Ioniq gives Hyundai advanced EV and hybrid

April 24, 2017 by
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Ioniq offers stylish body on dedicated platform with buyers’ choice of pure electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid power.

By John Gilbert
If the Hyundai Ioniq came out as a stylish new compact car, its sleek and aerodynamic looks, roomy interior, quick and agile performance, and smooth ride would undoubtedly make it a big hit at a base price of $22,200.

But it’s not a mainstream car. Far from it. It has all those above attributes, but it becomes a truly unique vehicle by being offered in a choice of three alternative powertrains. After a brief chance to aggressively road-test two of the Ioniq models, the impression it leaves is — in a word — electrifying.

I asked Hyundai officials if we were all going to be driving electric cars in the near future, or are hybrids a viable alternative. The consensus is that we are headed for electric-powered cars, but it will be a number of years before they take hold, which means hybrids and plug-in hybrids might make the most sense right now. Taking no chances, Hyundai is offering all three alternative powertrains in the new Ioniq.

Apprehensions from preconceived ideas can get in the way of buying a hybrid vehicle, much less a pure-electric one, and while Hyundai officials are aware of all the reasons buyers have for not buying such an alternative-energy car, they have designed the Ioniq to conquer all of them.

The Ioniq is the first car with a dedicated platform — shared with the new Elantra —  designed to offer the choice of the most efficient hybrid in the industry, the most progressive plug-in hybrid in the industry, or the most environmentally sound and efficient pure-electric car in the industry.

That’s a lot of firsts, but ever since Hyundai made technical breakthroughs in engine, fuel injection, transmission efficiency, and design development nearly a decade ago, we shouldn’t be surprised by what those creative engineers in Seoul, South Korea, might come up with.

Pure EV has 124-mile range and can recover 80 percent of full power in 23 minutes, at $30,000.

“The best thing is it looks like a regular car, and it drives like a regular car,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of products for Hyundai Motors America.

I beg to differ. When my driving partner and I took off on the twisty and not always smooth roadways near Ann Arbor, we drove the Ioniqs harder than a normal citizen might drive. We wanted to push the Ioniq to see if it was just another alternative-energy car or truly something special. My vote was the latter.

If I there was a conventional engine under the hood, I would have been impressed that the Ioniq swept around tight, even blind, curves, always with the car following dutifully and with precision to all steering inputs. The fact that it was pure electric made it all the more impressive when it stayed level, never lurched, and handled the numerous road irregularities we flew across with nary a hint of harshness, looking high-style from every angle.

When my turn was finished, I found the passenger bucket seat supportive and comfortable in all circumstances, and it gave me a better chance to admire the smooth and high-end look and feel to the seats, dashboard and numerous features. They use wood chips and bits of volcanic rock to make the soft and supple top on the dashboard, for example. And they found a way to mix soybean oil into the paint, as another example of making the car sustainable.

The basic Ioniq Hybrid starts at a mere $23,000 including destination, its 1.6 engine helping recharge the battery pack. The plug-in Hybrid next up the scale, while the top-end, pure-electric version starts at $29,500. The EV will have no gas-engine safety net, but it will have a range of 124 miles before needing a recharge. It has a larger electric motor system, and a potent version of the LG Chem battery pack that develops 88 kW, the equivalent of 118 horsepower and 218 foot-pounds of torque, which collaborate to send the car rocketing away from a stop with startling potency.

Large touchscreen offers choice of features for driver and occupants to monitor.

There are other dazzling EVs newly on the market, such as the Tesla, the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and BMW i3. The Bolt has a range of 238 miles, which is very impressive, and the Tesla also has excellent range. O’Brien, however, referred to industry standards for thermal efficiency, which take into account such things as the carbon footprint. Since 67 percent of our electric energy comes from fossil fuel or coal, the reality is that electric power may seem free, but nothing is free.

“Ultimately, we’re going to have to reduce our carbon footprint,” O’Brien said. “They call it an ‘MPGe’ equivalent, and by that calculation the Ioniq is the most efficient EV with a 136 MPGe, which beats the i3, the Bolt, and all other EVs on the market.”

O’Brien explained the assets of the three-pronged answer to all the alternative-energy challenges by first enumerating the challenges.

“While hybrid and electric vehicles have been around for awhile, it’s still a fact that 97 percent of buyers have not bought them,” said O’Brien. “That means only 3 percent are choosing hybrids or electric vehicles. We seem to be stuck on that number. The reasons consumers give for avoiding hybrids are: cost, lack of performance, boring, maintenance worries, not sporty enough, and insufficient passenger or cargo room.

“When you look under the hood of a Camry or Accord hybrid, you see all kinds of extra space, because the platform was designed for a larger engine. With a dedicated platform, and using a small engine with the hybrid, means we didn’t need all that space. So we moved the cowl forward, reducing the size of the engine compartment, and creating a much more spacious interior. Our hybrid has a total interior volume of 122.7 cubic feet, and our plug-in hybrid and EV have 120 cubic feet.”

In addition, Hyundai worked with LG Chem, the South Korean electronics giant that designed and built the battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt, and the new Chevrolet Bolt pure-electric, as well as for Hyundai, Kia and other hybrid car-makers. The streamlined design of the battery pack, with vertical plates, and a lithium ion polymer structure, make it lighter and smaller and able to be form-fit into odd areas. And lithium-ion-polymer battery packs generate more power, hold the charge longer, and recharge more quickly.


Battery pack location under rear seat provides mid-car weight balance, full 122.7 cubic feet of cargo space.

Other hybrid car-makers fit the battery pack under the trunk, which greatly cuts down the cargo room, and, being heavy, gives most hybrids an odd weight-distribution. Hyundai engineers designed the Ioniq with the battery pack under the rear seat, leaving full trunk space, and creating a lower center of gravity and a mid-engine feel that enhances steering and contributes to good handling.

Hyundai engineers also revised their well-proven 1.6-liter Kappa 4-cylinder, a dual-overhead-camshaft gem with direct injection that can make compact cars, midsize cars, and even the Tucson compact SUV perform admirably, with a turbocharger in some cases. In the Ioniq, it is altered with Atkinson-cycle technology that keeps the intake valves closed a bit longer, and delays the opening of the exhaust valves. That allows the air-fuel mixture more time to more fully ignite, resulting in greater thermal efficiency, and extra power. With the hybrid, the engine doesn’t need extra power, because the electric motor supplements any need for power.

In the Ioniq Hybrid, the 1.6 has 104 horsepower at a high 5,700 RPMs, and 109 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPMs. The electric motor adds 32 kW (43 horsepower) for a 125 horsepower maximum, and its 125 maximum added torque combines for a 139 foot-pound punch.

The biggest surprise to many traditionalists is that electric motor power is more efficient than a gas engine. It has 100 percent of its torque at zero RPMs, so stepping hard on an electric car’s “gas” pedal can snap your head back by surprise. In the Ioniq Hybrid, the electric motor’s instant torque aids low-end power, and if you need extra power at high speed, the electric power can continue to supplement the 4-cylinder up to 75 miles per hour.

Driver view carries out Ioniq concept of driving normalcy — with changeable gauges..

After being thoroughly impressed with the pure-electric Ioniq, we also drove the base-model hybrid, which also drove well, with quick acceleration, and good steering and handling. Unlike nearly all other hybrids, the Ioniq Hybrid does not use a CVT, the continuously variable transmission that uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly shift, but leaves the unsatisfying feeling of “motorboating” instead of tangible shift points.

Hyundai engineers equipped the Ioniq with their own 6-speed dual-clutch transmission that shifts swiftly and with a decisive sportiness, whether you like paddles or just switching to “sport” to hold shift points higher. The “eco” setting upshifts earlier for better economy, and the Ioniq Hybrid comes away with everyday fuel economy of 59 highway, and 58 mpg combined city-highway. That beats the Prius and all other hybrids, as does the Ioniq’s thermal efficiency that means 40 percent of all its energy goes to its wheels, which are shod with specially designed Michelin tires.

We didn’t get to drive the plug-in hybrid, which is yet to be introduced as the third electrified system. That will move up from the Hybrid’s 32 kWh with 43 horsepower, to 45 kWh, and 60 horsepower. With more electric motor power in the mix, when fully charged it will go 27 miles on electric only, before the gas engine kicks in seamlessly to help.

Both hybrids share the 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. The plug-in Hybrid has a more powerful charger. You can connect to normal household outlets, but if you use the quick-charge system you can recover 80 percent of a full charge in 23 minutes, a fast charge that will let you cover another 99 miles.

All available safety items, including standard rear camera, and the availability of lane-change devices, are included, and the Ioniq also has all the latest in connectivity features.

Spacious room under hatch also houses optional quick-charge kit.

I am eager for a longer test-drive, but the first impression will be hard to shake. The Ioniq beats the tests of cost, sportiness, being not boring, being not sporty, and having insufficient interior room.

If maintenance worries still exist as the last concern, how about this: Along with Hyundai’s usual 10-year, 100,000-mile engine warranty, there is a lifetime warranty on the battery pack.

I kidded O’Brien that if the Ioniq doesn’t quite meet fuel-efficiency figures, they could come out with a Type R and insert a tiny “R” between the “I” and the “O” to make it an “Ironiq.” He didn’t laugh. After driving the car, I’m more inclined to suggest they might need to insert a small “C,” because the new car could indeed become Iconiq.


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