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2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid and Electric Review: First Drive

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_05.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

CARS.COM — Do good things come in threes? Hyundai is banking on it with a revolutionary launching of three distinct variants of one model, the Ioniq (pronounced “eye-on-ick,” not “eye-on-eek”): Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and Electric.

Related: Hyundai Prices 2017 Ioniq Hybrid and Electric

This is the first Hyundai vehicle that has been designed from the ground up for electrification. Previous Hyundai hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles were all built on top of existing platforms initially designed for gasoline engines alone. Not so for the Ioniq, for which hybrid and EV capability were front of mind throughout its development.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_07.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

The Hybrid model is the new mpg champ, with better EPA-estimated fuel economy than the Toyota Prius Eco. A new, innovative leasing program for the Electric model covers wear items (like tires, wiper blades and brake pads) and charging costs, and comes with no mileage limit. Pricing for the Hybrid and EV are extremely competitive in their classes.

The Hybrid is offered in three trim levels: Blue, SEL and Limited, while the Electric is available in base or Limited trims. I tested Limited trim versions of both. The Plug-in Hybrid won’t be available until late 2017.

How It Looks

A focus on efficiency carries over to the Ioniq’s appearance. Similarities to the Prius are clear when viewed in profile – both are hatchbacks with high beltlines and a subtle liftgate wing, all of which contribute to the slippery aerodynamics and a matching drag coefficient of just 0.24. However, the Ioniq wasn’t designed to turn heads like the Prius does with its out-there styling. The Prius is still a fashion statement, while the Ioniq is more of a simple T-shirt-and-jeans kind of car.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_04.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

The two Ioniq variants look similar to each other, the only discernible styling differences being up front. The Hybrid has more of a standard grille, with active grille shutters behind it. But there is no gas engine in the Electric, so its grille is one solid piece of glossy plastic that you don’t notice at first glance but is kind of weird once you do. The Electric also has unique taillights with extra LED detailing.

Driving the Hybrid

 

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_03.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

 

The Hybrid comes with a 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that works with an electric motor and a 1.56 kilowatt-hour battery; total output from both is 139 hp. The Hybrid also comes with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that was newly developed for the Ioniq and helps to provide a driving experience that’s more like a gas-only vehicle than most hybrids.

Driving the Hybrid was an unremarkable experience, but I mean that positively. Accelerator pedal feel is linear and consistent, and the six-speed does help the Hybrid feel more like a conventional car. Some hybrid vehicles continue to struggle with both acceleration and brake feel, resulting in jerkiness when speeding up or slowing down. The Ioniq didn’t suffer from these issues in either Eco or Sport modes.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_28.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

Speaking of Sport mode, it can be engaged on the Hybrid by bumping the shifter to the left into “S” mode. When in Sport, the steering feel is tightened but, more notably, the gas engine will remain on the whole time and the battery and electric motor just provide additional power to boost performance. This doesn’t make the Ioniq fast, but it does make it feel peppier – albeit at the cost of fuel economy.

Driving the Electric

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_06.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

The Ioniq Electric dumps the gasoline engine and goes solely with a 118-hp electric motor and a 28-kwh battery pack, which provides an EPA-estimated range of 124 miles. The Electric doesn’t offer quite the same, torquey off-the-line acceleration that comes with some EVs. The power pours on much more smoothly, and while it doesn’t struggle to get up to speed, the initial burst seems controlled in order to save the battery.

One new aspect to the Electric’s driving experience comes from two paddles mounted behind the steering wheel that adjust the strength of the regenerative braking. These paddles are different from the single paddle on the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Volt, which similarly use the paddle to control the regenerative braking like the hand brake on a bicycle. On the Ioniq Electric, clicking the left paddle adds successively higher levels of regenerative braking, up to three settings; the right-hand paddle subtracts.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_11.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

There’s a stark difference between the settings. With the braking maxed out, it really pulls the car back as soon as you lift off the accelerator. The lower settings are a bit more natural, and if you want to coast like you would in a gas vehicle, the effect can be shut off entirely – essentially a fourth position.

Of the two models, I’m not sure which one I preferred to drive. I enjoyed the steering and acceleration of the Electric more, but its larger battery means that an independent rear suspension won’t fit, so it’s not as confident and composed as the Hybrid while cornering. I would say that neither of them is a particularly engaging vehicle, but that’s not what they are meant to be. And if both deliver on their fuel economy and range estimates, then their passable road manners will be more than enough.

What’s Inside

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_22.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

Both vehicles offer straightforward cabins, with a variety of plastics infused with sugar cane and other organic and recycled materials. It’s a simple design, which mirrors the understated exterior aesthetic, and there is enough soft-touch plastic with subtle textures spread throughout to prevent the interior from looking (and feeling) too econo-box.

The differences between the two are found in the center console and the cargo area. Since the EV model doesn’t need a conventional shifter knob, it’s replaced by buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive, which opens up a lot of space and makes it easier to access the charge ports located under the climate controls. The Hybrid offers an integrated tablet holder not found on the Electric.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_27.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

There are a few weird quirks with the Ioniq’s interior features. For example, the Electric comes only with single-zone automatic temperature control instead of dual-zone like the Hybrid does. And both models can add only a power driver’s seat; front passengers have to do it the old-fashioned way.

The Hybrid’s smaller battery allows it to have a larger cargo area. Hybrid models have 26.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, but the EV has 23.8 cubic feet. The floor of the cargo area is lower in the Hybrid, which accounts for the extra room. This also means it can store taller objects that may not fit in an EV model.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_20.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

There was one problem with the interior that did trouble me: no charging ports of any kind in the backseat – no USB, no 12-volt and no household plug. There are two USB ports and two 12-volt ports up front as well as an optional wireless charging pad for both models, but that won’t help out rear passengers who are running out of juice.

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_23.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

Each vehicle comes with a standard 7-inch touchscreen audio display; a larger, 8-inch display with navigation is optional. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard as well. Electric models add a few extra screens to the multimedia system that allow owners to monitor the performance of the battery and schedule charge times. Electric models with the upgraded screen also come with the ability to view available charging stations nearby as well as a graphic that shows the Electric’s remaining estimated range overlaid on a map.

Verdict: Incomplete

 

17Hyundai_Ioniq_Hybrid_BW_08.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

 

Speaking of estimates, it’s hard to make any kind of ruling about either variant of the Ioniq until we have a longer period to test the fuel economy of the Hybrid and the range and charging of the Electric.

On paper, the Hybrid matches up very well with the Prius on fuel economy and pricing. Its Blue trim has a better EPA rating than the Prius Eco (58 mpg versus 56 mpg combined) and the rest of the trims also beat the other Prius trims, with the SEL/Limited rated at 55 mpg versus 52 mpg combined. If those estimates hold true, then the Ioniq will be the first real competitor to the Prius in a long time – especially for those who want something that’s more conventionally styled.

 

17Hyundai_Ioniq_EV_BW_01.jpg 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

The Ioniq Electric presents a more interesting case with its 124 miles of range. That lags far behind the Chevrolet Bolt and its 238 miles of estimated range, but it also starts at around $7,000 cheaper. Hyundai says that the vast majority of folks won’t use the range beyond 124 miles frequently enough to justify the difference in price, but range anxiety is still a very real concern for many car shoppers who will find comfort in the extra range the Bolt provides.

The Ioniq Hybrid will be available within the next few weeks nationwide, while the Electric will begin to appear at California dealerships in April. Hyundai did say that buyers outside of that state would be able to order one from a Hyundai dealership on an individual basis starting in April, as well. Buyers interested in the Plug-in Hybrid will have to be more patient – it won’t be available until late 2017 as a 2018 model, so keep an eye out for our testing of that model closer to its launch.

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