When Hyundai decided to make an assault on the eco market, it did so in force. The new Hyundai Ioniq is a model on sale in traditional hybrid and full-electric versions, plus a plug-in hybrid variant.
The hybrid Ioniq we are testing forms a direct rival to the Toyota Prius – the one car everyone will quote when asked to name a hybrid. And in many ways, the Korean newcomer even looks like its long-established Japanese rival, with a pointed stance, low nose, long, sleek shape and a more slab-like back.
The rear end of both cars shares that seeming hybrid styling signature, the split rear screen with two areas of glass separated by a metal panel. This reviewer is not a fan, the metal bit seeming to fall right across where one wants to see out the back in the mirror.
The Hyundai is slightly larger and generally a better-looking car than the Toyota, with subtle curves instead of sharp angles producing a pleasing visual stance. The fastback shape, we are told, is all about aerodynamics, while other efforts to make the most of the car’s eco credentials include such measures as an aluminium bonnet and tailgate. As a result, the Ioniq is 60kg lighter than its traditional stablemate the i30.
Buying and owning the Hyundai Ioniq
A big selling point for the Ioniq is its price – the hybrid starts from £19,995, which is more than £4,500 cheaper than its full-electric sister (even after the Government’s £4,500 plug-in grant is applied), and more than £4,000 less than the cheapest Prius.
The Hyundai also comes well equipped – standard on all versions are alloy wheels, DAB radio with Bluetooth, cruise control and both rear parking sensors and a camera.
It’s no less impressive in terms of safety. Autonomous Emergency Braking is on all cars, as is a lane-keep assist system, so it’s no surprise that the Ioniq has earned a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating – as has, incidentally, the Prius.
There are two more Ioniq trims – costing from £21,795, the Premium adds such niceties as satellite navigation, keyless entry and start, a digital dash and more upmarket audio with Android and Apple smartphone capability.
Our test car is the range-topping Premium SE, starting from £23,595. Heated leather extends across both front seats, the steering wheel and even the outer rear seats. The driver’s seat offers powered adjustment, while there are bigger alloy wheels and extra safety in the form of blind-spot detection (with a rear cross-traffic alert) and front parking sensors.
Note, however, that all this kit has a trade-off in terms of eco performance. The best fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures for the Ioniq are 83.1mpg and 79g/km – on our range-topper these dip to 70.6mpg and 92g/km, which lags significantly behind the equivalent top model of the Prius.
Inside the Hyundai Ioniq
The first thing one notices when slipping into the Ioniq is its normality. The dash layout looks like that of any other Hyundai and a world away from the sci-fi digital layout of the Prius, which this reviewer already considers oddly dated.
The Ioniq is cleverly packaged – that sharply-styled exterior profile with its dipping rear roofline means that space in the rear is cosy but not over so. The batteries for the hybrid system are neatly incorporated under the rear seats, which means no sacrifice of boot space and 443 litres as a result – more than 100 litres of extra volume compared to the Prius.
Driving the Hyundai Ioniq
Powering the Ioniq is typical hybrid drivetrain, combining a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine of 105hp with a 32kW electric motor. Combined they put out 141hp and 265Nm of torque, which is more than the Prius despite the Toyota having both a 1.8-litre engine and 53kW motor. However our test Hyundai reaches 62mph from rest in 11.1 seconds, half a second behind the Prius.
Where the two rivals differ significantly is in the transmission. They are both autos, but the Toyota uses a CVT while the Ioniq gains a newly designed six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This is more efficient and makes acceleration a more purposeful process.
The petrol engine certainly holds its own alongside its electric imposter – while the car moves off smartly in full-electric mode, the engine is quick to cut in, which makes for more noise, especially if you use sport mode when the revs are held longer and the engine note can become intrusive.
The changes between electric and internal combustion powerplants are noticeable, as is the regenerative braking, and the Ioniq does not quite feel as smooth in this area as does the Toyota.
Hyundai has spent quite a lot of effort on the Ioniq’s suspension, with the rear benefiting from a multi-link suspension layout which translates to comfortable progress, slightly on the firm side, even when the road surfaces become less than perfect.
Up front for the driver, it’s not quite so pleasing. In town, it’s really easy to steer through sharp corners and urban traffic but out on a twisty country road, the steering feels over-light and lifeless when holding a straight line.
Many buyers when looking for an eco-friendly hybrid car might consider the Hyundai Ioniq a Korean copy of the Toyota Prius, which is to do it a disservice. This is an all-new design that competes square-on with its flag-waving rival and beats it in several areas.
The Ioniq is not the most exciting car to drive but that is not generally what people buy hybrids for. With a significantly lower selling price and an impressive equipment list it should appeal to those who have wanted to go hybrid but been put off by the price. But those for whom eco performance really is a major concern should keep away from the top-spec models like our test car.