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2017 IONIQ Plug-In Hybrid

First Drive: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq

Available as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or a fully electric model, the all-new Hyundai Ioniq is tasked with advancing Hyundai’s electrification plans. The Ioniq is a logical competitor to the Toyota Prius, beating the established player in both price and fuel efficiency.

3 Models with Staggered Release Dates

The Ioniq arrives to the market in staggered releases covering two model years. The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid was introduced nationwide in February. This April, the 2017 Ioniq Electric arrives initially in California showrooms, but it can be ordered nationwide in advance of its gradual introduction to other regions. Late this year, the 2018 Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid will complete the rollout process.

Hyundai is targeting several existing and future models with the Ioniq, depending on the powertrain chosen.

The Ioniq Hybrid may be compared with the Prius, Ford C-Max and the Kia Niro. The Ioniq Electric should be cross shopped with the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and the upcoming Tesla Model 3. The Plug-in has the Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max Energi and the Toyota Prius Prime in its segment.

Hyundai made all three variants available at a recent media event. However, the Plug-In was a prototype and perhaps not the best representation of the upcoming production model. For this first drive review, we’ll examine both the hybrid and the electric model.

What Is the Hyundai Ioniq?

Before we look at the two variants, understanding what the Hyundai Ioniq is about is essential.

Hyundai developed the Ioniq in response to upcoming tighter fuel efficiency and emissions regulations in the U.S. and abroad. The automaker insists that regardless of what plans the Trump administration has for possibly rolling back regulations, it would continue to invest in vehicle electrification. Notably, the Ioniq is a global model.

As for its proportions, the Ioniq sits on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the 2017 Hyundai Elantra, but it’s slightly shorter overall and nearly an inch wider. Purposefully, the Ioniq blends in with other Hyundai models, dispensing with the radical styling of competitors such as the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius to present a familiar expression. Despite the more traditional look, Hyundai claims an aerodynamic edge over its competitors, which is an important advantage that leads to improved fuel economy.

Conventional Exterior Styling

Hyundai Ioniq Electric
(CARFAX, Inc.)

The hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are nearly identical except for an electric port on the driver’s side of the latter. Much of the Ioniq’s exterior design matches the Elantra GT hatchback. This includes the roofline, which begins to drop steadily at the center roof pillar and flows into a notched hatchback. Oversized rear lights and decorative diffuser-like trim amplify the rear fascia.

Wheel choices range in size from 15 to 17 inches, depending on the model and trim chosen.

As for the Ioniq Electric, its look complements the others, but with one important difference: a blocked-off grille dressed in piano black plastic trim. From every other angle, the three models look the same, except for badging differences and the absence of an exhaust port in the electric model.

Straightforward Interior Design

Hyundai Ioniq EV
(CARFAX, Inc.)

The Ioniq’s interior choices are simple and conventional, and Hyundai avoided the space-age look of some of its competitors to provide a straightforward layout. This means the instrument panel is where you would expect to find it: behind the steering column.

The center console is topped by a 7-inch color display followed by knobs and switches for managing climate and audio systems. At the base of the stack is an open area, suitable for a smartphone with USB, audio and 12-volt connectivity points present. Other tech features include a six-speaker audio system, available navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

The main difference between both hybrid models and the electric version is the transmission shifter — the hybrids offer a stick, while the electric replaces it with push buttons. The front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive. The rear 60/40-split folding bench seat offers room for three but is best suited for two. Take note of the seat bottoms as tall people will find thigh support wanting.

Hyundai Ioniq Powertrain Choices

Hyundai Ioniq EV
(CARFAX, Inc.)

Under the hood of the hybrids is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 104 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque. A total of 139 horsepower is available, with an electric motor supplying additional power at higher speeds.

With the Plug-in, the electric motor kicks in when there is sufficient charge available, providing an all-electric driving range of 27 miles. Once depleted, the Plug-in acts like a standard hybrid until it has been charged. Both models utilize a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, unlike the usual continuously variable transmissions that most competitors employ.

The Ioniq Electric relies exclusively on an electric motor to move the hatchback. It delivers 118 horsepower and stores electricity in a lithium-ion polymer battery pack that’s significantly larger than what the two other models offer. Hyundai claims a 124-mile electric driving range with the Ioniq Electric.

On the Road: First Impressions

Hyundai Ioniq
(CARFAX, Inc.)

Pull away from a stop, and the Ioniq Hybrid supplies ample power. Press hard on the accelerator, and full system power is harnessed. It’s nothing outstanding, but it is sufficient to allow you to pass traffic when you need to. The transmission provides seamless gear shifts.

The Ioniq Electric may be the outlier of the three, but it serves its purpose admirably. Press hard on the accelerator, and full power is immediately tapped — so much so you’ll be pinned to the back of your seat. Both tested models offer light-to-the-touch steering and capable handling. Surprisingly, the brakes lack the usual spongy feel common to electrified vehicles and provide firm braking on demand.

Where Hyundai has an advantage over its competitors is in price and fuel efficiency. The 2017 Ioniq Hybrid starts at $23,035, including destination, and that’s $2,500 less than the Toyota Prius’ base price.

The electric model is priced from $30,335, and that’s roughly the same starting cost as the Nissan Leaf. Incidentally, Hyundai is offering a lifetime replacement warranty on the battery pack, something no competitor offers. Electric car buyers may also be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit as well as locally available tax breaks. Prices for the Plug-in will be announced later; a $4,500 federal tax credit will be available.

On the fuel efficiency front, the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Blue leads all comers, delivering 57/59 mpg city/highway. Other Ioniq hybrids are rated at 55/54 mpg city/highway. Thus, Hyundai has an edge over comparable Prius models when it comes to fuel economy.

Making a Case for the Ioniq

Will the Ioniq move the needle for Hyundai? Likely, it’ll steal some sales from its competitors, but it may also grab a few Elantra owners. Low fuel prices, however, may limit demand as price-sensitive customers find well-equipped conventional models for less. Others will simply shop small SUVs, which are part of the fastest growing segment in the industry.

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