Hyundai Ioniq

Debut: 2016
Maker: Hyundai
Predecessor: No

 Published on 20 Jul 2016
All rights reserved. 

Toyota Prius has been around for nearly 2 decades and achieved unprecedented sales success. Strangely, nobody followed its footprints to build a dedicated hybrid family car. Now Hyundai group finally breaks the silence by introducing not one but two hybrids. One is Hyundai Ioniq, another is Kia Niro. As the latter is designed as an SUV – although both sit on the same platform – AutoZine can only concentrate on the Hyundai.

Depending on your viewpoint, you may call Hyundai Ioniq as “Prius fighter” or copycat. The Korean giant seems to have studied Prius very hard before designing its own version. Take the exterior styling for example, its monospace shape clearly follows the Prius to enable the same low drag coefficient of 0.24. Like the Toyota as well, its raised tail needs a glass section to aid rearward visibility. I suspect these visual similarities are made deliberately to promote its hybrid image. The Ioniq also shares the same 2700 mm wheelbase with its rival. However, it is slightly shorter, wider and lower, so it looks sportier and less sleek than the latest Prius. The detailed design is more angular but disappointingly conventional, lacking the Sc-Fi effect of the new Prius. Likewise, the interior design is conventional to the extent that indistinguishable from other production Hyundais. On the flipside, it should be more intuitive to drivers migrating from conventional cars.

Like Toyota,
the quality of cabin plastics is so-so in order to offset the cost of its hybrid powertrain, so it doesn’t feel as premium as the i-series Hyundais. Cabin space is slightly tighter than Prius, especially rear legroom. The sloping roofline restricts rear passengers to sub-6-footers. No wonder while Prius is sold as a D-segment family car, the Ioniq targets at C-segment family hatch buyers.

The steel monoque body has a high-strength steel content of 53 percent, whereas front and rear crash beams are aluminum. It is dressed with aluminum bonnet and tailgate like the Prius to cut weight. Aluminum is also used to cast the suspension wheel carriers and front suspension lower control arms. The suspensions are struts up front and multi-link setup at the rear. The base Ioniq tips the scale at 1370 kg, again the same as its rival.

Like the latest Prius, the heavy battery pack is placed underneath the rear seat in front of the fuel tank to lower center of gravity and improve front-to-rear balance. While Toyota offers NiMH pack on the base model, Ioniq has Lithium-ion battery standard across its range.

More differences lie on the powertrain. The Hyundai employs a 1.6 GDi Atkinson-cycle Kappa engine, whose combustion chambers are seriously undersquare (72mm bore x 97mm stroke), said to improve thermal efficiency. The latter is claimed to be 40 percent, matching the new Prius. Despite of its smaller capacity, the Hyundai's high-pressure direct injection allows it to extract higher output (105 hp) than the Toyota (98 hp). Its 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox also responds faster than Toyota's CVT.

Sandwiching between the engine and DCT is a slim permanent magnet motor, which produces another 43.5 hp. It is significantly less powerful than the Toyota's (72 hp), so its petrol engine kicks in earlier, and the car runs in EV mode less frequently. This is perhaps why its NDEC combined consumption is 83 mpg and CO2 emission is 79g/km, compared with Toyota’s 94 mpg and 70g/km. In terms of efficiency, the Toyota is still the master.

On the road, despite of the superior combined output of 141 hp and 195 lbft, the Ioniq doesn’t feel much faster than the Prius. It still takes 10 seconds to sprint from standstill to 60 mph, while top speed is limited to 115 mph. Its weaker electric motor means not much sensation off the line. Nevertheless, this is still a more enjoyable powertrain than Toyota’s because the DCT gearbox has none of the rubberband effect of CVT. It enables a more linear acceleration and reduces engine noise in harder acceleration, even though the engine itself is by no means a good example for refinement.

Despite the high expectation for multi-link suspension, the chassis is rather unremarkable in the real world. The suspension setting is soft thus there is a lot of body motions in corner. Turn-in is relaxed, lacking the agility of the latest Prius. The numb electric power steering has a dead spot at the straight-ahead position. Turn either side and it weighs up abruptly. There is a Sport button but it adds only weight to the steering and nothing more. The soft suspension returns mostly compliant ride, but on the largest 17-inch wheels it can transmit a lot of shocks and noise over expansion joints on highway to the cabin structure, hampering the sense of refinement. Overall, its ride and handling leaves a lot to be desired.

Why does the above Ioniq has a sealed front grille? It is Ioniq Electric. In fact, the Ioniq platform is possible for 3 different powertrains – the aforementioned Ioniq Hybrid employs a 1.56kWh battery; Ioniq Plug-in upgrades to a 8.9kWh battery for a 50-km range before the petrol engine kicks in; Ioniq Electric is a pure EV, powered by a 28kWh battery and a 120 hp electric motor. It claims a range of 174 miles (280 km). The instant torque of 217 lbft actually makes the car feel faster than the Hybrid, and refinement is much improved by the lack of engine noise. As the large battery pack is mounted low (under the rear seats and boot which also robs the space for multi-link suspension, so it turns to a space-saving torsion-beam axle), it has a lower center of gravity thus corner better. The smaller wheels and tires it employs also returns slightly better ride comfort, although no Ioniq could be described as the last word for refinement.

The Electric is more expensive, of course. In UK, it costs £29,000 before government incentives, whereas the base Ioniq Hybrid costs only £20,000. Still, both cars represent great value for money. The cheapest Prius asks for £23,000, but it is also a better finished product – roomier, more refined, more frugal, more distinctive to look and slightly better to drive. What Toyota learned in the last 2 decades is not easy to be replicated by the first attempt of Hyundai, even though the latter has taken the shortcut by copying a lot of ideas from Toyota.

Length / width / height

Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Ioniq Hybrid
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Steel, aluminum
4470 / 1820 / 1450 mm
2700 mm
Inline-4, Atkinson-cycle + electric motor
1580 cc
DOHC 16 valves
105 hp + 44 hp = 141 hp
108 lbft + 125 lbft = 195 lbft
6-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
1370 kg
115 mph (c)
10.2 (c) / 8.9*
Ioniq Electric
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Steel, aluminum
4470 / 1820 / 1450 mm
2700 mm
Electric motor

120 hp
217 lbft
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1420 kg
103 mph (c)
9.3 (c) / 8.6*

Performance tested by: *C&D

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