee for the first owner, by the way.
The hybrid is likely to be the biggest seller among the three, with the rest split between plug-in and electric. That could change, if the public wakes up to the fun they could have with batteries.
You may not know what an Ioniq is now, but you’re likely to find out. The cars are coming soon. The hybrid is arriving at dealerships now, the battery car in April and the plug-in hybrid in the fourth quarter of this year.