Hybrids are beginning to come in all shapes and sizes. Toyota’s Prius remains the dominant player, but like a college football player moving up to the NFL, the Prius’ will be facing stiffer competition.
Now comes Hyundai to the hybrid big leagues with its Ioniq. It’s oddly named and spelled, but everything else about it is big league. Its styling is more sophisticated than the dowdy Prius, but not quite as sporty as its sporty cousin, the Kia Niro.
Ioniq is a small hatchback, but it’s loaded with all the goodies you’d ever want, plus gets dynamite fuel economy. In fact, it boasts the highest fuel economy rating of any hybrid at 57 mpg city and 59 mpg highway in its entry-level, eco-minded Blue model. The Limited, two models up, is rated 55 mpg city and 54 mpg highway. I managed 45.2 mpg, while the trip computer insisted it was 53.4. All models have aluminum hoods and hatches to keep weight down and improve gas mileage.
For the record, I had gotten a still good, but less impressive, 35.6 mpg in my Niro test drive. Niro, which looks more like a crossover also is about 150 lbs. heavier than the Ioniq. Meanwhile, when I tested the Prius Two Eco earlier this year I got a stellar 57.5 mpg. That’s hard to beat.
Ioniq though handles nicely with generally light steering effort and good cornering because it has a low center of gravity. In Sport mode the steering firms a bit too. Plus Hyundai tells us the Ioniq has the best drag coefficient of any car on the U.S. market. That means it cuts through the air more easily, which aids fuel efficiency. Mind you the differences in drag coefficients among most cars is small.
The power here comes from a 1.6-liter I4 gas engine coupled to a hybrid system with an electric motor. Combined the system creates 139 horsepower, admittedly mild. But the trick to enjoying an Ioniq drive is moving the gearshift a bit to the left and putting the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic into that Sport mode. Suddenly the acceleration comes alive and you zip up to reasonable cruising speeds. Then you can shift it back to Normal and let the gas sipping begin.
Ride is not the Ioniq’s forte despite its 106.3-inch wheelbase. While the front end seems to weather our various rough road surfaces, the rear end delivers a hard, jittery ride that the car’s occupants, especially those in back, are sure to notice. Plus there was a rattle in the tail of the test car, no doubt something jarred loose by the road’s pounding. The Niro I’d driven earlier this year had a much better ride.
Braking was smooth and effective, plus there are traction control and stability control systems. The car’s regenerative braking helps re-power the hybrid system’s lithium-ion polymer battery.
Inside the black test car was a gray leather interior. Seats were a middle-tone gray with lighter gray trim, while the dash was a textured gray composite material, nothing fancy. But there is black gloss on the console and lower portion of the center stack along with matte silver trim on the air vents and control panel to give the interior a bit of style.
The driver’s seat is powered and has two memory buttons, part of the big $3,000 Ultimate package that came on the test car. Seats are mildly contoured and easy to get into a comfortable driving position. The driver also gets a power lumbar support.
The rounded roofline allows for good headroom front and rear so four adults will fit comfortably. Legroom is fine too and the steering wheel is D-shaped, meaning it has a flat bottom, which not only looks sporty, but frees up some knee room that helps when entering and exiting the Ioniq.
Rear seats also split and fold down to boost the already generous cargo room under the rear hatch. Like a Prius, that hatch features a split window with a panel that runs horizontally between the regular hatch window and one on the tail, below that panel. This allows for better rear visibility.
Hyundai has created another handsome and easy-to-use dash here. Standard is a 7-inch touchscreen, but the Limited added an 8-incher as part of that Ultimate package.
It also loaded on smart cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking that stomps on the brakes if sensors detect a possible front-end collision. Also part of the package is a cool feature that a lot of upper end cars now have, dynamic bending headlights. These turn (or bend) illuminating around a corner as you turn the car, allowing you to better see where you’re headed and if any hazards lay ahead. Great idea, but I warn drivers that these take some getting used to because of the strong sharp-edged shadows they cast.
For $3 grand you might expect even more in a Hyundai option package, and you’d be right to. This one also includes wireless charging for phones, a cargo cover, Hyundai’s Blue Link guidance and emergency services system, an Infinity stereo with eight speakers, rear seat air vents in the center console, and rear parking sensors to avoid parking lot bumps and dings.
Standard for safety on all Ioniq models is a backup camera and blind-spot detection system.
The Limited comes standard with a sunroof, 3-level heated front seats and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay telematics integration systems so you can link up your phone and other digital devices to the car.
Normal goodies and benefits in the Ioniq include a large open bin just under the center stack that will hold a phone or two, plus has all the plugs and power outlets you’ll need while driving. The dual cup holders (no big deal) also include one D-shaped one that is excellent at holding a cell phone against the flat side so you can glance down and see it easily as you drive. Nice to not have to fish it out of the cubby under the stack to see who’s calling and if it can wait until you’ve stopped driving. (It probably can!)
There’s a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel too, with all the usual radio, phone and trip computer buttons on the hub.
The center dash touchscreen is easy to use and read too. It includes 12 channel presets. There also is a dual climate control system here, and among the dash gauges a cool readout that tells you what percentage of your driving has been economy, normal and aggressive. I ended up at 64% economy, 34% normal and 2% aggressive, despite almost always using the Sport mode to accelerate from a stoplight.
Pricing makes this a budget friendly family car, with the base Blue model starting at $23,085, including delivery. And remember while there are fewer standard features here, the car does get top-rated fuel economy. Move up to the SEL level and the price bumps up to $24,835, while the tested Limited starts at $27,500, with an $835 delivery fee.
Total for the test car was $31,460, about the average price for a new car these days.
Ioniq, along with Kia’s Niro, certainly up the level of competition in the small hybrid car market. But choices are good, right?
FAST STATS: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited
Hits: Nice handling hatchback with top-rated hybrid gas mileage. Better looking than the competition, plus sunroof, 3-level heated seats, driver’s memory seat, excellent dash layout, flat-bottomed steering wheel, backup camera, blind-spot detection, automatic emergency braking, big open bin & plugs for phone, plus wireless charging. Comfy and plenty of cargo room.
Made in: Ulsan, South Korea
Engine: 1.6-liter I4 & hybrid electric motor, 139 hp (combined)
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Weight: 3,115 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 176.0 in.
Cargo: 26.5 cu.ft.
MPG: 55/54 (EPA)
MPG: 46.7 (tested)
Base Price: $27,500
Dealer’s Price: $27,149 (includes delivery)
Ultimate package (automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control, lane departure warning, Dynamic bending headlights, rear parking sensors, navigation w/8-inch screen, Infinity stereo, 8 speakers, wireless device charging, driver’s memory seat, cargo cover, floor-console rear seat vents, Blue Link guidance package), $3,000
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Test vehicle: $31,460
Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage