by Roger Biermann
Of Hyundai's bespoke electro-centric trio that makes up the compact Ioniq range, the Ioniq Hybrid is the most widely available and least focused of the lot. But that could be to its benefit; as the Ioniq was an early attempt at electrification that has since been surpassed in the EV stakes by all including Hyundai themselves. So the Ioniq Hybrid packs the potential of hybridization but mixed with Hyundai's penchant for reliability, comfort, and impressive economy figures, now dialed up further. It's also vastly cheaper than its two siblings, and with three available trims, there's versatility of choice. These factors combined result in a model that could be right up there with the Toyota Prius, but without the polarizing styling. Could the least focused Ioniq be the best one of them all?
While other brands intend for their bespoke hybrid and electric offerings to look alien in an effort to set them apart from the pack, Hyundai's philosophy is more conventional. The Ioniq looks like a regular car with design details that look familiar to the compact hatchback segment.
Hyundai's broad hexagonal grille takes prime position up front, surrounded by gloss black cladding that flows into the standard projector headlamps on either side. LED daytime running lights are standard on all models but the base Blue trim, but it's only the Limited trim that upgrades the headlights to HID units. To aid efficiency, all Ioniq Hybrids feature active grille shutters that open and close as necessary to control airflow for cooling and drag reduction purposes. Aiding aerodynamic efficiency, even the windscreen wipers are designed specifically for the Ioniq to reduce drag. Beneath the headlights on either side are blacked out faux intakes housing LEDs, while central, below the grille, is a blacked out vent to direct airflow towards the underside of the Ioniq.
In side profile, the Ioniq has distinct coupe styling, with the hatch drawn back in a Kamm tail design - all in the aid of reduced drag - with an integrated tailgate spoiler and shark fin spoiler adding character to the profile. In Blue and SEL trims, the Ioniq Hybrid rides on 15-inch alloy wheels with differing designs for the two trims. The Limited upgrades to 17-inch alloys in a Limited-specific design. All three wheel designs are aerodynamically efficient and all are shod in low rolling resistance tires to improve economy via reduced drag.
The base Ioniq Hybrid Blue features gloss black window surrounds and shaped lower doors devoid of cladding, while the SEL gets chrome beltline molding and lower door molding included. Both base editions feature body-colored door handles, while the Limited swaps these out for chrome items.
At the rear of the Ioniq, the taillights flow into a lower glass panel running beneath the tailgate-spoiler to increase visibility in lieu of the severely sloped rear window impeding sight. From the SEL trim the rear lights become LED units. Aside from the change in tail lights, the rear of all three trims remains largely unchanged, though the Blue model gets special badging, while the Limited model gets integrated rear park sensors housed in the molded black strip across the lower bumper which also houses the license plate.
The Ioniq Hybrid is offered with an exterior color palette of six colors; Ceramic White, Symphony Air Silver, Summit Gray, Intense Blue, Scarlet Red Pearl, and Black Noir Pearl.
Each of the three models comprising the Ioniq Hybrid range comes equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The four-cylinder develops 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an electric motor supplementing the system with 43 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. The maximum combined system power output is 139 hp with all power being directed to the front wheels. Hidden beneath the rear passenger seats is a 1.56kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that enables electric drive up to speeds of 75 mph under light throttle application. Every aspect of the drivetrain is geared towards efficiency, with the Ioniq Hybrid's pièce de résistance is the Blue model's EPA estimated economy of a combined 58 mpg, besting even the most efficient of Toyota Priuses at 56 mpg. The SEL and Limited offer marginally lower economy figures, both averaging an estimate of 55 mpg, which is still mighty impressive and enables a range of up to 655 miles on an 11.9-gallon fuel tank, while the Blue model can achieve up to 690 miles with mixed city and highway driving.
While the Ioniq Hybrid's economy might be its focus, the drivetrain is infuriating to use effectively. It's primarily the fault of the dual-clutch automatic gearbox which is jerky at low speeds and shifts awkwardly in an attempt to maximize efficiency, but almost always at the wrong moment. The engine itself offers up some decent performance, but throttle inputs are poorly programmed and unless you punch the gas through the firewall, you're going nowhere with any great measure of pace. It feels reluctant to push on, and when you do get frustrated and make more liberal use of the throttle, you compromise economy.
Hyundai could've tuned the system for a bit more of a natural feel, or at least one that feels more usable, particularly around town.
As a piece of functional design, the interior of the Ioniq Hybrid works well. The controls are laid out simply, are easy to find, and the driver's seating position is comfortable regardless of how tall they might be. Driver's seat height adjustment is standard, manually so on the Blue model, while SEL and Limited models get ten-way power adjustment with power lumbar support, which makes for a comfortable driving position, and the seat itself is comfortable and supportive over long distance journeys as well as short ones. The front passenger enjoys similar levels of comfort, and there's an abundance of headroom and legroom for the front occupants, while ingress and egress are easy thanks to large door openings and a low door sill.
But the rear of the cabin is different altogether. With the battery pack mounted beneath the rear passengers, the rear seat is perched high, and the sloping roofline cuts into headroom both when climbing in and when sitting in place. Legroom is also not sufficient for full-sized adults and is best reserved for children or at most, teenagers below the six-foot mark. The Ioniq technically seats five occupants, but there are caveats to that, and adults will bemoan anything longer than the briefest of journeys.
While it's standard for eco-warrior type vehicles to often feature environmentally friendly plastics and interior materials, the Hyundai Ioniq feels particularly low rent. The assembly of the panels may be tight and rattle-free, but everything is a shade of gray by default and it feels as harsh and bland as it looks Even the optional beige upholstery and trimming looks and feels dull. It's particularly the Blue model that feels exceptionally low-rent, and with the bare minimum equipment, it's specced as such as well. The Limited model feels a little more upmarket with leather upholstery as opposed to cloth, but on the whole, this is not a premium cabin. One caveat to that does exist, though, and that's the steering wheel which is exceptionally well-molded and fits gorgeously into the driver's hands. It's a gleaming diamond amidst a sea of grey coal dust.
As far as interior features go, higher trims do get heated seats, and all models get cruise control and steering mounted audio controls, while only the SEL and Limited trims get wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Connectivity options are pretty decent for this segment, with a standard seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system boasting AM/FM/HD Radio/SiriusXM satellite radio functionality, USB and auxiliary inputs, and full Bluetooth connectivity. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are standard on all models. The Limited model gets the creme de la creme of the infotainment options, with standard Blue Link Connected Car Services and a three-year complimentary subscription to Blue Link Connected Care. An eight-inch touchscreen is optionally available on the Limited model, boasting built-in navigation Clari-Fi music restoration technology, and pumping audio through a premium eight-speaker Infinity sound system. This system also equips the Ioniq with a wireless charging pad for compatible devices.
Of the three Ioniq models, Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, and Electric, the Hybrid features the smallest battery pack, and thus the largest cargo volume. Behind the rear seats, you'll find 26.5 cubic feet of storage space in a fairly shallow, but long-and-broad cargo area. This is more than the Ford C-Max, but less than the liftback version of the popular Toyota Prius. The large hatch opens wide and allows for easy loading of larger items, provided you're able to lift them high enough and far enough forward to be able to drop into the cargo bay. The cargo area can quite comfortably accommodate a week or two's groceries, or five carry-on sized suitcases with space to spare. The Limited model optionally gets a cargo cover for increased security and privacy with regards to your precious cargo.
The rear seats of the Ioniq do fold in a 60/40 split, and they do so almost completely flat, which increases cargo volume substantially, but bear in mind that the storage area is still shallow.
Hyundai claims the Ioniq is meant to be conventional to look at as well as to drive, with efficiency not compromising enjoyment. While it may have nailed the mark on the Electric, it's missed it by some margin in the Hybrid.
Aside from the tepid performance and frustrating gearbox, the steering is immensely vague and uncommunicative. The system is tuned for accurate weighing, but it feels like in the battle for efficiency, the steering wheel got divorced from the front wheels and lost custody of the kids too - there's just no communication there. There's also a mushy feeling on-center, with minor inputs yielding no response. On wavering surfaces, the Ioniq deviates from its line and you have to overcorrect constantly because of the lack of response just off-center.
Additionally, the ride is immensely busy, with relatively low weight not compensated for in the suspension tuning. On mirror-smooth surfaces, it responds as naturally as any other vehicle might, but mid-corner bumps negatively affect handling with a bounciness resulting in a porpoising motion that's bound to induce car-sickness on poorer road surfaces. The low-grip tires don't aid handling much either, and the limits of adhesion are low.
The brakes are another particularly low point for the Ioniq Hybrid. Unlike the EV version of the Ioniq, there's almost no energy recuperation off-throttle without brake application, and the blend between regeneration and friction braking is unnatural and severely stepped from one to the next. Heavy braking doesn't feel very confident either, primarily due to the soft suspension resulting in heavy nose-diving that's bound to unsettle most drivers in an emergency.
While it's more efficient than a Prius, Toyota's hybrid presents far more amicable road manners on a day to day basis.
Reliability concerns over hybrids are now not really a common occurrence, with enough investment yielding satisfactory standards across the industry. Still, J.D Power gave the Ioniq Hybrid an overall quality rating of just 70 out of 100, which is the lower boundary for what they define as 'average'. The Toyota Prius is rated above that standard with a score of 74, however the Prius does have a history of being top of the reliability charts several years down the line.
Hyundai's extensive 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty from its standard combustion models continues over to the Ioniq Hybrid, while the battery has an unlimited warranty.
To date, there have been two recalls on the Ioniq Hybrid in its current generation, for 2017 and 2018 models. In one incident, an electrical fault results in increased resistance which in turn overheats the battery and the rear seat and potentially leads to fire. The second incident pertains to an oil leak from the clutch actuator that may also lead to a fire. There have been no recalls issued at the time of writing for the 2019 Ioniq Hybrid.
Hyundai offers the Ioniq Hybrid in three trims, with prices ranging from $22,400 for the Blue model to $27,800 for the Limited, with the SEL slotting neatly in the middle at $24,950. All models come with the same 139-hp drivetrain, so it's the equipment differences that set them apart.
The Ioniq Hybrid Blue might be the cheapest in price, and it's true that it's also the barest in specification, but it focuses heavily on economy and cuts out the frills in order to beat the Toyota Prius. For the money, you get 15-inch Blue-specific wheels, but you make do without LED taillights or even LED daytime running lights. Inside, you get cloth upholstery with six-way manual adjustment for the driver's and front passenger's seats, dual-zone climate control, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, a proximity key with push-button start, and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio capabilities, six speakers, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay Functionality.
A step up to SEL for $24,950 comes with different 15-inch wheels, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, chrome beltline molding, lower door side moldings, LED taillights, and LED daytime running lights. Meanwhile on the inside there's now a ten-way power adjustable driver's seat, the front seats are heated, there's a rear armrest with cupholders, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle-shifters, and a seven-inch LCD instrument cluster display. Last year's SEL Tech Package has now been integrated as standard, so the SEL also gets automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control, and lane keeping assist, along with driver attention warning, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. For comprehensive safety and all the features you really need, the SEL is the pick of the three trims for us.
With the safety taken care of at SEL level, the Limited can focus on upgrades to make the Ioniq a little classier and more refined. To that end, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, HID headlights with automatic high-beam assist, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, leather seating surfaces, premium door sill plates, complimentary Blue Link Connected Car Service, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and LED interior lighting all standard. The Limited will set you back $28,550, but for an additional $2,200 you can equip the Ultimate Package for Limited, which adds dynamic bending lights, rear park sensors, an eight-inch touchscreen navigation system, an eight-speaker Infinity premium sound system, wireless device charging, driver's seat memory function, a cargo cover, and rear HVAC vents to the package for a comprehensive offering.
Ultra-efficient, impressive styling, and on higher trims at least, loaded with safety features. What's not to like from Hyundai's Ioniq Hybrid? As it turns out, quite a bit, as the interior feels cheap and nasty, and the drive is substandard in many ways, like the awkward suspension and poorly modulated brake feel, and not least of all the poor throttle responses. There are some redeeming factors, such as the technological integration and great safety features available, and the abundance of highly practical cargo volume is a big plus for fans of practicality. This could well have been the rival to the Toyota Prius, and the base price undercuts that of the Prius by a good margin, if you're willing to sacrifice levels of equipment. But the Prius just seems to offer more in just about all areas but price and economy, and you're better off looking at the Toyota - it's just a more complete vehicle in every way.