[REVIEW] 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid

The Ioniq is a tremendously important car for Hyundai. Not only has it been spearheading the brand’s electrification push but it’s doing so on all three fronts.

First launched in Hyundai’s home market of South Korea and then at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, the Ioniq covers all green car bases by being available in three powertrain configurations – conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-electric powertrains. This makes the Ioniq the world’s first car to offer three differently electrified versions based within a single body.

The clear comparison that one will gravitate to is that Hyundai is targeting the Prius (although the latter is not offered as battery electric only version). Given that the initial target of the Ioniq is only 77,000 units a year globally for the hybrid model, it would appear that the Korean carmaker understands the challenges ahead in taking on Toyota.

What is it?

The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid is just like the regular Ioniq Hybrid, but its bigger 8.9 kWh lithium-ion battery allows for significantly greater electric-only operation versus the conventional hybrid’s much smaller 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery. This results in the plug-in Ioniq offering an all-electric range of 40-50 kms.

Both the conventional and plug-in Ioniq make use of a 1.6-litre four-cylinder 105 hp Atkinson cycle combustion engine. A 43 hp electric motor is wed to this internal combustion engine for a total system output of 164 hp in all. Much to my delight, unlike other manufacturers that make use of CVTs, the Ioniq is equipped with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The Ioniq Plug-in hybrid is a great stepping stone if you’re looking for a vehicle that can give you some electric mobility, but perhaps a pure electric car is too big of a commitment. It could work well for those who do not have easy access to a Level 1 or Level 2 high-speed electric vehicle charging station that would essentially be required for a pure electric car.

Due to its smaller battery size when compared to a pure electric car, the Ioniq Plug-in’s charge times are about two and a half hours on a 240-volt Level 1 charger, or about eight to night hours on a regular 110 volt household outlet. This means that if you live close enough to work, you could charge overnight at home every day without ever needing to even go near a electric vehicle charging station.

How is it to live with?

The Ioniq is a young buck in the world of hybrids compared with old standbys such as the Toyota Prius and the Chevrolet Volt. However, all three variants of the Ioniq are easy to like, and easy to live with.

The exterior styling is gimmick-free and I found the strongly slopping roofline rather attractive in a conventional sort of way. Rear visibility is not fantastic due to the rear window configuration, but a standard back-up camera alleviates much of this issue.

The Ioniq reaps the aerodynamic advantages of the familiar teardrop, Kamm-back profile common to all the efficiency champs. It manages an impressive 0.24 coefficient of drag aided by grille shutters and underbody aero smoothing.

Speaking of the rear, the Ioniq also boasts a large cargo area with 341 litres of space. More than enough for a few big suitcases especially with the 60/40 fold-flat split rear seats. There is a bit of a load lip to heave over when loading and unloading, but it’s not too bad.

It should be noted that the larger battery does sacrifice about 100 litres of space compared to the conventional Ioniq hybrid. Still, such pros and cons can be seen in most plug-in hybrid vehicles. What matters is that the Ioniq is easy to live with.

Thanks to the six-speed dual clutch transmission, the Ioniq feels a bit more sporty (relatively speaking) than I expected. Acceleration is a bit leisurely on the electric motor alone and the gasoline engine kicks in if you demand more power or if you crank the heat or air conditioning.

Nonetheless, by driving fairly sanely and plugging in after every trip, I averaged an astounding 3.0 L/100 km thanks to heavy use of the electric-only mode.

My tactic was to use the button on the console to demand electric-mode as much as possible in the city, but then flip to hybrid mode on the highway. Sport mode, yes there is one, uses both electric and gasoline motors as much as possible.

The one thing Hyundai’s first Sonata plug-in hybrid had that this model doesn’t is a charge-restoring mode that uses the gasoline engine to recharge the plug-in portion of the battery (albeit while using a great deal more fuel).

Apparently the automaker found that very few people were using that mode—or perhaps even knew it existed—so Hyundai opted to skip it here for the Ioniq.

What’s the interior like?

Save for a few blue accents on the interior trim, there is not much to show off the Ioniq’s environmental-friendly persona. There is a gift basket of interior features including a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, dual zone climate control. Even Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are built into the Ioniq’s 7-inch touchscreen display.

Comfort-wise, the front seats are roomy, while the rear seats have about the amount of space you’d expect in a car this small. You’ll be able to fit four adults into it with a fair amount of comfort, but of course don’t expect limousine-style legroom.

That being said, the front seats could use a bit more support over long distances and there is more road noise than you would find in a Toyota Prius. This is noticeable considering how quiet the car is in all-electric mode.

Also, there are a few areas where the Ioniq’s economy car routes show themselves, such as the hard and scratchy plastic door panels which were also rather unimaginatively styled, especially in the rear. However, kudos to Hyundai for including heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel available. Things which are optional extras with many luxury brands these days.

The ride quality is above average, but over undulating pavement the heavier battery makes itself known. Handling is good, however it’s sometimes obvious that this is an eco front-wheel drive car, as there isn’t much grip from the low rolling resistance front tires when, for example, accelerating out into a gap in traffic from a side road in the wet.

Still, as an overall package, the Ioniq’s pure practicality stood out. The electric/hybrid information available from the touchscreen, for example, includes not just a graphic display of the energy flow from the motor/engine and to the battery, it also keeps track of the overall range, the electric range, and the gasoline range, as well as the expected charge times for both 240- and 120-volt systems, and the charge amount left in the battery.

As you would expect, this eco-friendly car also comes with a multitude of active safety systems including blindspot warning, lane keeping assist, radar guided cruise control, and collision mitigation braking.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In is an excellent way to try out all-electric driving without taking the plunge for a full-electric car.

It benefits from being built on a dedicated eco-vehicle platform, with an aluminium hood, liftgate, and suspension components plus packaging that keeps seating (and cargo space for the most part) from being compromised in order to fit both a battery pack and a 43-litre fuel tank.

Although most buyers may think of Toyota’s almighty Prius when shopping for a hybrid vehicle, the Ioniq’s less edgy styling and value for money give it a unique edge. It’s truly worth a careful look.


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