Hyundai Ioniq 2019 hybrid elite

2019 Hyundai Ioniq review: Electric, Plug-in

First Australian drive

Australia's most affordable electric vehicle is here. The best part? It doesn't drive like a science experiment.
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Electric vehicles have traditionally been the preserve of early adopters and wealthy, green-minded buyers. They're impressive, but cars like the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace aren't going to convert the masses to electric power.

Arriving in showrooms now, accompanied by a pair of hybrids, the Ioniq Electric is more than Hyundai's first local push to the world of green motoring. It represents the start of electric power's democratisation with usable range, attainable price, and an agreeable driving experience.

Before we dive in, some details. There are three variants on offer in Australia: a series hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and the pure-electric. The range starts with the Hybrid, priced from $33,990 before on-road costs, jumping to $40,990 in Plug-in hybrid guise.

Topping the range is the Electric, with a $44,990 starting price. All powertrains are available in Elite or Premium trim, the latter adding $5k to the hybrids, $4k to the electric, and niceties like bigger wheels, heated/cooled leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a power sunroof.

The entire range gets an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen atop the dashboard, along with a screen in the driver display measuring 4.2-inches in the hybrid-powered Elite models, and 7.0-inches in all others.

Where the Plug-in and Hybrid come with a conventional PRND shifter and a foot-operated parking brake (ewww), the Electric gets a unique transmission tunnel with more storage space, a push-button electric shifter, and an e-parking brake with auto-hold.

Apparently we can thank America for the (plug-in) hybrid's handbrake placement. Cupholders and storage spaces are king in the USA, but the footbrake feels old-fashioned in a car designed to offer a slice of the future.

Accomodation is comfortable up front, but the fastback roofline eats badly into headroom at the rear. I'm tall, but even more regular-sized journalists emerged from the back seats with ruffled hair. The boot is perfectly fine given the car's size, offering 341L of space in the Plug-in and 350L in the EV.

The cabin also looks a bit austere, with black plastic adorning the dash, doors and centre console. A bit of colour (or some dashboard trim) wouldn't go astray. Then again, the Ioniq isn't intended as Hyundai's style-led electric car – that would be the Kona EV, arriving next year.

Anyway, what's it like on the road? We've already driven the series Hybrid: check out the review here.

The range-topping Ioniq Electric brings an 88kW/295Nm motor and a 28kWh battery good for 280km on the NEDC test cycle. That translates to around 230km in the real world, according to Hyundai.

This is going to sound like faint praise, but the electric setup in the Ioniq is the least electric-feeling EV powertrain I've ever encountered. That's a compliment, bear with me here.

Most current EVs carry some kind of learning curve for electric newbies. In the Tesla Model X, the immense torque takes some getting used to, while the regenerative braking in the BMW i3 requires constant brainpower from the driver.

Hyundai has walked a very different path with the Ioniq, which is aimed unashamedly at the masses. All the hallmarks of electric vehicles – smooth acceleration, instant torque and near silence in the cabin – are present, but there's none of the weirdness you get elsewhere.

The learning curve has been flattened to a point where the Ioniq feels normal to drive if you've been raised on a diet of internal combustion. It even creeps off the line like there's a torque converter on board.

With that said, it performs far better than the average petrol car around town, jumping enthusiastically from the line and overtaking with ease up to the legal limit. Electric cars are really nice to drive, guys.

Being electric, lifting from the throttle brings regenerative braking into play. There are four levels of re-gen, ranging from totally off to the most aggressive Level 3. Drivers are able to flick through the modes using the steering wheel paddles.

At its most aggressive, the Ioniq comes close to matching the BMW i3 for initial battery-based deceleration before tapering dramatically at 20km/h, after which point you'll need to use the brake pedal. You rely on the brake pedal in an internal-combustion vehicle, after all, so why not here?

Cycling through the regenerative levels is almost like changing gears, allowing you to maintain speed with the paddles while coasting downhill, just as you would with engine braking in an internal-combustion car. Don't want to think about it at all? Flick the right paddle three times and turn it off.

That's not to say the transition from petrol to electric power will be seamless for all. The average motorist drives 32km per day in Australia, but range anxiety still lingers over buyers reticent to join the electric revolution, and the real-world 230km on offer in the Ioniq isn't likely to allay their fears about making the switch.

The good news is, that 230km real-world figure appears deadly accurate. It was driven hard, the air-conditioning was running and there were two full-sized adults on board, but our Ioniq EV drained its battery in perfect sync with its initial range prediction. Being able to trust the readout is a massive win for Hyundai, and something that'll inspire confidence among buyers.

There are a few different ways to recharge. You'll get from flat to 80 per cent in 23 minutes on a 100kW DC fast charger, around four and a half hours using a home AC fast charger, or 12 hours hooked up to a regular wall socket.

If all of that sounds like a bit much to think about, there's the plug-in hybrid. It can be locked into EV mode using a button on the transmission tunnel, at which point you've got 63km of range to play with from the battery pack – but don't think the PHEV is just the EV with a petrol engine sitting up front.

Claimed fuel economy is 1.1L/100km, but that figure is only recorded using the first 100km of driving with a full battery. And around 60km of that is run on pure-electric power. In other words, actual results may vary.

We'll be sure to put the car through a proper economy loop when it arrives in the garage, but our launch loop wasn't long enough to properly ascertain real-world usage.

Although it'll run as a pure-electric under lighter throttle openings, the motor lacks the punch you get from the dedicated EV. Even if you're in EV mode, burying the throttle brings the engine into play for a bit more shove. It fires unobtrusively, but can get a bit coarse as the revs rise.

Usually we'd say that isn't an issue, given most hybrid drivers don't care about sporty driving, but Hyundai has tried to make the Ioniq a bit of an athlete in disguise. Think nerdy kid who keeps up with the jocks during the annual cross-country race...

With skinny tyres and heavy EV hardware on board it won't be making i30 N drivers overly nervous, but the front end goes where you want, and the car feels keen to change direction.

Flicking into Sport sends a jolt of energy through the car, upping the e-motor's input and sending the dual-clutch transmission down a couple of ratios in search of better throttle response. It feels instantly more alert, lunging forward where it otherwise might've crept or crawled. It brings the car to life, that's for sure, but we'd wager the average owner won't bother. Shame.

Although the Electric and PHEV have different suspension setups down back (torsion beam and fully independent, respectively) they ride similarly. Driven a modern Hyundai? You'll feel right at home in the Ioniq, which carries the family ride/handling DNA.

Warranty is the same five-year/unlimited-kilometre deal offered on the wider Hyundai range, with an additional eight-year/160,000km warranty for the high-voltage battery. Servicing happens every 12 months, and costs $160 in the Electric. It's more expensive to maintain the Plug-in – of the first five services, four cost $265 and one costs $465.

All of this brings us to the question of who's going to buy the car. Hyundai is expecting sales to be 50 per cent electric, 30 per cent plug-in, and 20 per cent series hybrid, but it wouldn't be drawn on a sales target.

The majority of demand will come from "government fleets, councils, big industry, big businesses, looking to lower their carbon footprint" with low-emissions vehicles. JW Lee, Hyundai Australia CEO, says the company is "not going to chase numbers" from launch.

A handful (18) of Hyundai Australia's dealerships will be kitted out as 'electric flagship' stores, shared across metro and regional areas. More are being assessed at the moment, apparently, but even doubling the launch figure would represent only a sliver of the brand's 170 dealer pie.

Buyers who walk into one of those dealers won't be disappointed by the Ioniq, whether they drive the PHEV or the EV. It's the Electric we're most excited about, though, because of what it represents for the local electric market.

It'll be an introduction to electric power for lots of people and, rather than frightening them with an otherworldly driving experience, it manages to highlight the tech's benefits without feeling threatening, or strange.

It's the perfect entree to the electric onslaught we're facing over the next 12 to 24 months. Here's hoping plenty of people have a bite.

Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Hyundai Ioniq.

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