As car sales continue to sag and all things crossover expand, there continues to be a large behind-the-scenes effort to transform our driving fleet to electric battery power in place of internal combustion engines. If this effort is to succeed, there must be a bridge technology and the hybrid vehicle — a combination of efficient gasoline or diesel engine plus a battery pack and an electric motor — will have to grease the path forward, as our current electrical grid can in no way provide enough power for the sudden conversion of 250 million vehicles in America.
In the battle for hybrid sophistication enters the Korean firm Hyundai. Unlike all of the other sordid news coming from the Korean Peninsula lately, this is all good. Very good in fact.
The Ioniq is a five-door hatchback loosely based on the Elantra compact sedan. The styling similarities are intentional. Riding on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the 176-inch-long Ioniq (i-ah-neak) employs a fully independent suspension for a compliant ride and crisp handling. Fifteen-inch wheels are standard, 17s are used on models like our Limited trim.
The cabin is roomy — and adult-friendly all around — while the cargo hold offers over 26 cubic feet of cargo space with the folding seats upright. With the battery pack and electric motor stowed beneath the rear seat and cargo compartment, most users will never detect their presence throughout their daily use.
This packaging efficiency carries over to the exterior, where the slippery body design employs grille shutters at the front, covered chassis surfaces below, as well as the somewhat traditional boat-tail rear end to achieve a .24 coefficient of drag. Low drag means less power needed to achieve highway speed efficiency.
Unlike many other hybrids, the Ioniq uses Michelin Primacy4 radial tires instead of the customary hard, low-rolling resistance tires that afford less grip and make a fair amount of tire noise at highway speeds. Significant advances in tire compounding have led to increased grip and performance with both high performance car and motorcycle tires — offering enhanced grip in rain and dry situations — but also with increased efficiency for hybrid cars. Combining carbon, rubber and polymer fibers has led to stronger, better tires for everyone.
Under the hood is a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine making 104 peak horsepower as well as 106 pound/feet of peak torque. Attached is a 32-kW/43-hp electric motor and lithium-ion polymer-constructed battery pack that helps produce a maximum of 139 hp for the compact Ioniq. Hitched to a traditional six-speed automatic transmission, the Ioniq is one of the most fuel-efficient cars sold in America; the EPA tests indicate 57 mpg city, 59 mpg highway with a combined 58 mpg rating — several miles per gallon ahead of the current Prius.
Better yet, the Ioniq’s efficiency doesn’t come at the cost of power; the car accelerates without strain and easily paces traffic in the city or the highway. Except for the silence of battery power operation, a driver might never suspect that the Ioniq is anything but a pleasurable small car.
One trait similar to the Prius: both of these hatchbacks have a split rear panel that has a large visual impairment. Note to each automaker, how about using the rear camera for a constant unimpeded rear view?
Even the dash layout doesn’t boast about the Hyundai’s hybrid intentions. There are ECO lights and efficiency grading indications, but the scrollable messages are pretty benign. Slap the shifter into manual mode, however, and the digital speedometer becomes a tachometer and the car’s “feel” and power change notably.
Ioniq Blue models start at $22,200 plus destination fee. Ioniq SEL trim adds $1,750 while our Limited stickers for $27,500-plus. Standard equipment on all includes auto headlamps, keyless access and ignition with lighted door handles on approach, dual-zone auto-climate, auto up/down power windows up front, XM radio, Android and Apple connectivity, multiple audio jacks, plus a host of safety gear. SEL adds heated seats and mirrors plus LED lighting, while Limited includes steering responsive headlamps, dynamic cruise, emergency automatic braking, lane departure warning, leather surfaces, and a lot more. The Ioniq Blue is $2,500 less than the least expensive Prius.
At barely 3,100 pounds, the Hyundai uses aluminum hood, liftgate and suspension pieces to further improve efficiency. This will be key, as a plug-in hybrid model are forthcoming as well as a full-electric model. Kia’s new Niro is the crossover version of this platform.
If you’re keeping score at home, the Ioniq is less expensive than the Prius, has more power and handles better, has more space inside and gets better mileage while its more conventional styling is less controversial than the Toyota’s distinctive look. Equipped with a lifetime battery warranty and five-years of unlimited roadside assistance, the Hyundai Ioniq is a practical, sensible, game-changing hatchback hybrid.
For consumers, that’s called a win-win.