2018 Hyundai Ioniq Premium hybrid review

The Hyundai Ioniq is a compelling Toyota Prius rival that goes without the polarising design. However, the imminent PHEV and EV versions are the real tech showcases...

The Toyota Prius has long been a kind of byword for environmentally friendly motoring in Australia, especially in the absence of any volume selling full-electric vehicles (EV).

But Hyundai Australia has decided to join what remains a super low-volume field here with the Ioniq, a hatchback created specifically to house electrified drivetrains.

The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and full EV versions due later this year may well be the higher-tech offerings, but it’s the ‘regular’ hybrid model rolling out to fleet customers first, with buyers including the Red Cross and South Australian government.

Because the car isn’t on public sale yet, Hyundai isn’t revealing pricing. However, both spec levels will undercut the Prius. Expect the base Ioniq to cost $32K (bisecting the Corolla Hybrid and base Prius), and the higher grade to sit at about $39k.

Just consider for a moment that the price of entry will almost certainly exceed the $29,990 RRP of a much larger Camry Hybrid Ascent

Like the Prius — and more understated hybrid versions of the Camry, Corolla and various others — the Ioniq pairs a small petrol engine with a supplementary electric motor, powered by a battery pack. ‘Set and forget’, no plugs or cables required.

And on the combined cycle, Hyundai claims the Ioniq uses only 3.9 litres of 91 RON petrol per 100km, which is just over half the amount required by a base Hyundai i30. The 45L tank gives you a theoretical range north of 1000km between servo stops.

We managed 4.1L/100km over our real-world test cycle, actually edging a Prius i-Tech we had at the same time. That’s extremely frugal.

The tech specs look a little like this: a 1.6-litre petrol GDi engine running the efficiency-focused Atkinson Cycle is found under the bonnet, producing 77kW of power at 5700rpm and 147Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

It’s helped by a 32kW/170Nm electric motor near the front axle, fed by a 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery (the Prius has a cheaper and less dense nickel-metal hydride unit). The total system output is 104kW and 265Nm — as much torque as the i30 SR turbo hot hatch.

At ‘idle’ and low speeds, the car runs only on electric power, meaning when you push the starter button and reverse you won’t hear anything but the tyres on pavement.

When accelerating or going uphill the engine/motor work together to power the car, while at a constant driving speed the two power sources alternate as the means of propulsion. When decelerating or going downhill, kinetic energy is captured and fed into the battery.

Hyundai also claims the car can run for short distances as an EV, but this is difficult to do, with the engine kicking in when you put any load on the drivetrain.

Unlike the Prius, you cannot program the Ioniq to run as an EV-only for a kilometre or so. You also can’t manually ramp-up a brake waste-energy recuperation system. Thus, it takes some time to ‘top up’ the depleted motor battery.

The good news is that the system is usually quite holistic, the petrol engine kicking in without fuss and only getting harsh under heavy throttle, and the brake pedal feel being far more conventional in feel than many hybrid cars’.

A particularly interesting aspect of the Ioniq’s drivetrain is that Hyundai eschewed a CVT in favour of a six-speed dry clutch DCT (dual-clutch transmission).

What it lacks in smoothness in stop/start traffic it makes up for by improving pep when accelerating, amplified by the car’s Sport mode that holds lower gears and sharpens the throttle.

For just doddering around town, a Prius is a little smoother and the interaction between the propulsion systems a touch slicker, but the gap isn’t drastic and the Ioniq is the more engaging to drive.

At the end of the day, though, neither is overly cutting-edge. A PHEV such as the Mitsubishi Outlander offers pure EV driving over average commutes before the engine jumps in, and can be plugged into a wall rather than relying on internal generation.

At least Hyundai will offer the Ioniq PHEV and BEVs soon, unlike Toyota which refuses to bring the Prius Prime PHEV here.

Dynamically speaking the Ioniq’s MacPherson/multi-link independent suspension has been localised by Hyundai’s Australian engineers, offering the brand’s typically long-legged, well-rounded ride quality mixed with the slightest hint of agility in corners.

The Ioniq only weighs about 1400kg, around the same as the i30 SR — a testament to the hybrid drivetrain’s good packaging. The motor-driven steering offers little feel or feedback, but responds quickly to inputs.

On the downside, there’s a little more road noise than some rival small cars, though it’s more hushed than the Prius on its low rolling-resistance tyres. And despite the meaty torque output, it’s efficiency-first and far from a straight-line rocket.

Perhaps the real ace up the Ioniq’s sleeve are its looks. While the aerodynamic teardrop body shape is distinctive enough to stand out, it clearly has a more harmonious and approachable design than the unorthodox Prius. By definition it has broader appeal.

It’s also a practical little thing, with a 456L boot to the top of the rear seat that beats most conventional small hatchbacks, 60:40 rear seats that fold down, and a fairly class-unique full-size spare wheel under the cargo floor — good for regional buyers in particular.

The sloping roof does eat into rear seat headroom, however. A few kids or shorter adults will be fine. It’s similar in size to a Honda Civic hatch but has inferior rear space and packaging, though not to a dramatic degree.

While the Prius sports a really interesting design inside its cabin with a centre-mounted digital display, a heads-up projector and lashings of shiny Apple-style white plastic, the Ioniq’s interior design is utterly conventional. Good or bad? That’s your call.

The only signs you’re in a hybrid car are the power/eco/charge and battery charge displays in the instruments, and the energy flow diagrams buried in a sub menu on the 8.0-inch touchscreen.

You’re not lacking equipment. Standard fare on our Ioniq Premium tester included keyless-go, rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav with SUNA, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charger, leather seats with heating/cooling up front, and a sunroof. No LED headlights though…

Safety equipment comprises seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitor, forward collision alert, lane-change assist (a pretty basic system that often failed to adequately read road lines), rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

As with all Hyundais you get a five year warranty with no distance limit, and capped price servicing for life. There are also roadside assist and map update plans. The ownership experience should be pretty painless.

Whether you consider the Ioniq a success or not depends on where your head is at with green cars. If you’re a futurist then the Ioniq PHEV and EV, plus the Kona EV crossover, are coming very soon. Yet 'conventional' hybrids like this are proven, and still usually more fuel efficient than diesel. And much cleaner overall.

The Ioniq’s design is more conventional than a Prius, but more interesting than a Corolla Hybrid. As a rolling billboard, this counts. If you drive Uber or a cab, stick with your roomier Camry Hybrid, though.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Ioniq is how ‘normal’ it feels to drive and live with, which is why most people will just buy a cheaper petrol-only hatch with similar equipment levels for thousands less, and be happy.

Still, Hyundai set out to create a bespoke electrified family with distinctive, handsome design, a wide array of tech and acceptable pricing, and it’s delivered on these goals without doubt.

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