For the first time in its history, Hyundai has introduced a green vehicle that's new from the ground up. The Ioniq is a compact car that's available as a hybrid, EV or plug-in hybrid. And it has intimidating competition in each form: the Hybrid faces the Toyota Prius and the Ford C-Max; the Electric enters the market against the Volkswagen e-Golf, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt EV; and when it arrives in late 2017 as a 2018 model, the Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid will go against the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevy Volt. But this three-cars-in-one strategy allows Hyundai to add innovations and features that may give them a leg up in each segment.

The Ioniq enters the marketplace with impressive numbers. The Hybrid has more passenger and cargo volume than the Prius (and more cargo volume than the Kia Niro SUV), and the Electric has more passenger and cargo volume than the Bolt and Leaf, as well as the Volt. The Ioniq Electric has the highest fuel economy in America, with 136 mpg-e (150 city, 122 highway), and the Ioniq Hybrid Blue is the most fuel-efficient non-plug-in vehicle: 58 combined mpg (57 city, 59 highway). When it goes on sale later this year, the Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid is expected to offer an all-electric range of more than 27 miles.

Driving the Hybrid

We had the opportunity to drive the Hybrid and the Electric, starting first in the Hybrid. The cabin of our top-of-the-line Limited looked like a cleaner, more upscale version of a typical compact car interior, with mostly black surfaces accented by brushed metal. Front- and rear-seat room feels much like that of an Elantra. As you would expect with a Hyundai, the Ioniq has an impressive list of standard and optional features: rearview camera, 7-inch screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (standard), plus available adaptive cruise control, Qi smartphone charging, seven airbags, heated front seats, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alerts, and navigation—but only the driver gets a power seat.

At the base of the center stack is a normal-looking shift lever; putting the 6-speed dual-clutch transmission in Drive sets the Ioniq in Eco mode. In Eco mode, the 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle engine and 43-horse electric motor (139 net system horsepower) provide ample power for daily driving, and transitions between the engine and the motor are quite smooth. Acceleration felt similar to that of an Elantra. One thing we did notice was the sound of tire noise entering the cabin.

Two shortcomings that are often cited in hybrids are driving dynamics and braking feel. Hyundai has done a fine job of improving both. The Ioniq's lithium-ion polymer batteries are located below the rear seats, which moves them out of the cargo area where most hybrids store them. This increases load space and, most important for driving dynamics, improves the car's center of gravity. In the case of the Ioniq, it's lower than that of a Volkswagen GTI. The Ioniq uses an aluminum hood and liftgate to save weight. Lightweight, independent rear suspension and a low center of gravity provided handling that was better than expected. One of the most pleasant surprises with the Ioniq was the linear braking feel. The brakes weren't grabby or jerky. Despite the ability to regenerate energy, they simply felt like regular brakes, a detail that made it easy to forget we were driving a hybrid. Yet when we switched the screen from the nav system to the hybrid data screen, we saw that with normal driving, we were getting over 51 mpg with little effort. Imagine what we could've achieved with some hypermiling.

Another aspect of the Ioniq's sportiness is in its Sport mode. Push the transmission shifter from D to S, and a few key things happen. The engine will always operate, with the electric motor adding added power when needed. The transmission shift programming changes, but you can also control the shifts if you like. Steering feel changes, and throttle response becomes noticeably more aggressive. The Ioniq's virtual gauge cluster uses a speedometer in the center when in Eco mode. In Sport, this automatically changes to a tachometer with redline, and your speed is displayed as a single number in the center. The end result: you're driving a hybrid that gets up and goes, handles fairly well, and shifts are crisp. These are not things you would expect in a hybrid. Fuel economy does suffer in this mode, but we couldn’t get a definitive answer as to how much.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Driving the Electric

We then switched to the Ioniq Electric. The Electric uses an 88 kW electric motor and a 28 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery system. That duo provides 118 horsepower and 215 lb-ft of torque. Instead of the dual-clutch transmission found in the hybrid, the EV uses a single-speed reduction gear transmission. That power is less than what you'd get in a 2017 Elantra, but the system provides decent oomph off the line. While the Electric skews more practical than sporty, that torque comes in handy from a stop, and the system has the power you'd need on the daily commute. It doesn’t take long to get used to the EV, and driving feel is that of a practical, efficient compact car.

The interior looks similar to that of the Hybrid, with two notable exceptions: First, the transmission uses push buttons instead of a shifter. Second, there are steering-wheel-mounted paddles normally used in other cars to control shifts. Here, they enhance performance in a different way: they control regenerative braking. There are three levels of regen braking you can choose from, three being the strongest, plus a zero setting with no regen. What the level controls is how much the regen braking kicks in when you take your foot off the throttle. Level one felt like the Hybrid. It was mild but comfortable. Level two brought stronger brake response, and was more noticeable than in level one. Level three, however, was much more intrusive. If you are really worried about getting to where you’re going without running out of juice, tap the left paddle up to three and make the most use out of it. Otherwise, tap the right paddle down to two or one and relax. As with the Hybrid, the brakes felt linear and natural.

Ioniq Electric Versus Bolt EV

As impressive as the Ioniq Electric is, the elephant in the room is the Bolt EV, the new segment benchmark. Its electric drive system puts out more horsepower and torque. And the Bolt offers more than 100 more miles of range--238 compared with the Ioniq EV's 124. And, in our first drive, we explain that the Bolt has "truly outstanding range, impressive versatility and engaging driving demeanor." So why consider an Ioniq instead?

Taking into account factors such as range, vehicle weight, and overall cost, Hyundai's compromise stays true to the company’s emphasis on value. The Bolt's horsepower and torque propel a car that's about 400 pounds heavier than the Ioniq, so there is a power difference, but it isn't as big as it seems. The Ioniq's lower range comes at a significantly lower price: its starting price is about $7,000 less. There is also more cargo area and more total passenger volume in the Ioniq. And, according to the most recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety American Driving Survey, the average driver actually commutes 43 miles per day. Combine that with the standard 100 kW DC fast charge capability, where 80 percent of the battery can be charged in a mere 23 minutes. If you charge your car every day for that average commute, there would be little to no range anxiety.

Clever Features

The Ioniq Hybrid uses clever technology to make this line of cars more convenient and more efficient. It has a self jump-start setup that means you won't be stuck by the side of the road with a dead battery. The dirty little secret of some hybrids is that you still need a conventional 12-volt battery to energize the electrical system to start the vehicle—if the battery is discharged by leaving lights on, you need a jump. The Ioniq, on the other hand, has its 12-volt battery integrated into the hybrid drive system, so if the battery ever goes dead, a Hybrid owner would push the battery reset button to obtain the necessary juice to get things going.

Another nifty features is that If you use the nav system to set up a drive route, there's an eco-driving assistant that makes the best use of the hills and flat roads along the way to recommend when the driver can e-coast, plus it sets up when the hybrid system regenerates for the most efficient drive route. And the climate control system has a "driver-only" function, so when you're driving alone, it shuts off the rest of the vents, so not as much energy has to be used to cool or heat the entire car.

But one of the coolest features is aimed squarely at millennials, yet it could benefit everyone. With the Ioniq Electric, Hyundai is going to start a pilot program that makes it easier to get into a new car. Patterned after the way people get smartphones, the Unlimited Subscription Model requires no money down, and you pay a pre-determined monthly payment based on the model and features. That subscription is for 36 months, and includes unlimited mileage, plus free scheduled maintenance, free replacement of regular wear items (think windshield wipers, tires, etc.) and reimbursement for the cost of charging the car for the first 50,000 miles. The idea was that millennials may not necessarily feel the need to buy a car, so aren't as willing to deal with a multi-hour slog at a dealership.

Also: Class of 2018 – New Cars Ready to Roll

Packed with Value

The Hybrid, which is expected to be the line's volume leader, is on sale now available in Blue, SEL and Limited trims. Pricing starts at $23,035 including destination, making it less expensive than the Prius ($25,570) and C-Max ($24,995). By April, the Electric will go on sale initially in California, starting at $30,335 ($20,335 in California after federal and state rebates), making it less expensive than the Leaf ($31,545 before rebates, $21,545 after) and Bolt ($37,495 before rebates, $27,495 after). The 2018 Plug-In hybrid is expected to go on sale in late 2017. Pricing has not yet been announced. Hyundai already offers the best warranty in the industry--10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty--but the Ioniq adds to it with a lifetime warranty on the battery.

It may seem a little counterintuitive to introduce a green vehicle when sales of hybrids and EVs are down, but with the Ioniq, Hyundai is looking long-term. It goes on sale as major shifts are expected to take place in the automotive world: as of 2020, millennials are projected to overtake baby boomers as the highest percentage of car buyers, millennials show the biggest interest in alternative powertrains, and CAFE (fuel-economy standards) continue to get more stringent. Yet the Ioniq isn't just for millennials. It has a lot to offer someone who is looking for a fuel-efficient compact car.  While it may seem that it could get lost in the shadows of the Prius and the Bolt EV, the Hyundai Ioniq lineup provides a combination of value and efficiency that should appeal to a wide range of buyers.


New Car Spotlight


Free Dealer Price Quote

Get the best price and be more prepared with your free, no-obligation price quote