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2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid SEL Review

03/26/2018

Shahed Hussain

Hyundai has not been a player among hybrid vehicles, but global government mandates have driven most manufacturers to add gasoline hybrids to their lineups. The Prius is undoubtedly the best known vehicle in this class, so Hyundai's first serious effort to take on the Toyota led to the new Ioniq. Pricing for the 2017 Ioniq is especially affordable, ranging from $22,200 (Blue) to $27,500 (Limited). We tested a midlevel 2017 Ioniq SEL ($23,950). The total MSRP added up to $24,960 including carpeted floor mats ($125) and the $595 destination charge. Notable standard equipment includes, power driver's seat, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 7-inch LCD instrument display.

As with many other compact hybrids, the Ioniq is powered by an Atkinson-Cycle inline-4, adopted for its high fuel efficiency. The all-aluminum 1.6L is rated at 104-hp @ 5,700 RPM and 109 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 RPM. A 32kW permanent magnet electric motor supplies another 125 lb.-ft. of torque; total system power in 139 hp. A 240V, 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack is connected to the electric motor. Although other hybrids use CVTs (continuously variable transmissions), Hyundai chose a 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox for the Ioniq. Hyundai fuel consumption estimates are 57/59 MPG (city/hwy.). During our December test period, we averaged a less impressive 33-53 MPG, depending on trip duration. We would expect lower fuel consumption in warmer weather.

The Ioniq's suspension is the typical MacPherson front struts with an independent multi-link setup in the rear. Brakes are discs front and rear with ABS and Electronic Stability Control (ESC). Standard 15-inch diameter alloy wheels are shod with Michelin Energy Saver 195/65R15 tires. The optional 17-inch alloys with 225/45R17 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires should improve handling and braking performance. A motor-driven power steering system is standard. Curb weight ranges from 2,996-3,115 lbs. depending on equipment.

Inside the Ioniq, Hyundai carefully designed an interior with an emphasis on value. The digital gauges show the hybrid system status in detail and encourage efficient driving habits. Dual 12V outlets on the console are convenient for charging portable electronics. Although a navigation system is unavailable, Android Auto and Apple Car Play can provide navigation capabilities via connected smartphones.

The Ioniq's seats heated front seats warmed up fast on chilly winter mornings, a much appreciated amenity in northern latitudes. Both front seats have 6-way adjustability; the driver's seat also gets lumbar support. Leather upholstery is available in the Ioniq Limited. Front seat comfort is acceptable, but the flat cushions are not especially supportive. The rear seat cushion is too firm, and frankly uncomfortable. Both front and rear seat legroom are acceptable for passengers up to 6 ft. tall.

Many hybrid cars have been criticized for unimpressive driving dynamics, especially models optimized for maximum fuel efficiency. Hyundai recognized that the Ioniq must perform like its other non-hybrid competition. So instead of a droning CVT, the dual-clutch transmission shifts just like other transmissions in compact cars. The gearbox has two driving modes: Normal and Sport. We found that Normal mode resulted in acceleration so sluggish that keeping up with typical urban traffic was difficult. Switching to the Sport mode improved low speed acceleration significantly as the added torque from the electric motor launched the Ioniq rapidly from a standing start. On the highway, passing other cars in Normal mode meant a leisurely wait as the hybrid powertrain slowly responded to the throttle. Instead, we usually switched to Sport mode to get an extra torque boost from the electric motor.

Hyundai makes no pretense that the Ioniq is a sporty hybrid, so the suspension tuning favors a compliant ride over most road surfaces. A solid body structure ensures that creaks and rattles are nonexistent. Added sound insulation would reduce the significant road and tire noise at highway speeds, at the cost of increased weight. The Michelin Energy Saver tires are optimized for low rolling resistance, so we were unsurprised at the mediocre snow traction. Moderate understeer encourages the driver to take it slow and steady around curves. The Ioniq's disc brakes are assisted by using the motor as a generator to charge the battery. At low speeds, the brake regeneration tapers off, so added brake pedal effort is needed.

As Hyundai's first dedicated hybrid, the Ioniq is an impressive effort. Pricing the Ioniq just under the Prius with similar fuel efficiency should get the attention of potential customers. The real issue for the hybrid segment is low fuel prices in the US, which has shifter buyer interest to midsize and large SUVs. Unless the cost of gasoline rises significantly, the Ioniq and other hybrids will continue to be niche vehicles.