Ioniq launches for 2017 as the first direct Prius rival in years. Yes, I hear you — there are dozens of Prius rivals!
And you are right: hybrids and EVs have gained traction in midsize sedans, luxury cars and SUVs at a rapid clip recently. But no car actually tries to out-do Prius in 2017. Not the cancelled Honda Insight. And not the plug-in Chevy Volt, or battery-only VW eGolf.
The reasons for this are many. Mostly because Prius has beaten them all. Ridiculously good mileage – no matter what. A formula that surprisingly has never been cracked by another make.
Hyundai has a three-pronged assault on Prius dominance by trying to actually beat it at its own game. Three models, the Hybrid (available now), the full electric (Cali only for first year) and upcoming Plug-In Hybrid all share the Ioniq name. They share a cunning new approach to 50MPG-plus hybrids, but this entry-level Ioniq Hybrid is really make-or-break. It will take 80-percent of sales and needs to be stellar to out-do the class example. The hybrid synonym.
How will they do it? For a start, this 58MPG machine will be wider and lower than Prius. It will have standard cabin controls and visibility. And it will handle thanks to a double-clutch automatic transmissions and independent rear suspension.
We had the chance to drive the new Ioniqs and have great news to report — for all those who seek Prius benefits without all the nerd-core its badge brings. And clearly, mileage that no hybrid-ized normal car can approach.
HD First Drive Video
The exterior of the new Ioniq Hybrid Limited is its least exciting detail. Yes, it is clean and modern from all sides. And as the Hybrid Limited has LED brake lights to complement the LED DRLs and HID bi-xenons. An LED accent forms a deep check-mark of white light around the main headlights when on. (Those bright bottom lamps are only a daytime setting.)
Its overall design is deeply conservative, however. The nose is a streamlined look at Hyundai’s single-frame grille. Less scultping and crease depth than the new Elantra, while also looking near as wide as Sonata from up front.
A small front overhang and tight wheel arches hug the eco tires. Even the largest 17s on Ioniq are deeply MPG focused – a downside for looks as well as lateral grip, discussed below.
The Ioniq gets slightly interesting in profile. The tail is chopped tight with a hatch versus a trunk. Smooth Kamm-type aero shaping is a big part of Ioniq’s 0.24 cD. Underbody aero pieces also do their part at keeping Ioniq low-drag.
The rear view offers a rounded upper roof section and planted stance. Fairly wide rear D-pillar shapes continue to the chopped rear bumper cleanly. It all looks extra modern in the bright blue of our tester. Only a half-dozen shades of white/black/grey/silver available.
Cabin of Ioniq is all-new and quite advanced versus the latest Sonata and Elantra, cars who split Ioniq on price and size in the lineup.
A luxury feel from the new steering wheel is charming, especially leather-wrapped in the Limited trim. Raised piano-type buttons on the mid dash are easy to use and nice to look at. A smooth dash flip includes the touchscreen on the upper center stack. Easy to reach and see. The tall dash and upright windshield angle make this Ioniq feel like a premium Euro car versus the airy, long-dash feel of any Prius. Normal side windows in the doors also enforce this impression. No extra quarter-window of glass needed — and no mini-minivan look from outside.
Next up on the conventional stakes? The gearlever. Totally conventional. Drive modes engage via dedicated buttons, while the steering-wheel toggles handle most settings in the gauge cluster. This is a reconfigurable screen for the main displays, letting you tailor what info to display. Sport mode handily engages a tachometer and digital speedometer right in the center. CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
Overall comfort inside is stellar. The back seat is not huge but fits three people with tons of extra headroom. The tailgate itself opens to a Prius-beating luggage capacity.
Normal, Eco and Sport work as expected — with Normal making the steering super light and crazy quick. Slightly less-good turning circle than Prius, however.
Is the Ioniq a performance Prius?
Sortof! It definitely shifts gears at redline and has steering feel. The bar is not super high, to be honest here.
Hyundai Ioniq’s big tech revolution is including a double-clutch automatic with this 55-mpg drivetrain. Until now, almost all hybrids have been stuck with CVT automatics. Ioniq’s electric motor acts as a giant torque-converter to add thrust during gearchanges. This should be night and day on the road versus Prius!
A total 139HP meets the front wheels in a SMOOTH manner. It is not quick-shifting and lacks shift paddles. The M mode of the gearstick allows you to pick gears — and they engage slowly. You never notice this in normal driving. The car never loses power while shifting. But don’t expect Audi TT-style downshifts.
Avoiding the MOOOOOoooooo redline noise of a CVT is heaven though.
Ioniq needs about 10 seconds to hit 60-mph. It does so flawlessly, though. Electric thanks to its li-ion pack makes up about 30-percent of forward thrust.
Next big deal? Ioniq Hybrid can hustle!
Like a Lotus Elise…
Ioniq Hybrid likes to bring big pace into and around corners. Very-level cornering feel and balanced front/rear in this new-gen hybrid. Hyundai’s performance credentials improve yet again! We hustled the Ioniq Hybrid around corners with its gas and electric motors spinning furiously down below.
Overall, the Ioniq Hybrid’s handling and steering feel (in Sport) make this a new type of hybrid around corners.
Ioniq Hybrid is available now nationwide with pricing from about $23,500. Our tester’s sticker is attached and shows a $3000 Ultimate package and $125 floormats as options. All-in, the total is $31,460.
This Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid looks exactly the same as the regular hybrid apart from an extra duel door and Plug-In badges. It is set for release around September of 2017 as a 2018 model.
THe EV is Cali-only for the first year and will be in stores there about April of this year as a 2017 model. Watch this space for a review of the EV very soon, too.
2017 HYUNDAI IONIQ HYBRID PRICING
|Blue||1.6L GDI 4-Cylinder||6-Speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC®||$22,200|
|SEL||1.6L GDI 4-Cylinder||6-Speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC®||$23,950|
|Limited||1.6L GDI 4-Cylinder||6-Speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC®||$27,500|
Freight Charges for the 2017MY Ioniq Hybrid are $835.
Is Ioniq a Prius killer?
More importantly, can it compete of efficiency/price/roominess?
- Yes on efficiency. Top Ioniq Hybrid ratings are 58-mpg, although down to 55-city, 54-highway on our Limited Ultimate model.
- SOmewhat on price. Ioniq is priced about $3k more than Prius at the bottom end, but less at the top. Prius 4 Tourings can hit $33k with the Ioniq Ultimate’s active safety tech. Whereas we top out at $31,500.
- A yes on roominess too. It has more cabin volume than Prius despite being so conventional with its visibility. But in truth, feels slightly less capacious than Prius somehow.
Ioniq is a hero in doing this well so far! Something no other car has achieved — Prius Parity.
Now, with some cornering elan and real gearbox…!? Ioniq is a next-gen Hybrid allright. One that shows there is more than one car that can top 50MPG all day, every day. No plugs or dramamine required.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.