Three hundred and twelve kilometres. That’s how much I drove the Hyundai Ioniq for this extended test drive that started on the morning of Christmas Eve and ended on the morning of Christmas Day, thanks to Hyundai Lanka giving us the car with open arms and a full fuel tank (that showed a tantalising, 950km range). “Drive it hard, try out all the features, experience the Sport mode and enjoy yourself!” said a beaming Sulochana Wanigasundara, Head of Operations. So, off I went. With the family in town for Christmas, many people of varying ages got to ride in the Ioniq. It was driven on narrow winding lanes, through heavy traffic, in mild traffic on A-roads and on the Southern Expressway. If it was an off-roader, it would have been taken somewhere off road too. So, this is as comprehensive a test as one can expect.
Hyundai is not a brand traditionally associated with hybrids. Blame that on our local market being largely ignorant of the fact that manufacturers other than the Japanese and the Germans do make hybrids after all! In fact, Hyundai has dabbled in hybrids since the late 1990s, with test bed hybrid versions of the Accent and Elantra, and the Sonata PHEV more recently. Hyundai have embraced hydrogen fuel cell technology too, producing the fuel-cell powered ix35 (Tucson to us) since 2012, sold in the US and selected Western European countries which have invested in hydrogen distribution infrastructure. A full tank of hydrogen in the fuel-cell ix35 is enough for 594kms of driving.
The Ioniq range is Hyundai’s stand-alone ‘hybrid’ and EV model line. The name is said to be a combination of Ion and Unique. All Ioniq models are five-door compact hatchbacks. There are three modes, namely the Hybrid which we are testing here, the EV which is pure electric, and the Plug-in Hybrid which is what it says on the tin. The Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid both use a 1.6L ‘Kappa’ family engine and an electric motor, coupled to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The electric motor in the plug-in is more powerful than the one in the hybrid; 60bhp vs 43bhp. The Ioniq is positioned as a premium and sporty hybrid. Weight-saving measures have been employed, including a light-weight 12v battery, aluminium hood and tailgate, for example.
The Ioniq has the typical ‘wedge’ silhouette employed by five-door hatchback hybrids, as necessitated by reducing the drag coefficient of the design; the Ioniq boasts an impressive 0.24 drag coefficient. The car is “shaped by the wind” says Hyundai. It’s a smart looker and during our photo shoot, it attracted bystanders snapping away with their phones. One gentleman I spoke to was surprised that Hyundai made hybrids, and was very interested in this ‘different’ choice from the mainstream.
The Ioniq is available in many colours, but the Phoenix Orange of our test car looks the most striking, accentuated by the 17-inch alloys that say “Eco-car” but in a cool way. A little digging shows that 15-inchers are also available in other markets and offer a fuel saving advantage. Daytime running lamps and projector-esque headlamps complete the sharp looks, with the Bluedrive badge on the sides – it seems the colour Blue has become firmly entrenched with hybrid cars. There is a hint of Veloster about the design at the rear. The radiator grille features automatic flaps that adjust to manage the airflow to the engine compartment. You can get a sunroof on the Ioniq as an option too.
Overall, the design of the Ioniq is a cohesive blend of elements that complement each other well. It is a car that makes you do a double-take when you see its looks and then see the Hyundai badge on it, showing that the Koreans are really pushing hard to be relevant superpowers in the future of automobiles – just look at the popularity of Hyundai and sister brand Kia in the US market as proof!
Mechanicals & Technology
The Ioniq is powered by a 1.6 litre “Kappa” family GDI engine, which runs on the Atkinson cycle and delivers 105bhp and 148Nm of torque. It’s joined by an electric motor that delivers 43bhp and 169Nm of torque, for a system total of 139bhp and 264Nm of torque, driving through a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox with a manual mode (gearshift actuated). This compares well with the crop of Honda sport hybrids on our roads that have a system total of approx. 137bhp and seven-speed DCTs.
Braking is through discs all round (ventilated at the front), with regenerative braking helping charge the 1.56kWh battery that sits under the rear seats. The tank that holds the dyno juice (petrol) can hold 45L. The steering is via an electrically-assisted rack. Independent suspension is present all round (MacPherson at the front, multi-link at the rear) and I read that the rear dampers have been pushed further outwards in the pursuit of improving luggage space.
The Ioniq has the usual suite of traction and stability control, ABS with EBD and park assist systems, including factory-fit reverse camera with guide lines that turn with steering input. Cruise control is also present. The battery is mounted lower to reduce the centre of gravity.
The Driving Experience
On settling in, the seat fabric was the first thing that caught my attention. It’s a grippy sort of cloth-leather hybrid (which is said to be Eco-friendly) that keeps you quite comfy, and doesn’t promote sweating as some leathers do. An electric drivers seat (with welcome lumbar adjustment) is definitely one of the factors that helped me drive 312kms in a span of under twelve hours and not feel tired at the end. Thumb the start button and its like any other hybrid start-up – quiet, with only the AC fan disturbing the silence at times. Slide into D, release the foot-operated park brake and off you go. Initial impressions are that while the Ioniq is an eco-car, it does not have that “slip into top gear ASAP” ethos. The cluster shows you which gear the car is in at all times, and I was surprised (and pleased) to note that cruising at 40km/h, it showed D3, dropping even to D2 if I was behind a lane-hogging trishaw at 25km/h. In fact, when cruising on a road at 80km/h I noted that it was in D5 rather than D6! Kudos, Hyundai for programming your DCT to be more responsive rather than being a fuel-sipping dullard.
In typical eco-car fashion, throttle response is dulled here and you need to venture deep into the carpet to trigger a decent kickdown (but the car obliges once you do). I like that; putting the onus on the driver to be the final fuel-saving factor, rather than forcing him/her to accept whatever the car chooses. On a light throttle, if you release and then gently press again, the Ioniq slips into EV mode (if the battery has sufficient charge). The steering is light and easy to manoeuvre – my wife remarked that it was a very easy car to drive when I gave it to her to briefly try it out.
Time to check out Sport mode. Slip the lever to the S quadrant and the speedometer changes into a rev counter (redlined at 5,500rpm), the throttle response noticeably quickens and the transmission downshifts a gear or two. Floor it and a nice surge results, often with a bit of wheelspin if setting off from rest or turning at an intersection, while the traction control light flashes urgently at you. I’d say that this feels like a mid 9 second car in the 0-100km/h benchmark. The engine note is audible under load and comes across as a muted hum-roar combo – both the surge and the sound are a bit similar to the current crop of Honda hybrids (Fit/Grace/Vezel) when pushed hard – has Hyundai been drinking at the fountain of the VTEC gods? The manual shift mode is to the reverse of what we are accustomed to – push up to shift up, pull down to shift down. After a few minutes you get used to it.
Handling of the Ioniq is decent – it’s sportier than the competition, but still copes with potholes, manholes and speed humps, rounding off their hard edges. It corners decently and the body roll is less than you’d expect. Braking is strong too, with decent performance under an induced emergency braking application from triple figures, but loads of tyre squeal. Those 225-section tyres can be a bit vocal at times.
The Christmas Eve sun is beginning to touch the horizon as my wife and I joined the Southern Expressway at Gelanigama. Cruise control set at an indicated 100km/h, the Ioniq maintained the speed within a tight margin, and was not reluctant about using the available performance to get back up to speed on sudden up-crests. You can nudge the speed up and down with the steering controls for the cruise, and it was easy to overtake vehicles without touching any pedals. When more urge was called for, flooring it in ‘D’ was enough, but it was more fun to flick into ‘S’, downshift a gear or two and hear that engine roaring away as you flew past. I won’t mention the higher speeds I reached, but lets say it is more composed at high speeds than most Japanese metal, and closer to the composure of Euro metal. Another interesting snippet is that even at 100km/h, the Ioniq can cruise on the electric motor purely, as long as the battery has enough charge. This is a step up from the majority of hybrids that can only cruise up to 70 or 80km/h on electrons alone (Germans excepted). A little digging on Hyundai’s USA site claims it can do this trick up to 75mph (120km/h).
Overall, it’s a nice thing to drive. The controls have a positive, firm action to them, even the steering wheel buttons feel solid. As with this style of car, you see a split view in the rear-view mirror due to the rear tailgate design which takes some getting used to. If you are used to locking eyes with the impatient horning driver behind you, you can’t do that in the Ioniq as you will only be able to see his grille and bonnet – so helps quell road rage too! Also, you don’t feel speed much, so its easy to be going 60+ km/h on a normal road and not realize it. Parking the Ioniq back in my garage late that night, I felt a tinge of sadness that she was going back the next morning.
Living with it
The Ioniq is loaded to the hilt with kit. First of all, the fully digital instrument cluster can show you speed (or revs) depending on mode, battery charge, fuel level trip info, fuel economy, cruise info, engine temperature and also adjust the car’s myriad of settings such as the settings for the welcome lights, service intervals, warning sounds and other convenience factors. Too keep you and your pax cool, the Ioniq has dual-zone climate control (with rear AC vents), and a function called “Driver Only” that turns off all airflow to the passenger vents while keeping you chilled/warmed. Useful for when the driver needs AC, but your passenger doesn’t like any airflow. I really don’t recall seeing this on any other vehicle.
Multimedia is handled by a six-speaker radio system with CD player, Bluetooth, AUX and USB inputs that also shows reverse camera data when applicable. We played everything on it, from Ella Fitzgerald to The Eagles to Lou Bega to Luis Fonsi, and it coped very well. Sound quality is nice and smooth and you have a simple Bass/Treble adjustment, as opposed to a full equalizer. Phone integration (Android) worked very well too – when I got in to the car it auto connected after the first sync, and I could control the music, take calls, etc…from the steering wheel controls. The stereo has 700mb of space to store some tunes too. An Infinity system upgrade is an option in some markets.
I carried many passengers that day – my wife was my navigator and DJ throughout, my mum and dad, my in-laws and another test driver of ours (Ryan Jansz) all sampled the Ioniq. People from the age of 9 to 70 rode in it, and all liked it. Impressions were that it was an impressively smooth and quiet ride, the back seats are slightly harder than the front but supportive all around, and the interior was very spacious. The boot space of 443 litres was also remarked upon, and many were surprised when I lifted the boot floor and showed them the full-size spare wheel underneath – not something many hybrids can boast of.
Convenience factors include a spacious glovebox and centre console box with a dedicated USB charging port inside (there is also a 12v socket in the centre console), multiple cup and bottle holders, mirrors and lights behind the sun visors, rear armrest, split folding rear seat, luggage net and cover. In terms of design, it’s a well-designed interior that’s draped in different shades of plastic – you won’t find faux aluminium or fake wood here. The AC vents have nice blue surrounds that are a further nod to the hybrid blue theme. Oh, let’s not forget the Qi-enabled wireless charging pad for your compatible smartphone. The car will alert you if you leave the phone behind when exiting. Some blank buttons on the sides of the gearlever are for the optional heated and ventilated seats that some markets get.
As mentioned, the Ioniq has all the electronic nannies that come standard, plus smart key, central locking, automatic lights, rear park assist system and engine immobilizer. You also get seven airbags – front, side and curtain plus a knee airbag for the driver. The bodyshell is from high-strength steels and aluminium is employed for the bonnet and tailgate. The Ioniq scored a full five stars in the EuroNCAP testing regime. This included a 91% score in the Adult Occupant section, and 80% in the Child Occupant section. Pedestrians are decently protected too, with a 70% rating here. I really don’t see how much more you can top this package in this segment, unless you wrap the car in a giant ball of bubble wrap...
Fuel Economy & Price
Tester and close friend Avinda Perera recently sent me a Whatsapp picture of the instrument cluster in his Toyota Aqua (which also sports Ultra Racing strut bars), showing he consumed less than one litre of fuel on his Slave Island – Kottawa commute back home late one night. That’s over 20km/l! We all know that the Aqua and Prius are the hybrid kings when it comes to fuel economy.
However, the Ioniq can step into the ring and contend with them. On our 312 kilometre drive, it averaged 19.1km/l and that’s with no conscious economy driving. Several times I dropped it into Sport and floored it just for kicks. While the transmission doesn’t act in the typical eco style, the car engages the motor when possible and this no doubt helped. In heavy Colombo traffic I was achieving around 11km/l, which improved to 14km/l when things got less busy. When wringing out the engine in sport mode at the top of its rev range in first and second gears, I’d say around 7km/l can be expected.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room; price. The Ioniq retails at Rs. 9,950,000. This is due to our duty structure that is centred on engine capacity, and it’s the 1.6L engine that counts against it here. If only our policymakers could get their act together and start taxing cars in a more realistic fashion – surely this safe, fuel economical and yes, fun car that can carry five persons should be taxed lower than something with the integrity of a tuna can? They should stop looking at engine capacity as the sole metric and get their heads out of....OK, rant over. On the warranty side, you get a 3-year / 100,000km warranty, with two free services at 5,000 and 10,000kms.
I like the Ioniq. If it were priced a bit lower I would be looking at how I can get one for my wife, as I don’t want to replace my manual daily driver unless it’s with another manual. Hyundai have done a great job making a car that has the potential to shake up the segment. So if you are looking for a hybrid family car or a second car, head to Hyundai Lanka and have a look at the Ioniq. It’s definitely worth considering!
1,580cc GDI engine
105bhp @ 5,700rpm
148Nm @ 4,000rpm
6-speed Dual Clutch (DCT)
Front wheel drive
Suspension – MacPherson Strut
Brakes – Ventilated Disc
Tyres – 225/50 R17
Suspension – Multi Link
Brakes – Disc
Tyres – 225/50 R17
0-100km/h in 9.5 seconds
Top Speed 185km/h
Length – 4,470mm
Width – 1,549mm
Height – 1,460mm
Kerb Weight – 1,370kg
Fuel Tank – 45L
Boot Space – 443L