BE Test Drive: Can the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Reach Iconic Status?

This eco-friendly auto could be the new pound-for-pound, small car champion

High technology is rapidly shaping the automobile industry’s present and future. Powerful V8 engines, once a staple in cars sold in the U.S., have been replaced with turbocharged, six and even four-cylinder engines, some with V8-like performance. So, what’s behind the trend towards smaller, turbocharged engines? The simple answer—they get better fuel economy.

It’s widely known that, one day, Earth will run dry of fossil fuels. There’s been a bit of a mad dash over the past decade to develop gasoline-free technology to power tomorrow’s cars, trucks, and SUVs. One automaker’s bet that hydrogen will power future vehicles is hedged by another’s commitment to electric power.

Sustainable Choices

 

Keeping up with the inevitable, Hyundai Motor America introduces the 2017 Ioniq (rhymes with ‘bionic’);  a vehicle with three electrified low and zero-emission powertrain choices.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Choose between Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, and Electric power for the new Ioniq. Though all three have impressive stats, the Ioniq Hybrid ‘Blue’ model has an EPA-estimated 58 mpg combined rating—currently the highest rating of any non-plug-in hybrid vehicle sold in the U.S. That’s eight mpg better than the platform offered in corporate cousin Kia Niro, which shares some parts with the Ioniq, and returns 50 mpg combined. Ioniq Limited and SEL trim levels return 55 mpg combined. All three powertrains are grouped under Hyundai’s ‘BlueDrive’ moniker.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Road Testing the Ioniq

 

During a recent regional press introduction in Durham, North Carolina, I drove the Ioniq Hybrid (Ioniq Electric and Plug-in will be introduced a bit later this year), and came away from my 200-mile drive very impressed. Why? Because the Ioniq drives like a normal, gasoline powered car. My test vehicle was a top trim level Ioniq Hybrid Limited, with an MSRP of $27,500.

While testing the Ioniq, I noticed the switch between gasoline and electric power was seamless. There were no untoward noises or clunky transitions to indicate the fuel saving symphony going on under the lightweight aluminum hood. Also, the Ioniq Hybrid features a six-speed dual clutch transmission, while other Hybrid manufacturers use Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs). Cars with CVTs are notorious for noisy acceleration.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

But, there was no such cacophony in the Ioniq, which is surprisingly quiet, given its relatively small size.

Comfort for My 6’9″ Frame

 

Small outside does not mean small inside, as Hyundai engineers have done an impressive job of blending passenger interior room with hatchback utility suiting an active lifestyle. Even large folks will be comfortable in Ioniq. Although I’m 6’9” tall, and a couple of biscuits shy of 315 pounds, I fit very comfortably inside. Though it’s true my large frame renders the seat behind me useless for another adult, five regular-sized human beings will find decent space for themselves and for gear stowed behind the folding, second-row seats.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Handling and ride comfort are impressive in this hatchback that features a MacPherson strut front/multilink rear suspension.  Additionally, the tailgate is also aluminum, and the heavy, clunky and expensive 12-volt battery—which has been used to start most cars for decades—has been omitted, saving 26 additional pounds. In the battle for more mpg, lighter is generally always better. Starting power now comes from electricity stored in Ioniq energy cells (capacitors).

Big Boy Safety

 

Safety is no longer the exclusive domain of the big European brands like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Audi, and BMW, as Ioniq offers big boy safety at price points that scream ‘Loss Leader.’ But the Ioniq is not a loss leader, and with a lifetime warranty on the very-expensive-to-replace Hybrid system battery, could be the new pound-for-pound small car champion.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Intuitive Operation

 

Step inside, and you’ll be baffled again as to how Hyundai can pack so much luxury and convenience content into a car for so little money. Interior ergonomics are spot on, as every switch and dial seem as if they were placed just for you. While you should always study your owner’s manual to understand all vehicle functions, Ioniq operation is very intuitive with a near-zero learning curve.

Air conditioning; 10-way driver with memory and six-way passenger seats; power glass sunroof; leather seating surfaces; heated front seats; tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; Bluetooth; Proximity Key entry with push-button start; BlueLink telematics; multiple 12 volt outlets; wireless ‘Qi’ phone charging; seven-inch touchscreen navigation (eight-inch optional); Android Auto/Apply Car Play; and a high quality audio system (Infinity Premium Audio optional); are among Limited trim standard gear.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Details, like space in the center console for a tablet, exceptionally well-done styling, and even ‘green’ sensibility in the interior, help round out the Ioniq as an outstanding value. For example, the interior door panels, headliner, and carpeting are made from eco-friendly materials like recycled plastics and powdered wood and volcanic stone.

 

Photo courtesy Hyundai Motors America

 

Ioniq Hybrid models are on sale now, with prices that begin at $22,200 for the Blue model, $23,950 for the SEL, and the aforementioned $27,500 for Limited trims.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq is a solid buy. If Hyundai can sell as many Ioniqs, as Toyota has with the sales leading Prius Hybrid, the Ioniq could reach ‘iconic’ status.
 


 

BE automotive expert Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, and television for over 41 years. He is President Emeritus of the Washington Automotive Press Association, and has covered the auto industry from 68 different countries. Got a new car question? Reach out to Brian at autosense@comcast.net, or follow him on Instagram and Twitter @roadgearsun