Parallel Hybrid power is the most affordable way to get into Hyundai's hi-tech IONIQ Prius-rival. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
The Hyundai IONIQ is the first car ever to go on sale with three different forms of electric power. You can choose from pure electric propulsion, hybrid or a plug-in combination. That covers all of the major green car bases and pitches the Korean machine into direct competition with the class leaders. Does it have the credentials to beat them? We tried a Hybrid version to find out.
Hyundai has come a long way in a short space of time and the IONIQ marks a key turning point for the South Korean firm. No longer does it have to justify itself in terms of value and affordability; now, it has a range of cars to rival the best in every sector it competes in, including the growing segments made up by cars with electric power. And rather than just dabble, Hyundai has launched its IONIQ with three different types of battery power to cover all the bases. Here, we're going to look at the parallel Hybrid version, the first car of its kind to use a proper dual-clutch auto gearbox for smoother power delivery.
The IONIQ shares the same basic platform as the Kia Niro, which is a very good place to start from. As a result, the Hyundai handles nimbly and takes corners with more composure than you might expect for a car that's main focus is on low running costs and emissions. The only limiting factor is the reduced rolling resistance tyres, but in day to day driving you'll find this car very capable. It also enjoys a tight turning circle and steering that's light to turn at low speeds. You can add some more weight to the helm by selecting the 'Sport' mode, but we find this makes it too heavy. Around town, the suspension is on the firmer side of comfortable but by no means unsettled. And when you head on to freer flowing routes, it's very composed and much less challenged by side winds than its Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius rivals. The parallel Hybrid version we tried features a 1.6-litre petrol engine with help from an electric motor. It swaps seamlessly between the two types of propulsion depending on which is best for the situation or combines both for maximum acceleration. Driven like this, the Hybrid covers 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds on 15-inch alloys or 11.1 seconds with the optional 17-inch wheels. Accelerate hard in this way and you'll really notice the benefits of this IONIQ's use of a proper cog-driven 6DCT dual-clutch auto transmission, a much better gearbox than the jerky belt-driven set-up used in a rival Toyota Prius and other hybrids.
There's not much point building a new car that offers three different electrified power trains for the first time ever if you're not going to make the most of every facet of its design. This is why Hyundai has gone to great lengths with the IONIQ to come up with a shape that has a drag coefficient of just 0.24. That makes this one of the most slippery shapes ever for a car as it cuts through the air, which helps reduce energy use and noise. And inside? Well, inside this Hyundai, it doesn't feel futuristic. It's not that it's dull in the cabin: it's just that it's not trying to be too clever for its own good. We like that. What you get is a dash that bears a strong resemblance to the Korean company's other models such as the i30 and Tuscon. That's a very good thing as it's clear and made from excellent materials. There are hints, though, at what lies under the bonnet, such as the battery indicator gauge on the left-hand side of the main 7-inch instrument display. Choose the entry-level trim and this is scaled back to a4.2-inch monitor. It tells you how economically you're driving and whether or not you are using energy reserves or topping them up. In the centre is a simple to read speedo, while on the right is a configurable screen for information such as doors left open and water temperature. The Hybrid models get a 443-litre boot.
Hyundai has a long standing reputation for delivering great value with its cars and the IONIQ is not different. The Hybrid version undercuts all of its direct rivals with a starting price of £20,000; that's for the base 'SE' model; there are also plusher 'Premium' and 'Premium SE' variants at prices ranging up to just under £24,000. You'll probably want to know that this equates to a saving of well over £3,000 in comparison to this model's closest rival, the Toyota Prius. Equipment levels are quite comprehensive, with all models featuring items such as 15" alloy wheels, a DAB stereo with Bluetooth, Cruise Control, Rear Parking Sensors and a Rear View Camera. Standard safety features include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System. 'Premium' models add keyless entry with push button start, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED rear combination lamps and a driver's supervision instrument cluster with a 7" LCD display. Integrated satellite navigation with TomTom Live services, an Infinity audio system with Android Auto / Apple CarPlay and Wireless Phone Charging (where supported) also feature as standard.
If there's one big reason for choosing the IONIQ, it's going to be low running costs. You certainly can't fault the Hyundai on this score as the standard Hybrid model comes in with a combined economy of 83.1mpg. Even if you opt for the larger 17-inch wheels, this figure only drops to 70.6mpg, which is well ahead of most similarly sized and priced hatches with a turbodiesel engine. Finally, let's talk warranties. Most modern cars come only with an unimpressive three year/60,000 deal. With this IONIQ, in contrast, a much more complete peace of mind package comes as standard thanks to one of the best customer assurance plans in the industry. The Five Year Triple Care warranty includes five years of mechanical cover with no mileage limit, annual vehicle health checks and roadside assistance. That decent warranty will help residual values. There are also two, three and five year fixed price servicing plans to help keep your maintenance outlay down.
Hyundai has pulled off quite a feat here. To come from nowhere and put yourself among the best in this sector is impressive. And to do this while keeping prices at a level where the IONIQ is a serious alternative to mainstream petrol and diesel hatches is even more impressive. Of course, it's not perfect and some might find the low speed ride a little unsettled. There's also a shortage of head room in the rear seats for adults, while some might like a few more options to make the car their own. There's no doubt, though, that overall the Hyundai is a very tempting package. Is it enough to lure drivers away from other hatches with and without electric motors? It ticks more than enough boxes for it to warrant serious consideration.