2017 Hyundai Ioniq First Drive

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Even the strongest dynasties eventually fall, and this year the hybrid electric vehicle throne no longer belongs to the Toyota Prius. The all-new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid raises the bar with an incredible EPA-rated 58 mpg combined (57 city/59 highway), besting the former champion by a decisive 6 mpg.

The Ioniq won't have quite the cannonball entrance it had hoped for, however, thanks to consistently low gas prices and the continued popularity of crossovers. Then again, there's more to Hyundai's strategy than just the standard Ioniq hybrid hatchback.

Shortly after the Ioniq hybrid goes on sale, Hyundai will begin to roll out an all-electric version of the Ioniq with a range of 124 miles and an EPA rating of 136 miles per gallon equivalent. Then, in late 2017, a plug-in version of the Ioniq hybrid will join the lineup that can travel up to 27 miles on electric power alone. That will make the Ioniq lineup a formidable trio of efficiency and practicality that few automakers will be able to match.


Ioniq Propulsion, Three Ways
The Ioniq hybrid and plug-in hybrid models feature a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that develops 104 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque. A permanent magnet motor slots in between the engine and a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, which then sends power to the front wheels.The duo's combined peak output is a modest 139 hp, though with 125 lb-ft of instantly available torque from the electric motor, the Ioniq leaves the line in a brisk and smooth fashion.

The dual-clutch automatic transmission is a great choice on Hyundai's part, and likely its best execution of the transmission to date. Gear changes are executed with crisp efficiency and the pairing with the electric motor avoids any unrefined low-speed clutch engagement issues. Compared to continuously variable transmissions used in most hybrids, the dual-clutch transmission here is far more engaging and pleasant.

The Ioniq EV is equipped with a more powerful 88-kW electric motor making the equivalent of 118 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent through a single-speed transmission to drive the front wheels. One interesting feature on the Ioniq EV is steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Though, instead of changing gears, the paddles are used to increase or decrease the amount of regenerative braking on coast down. There are four levels of regen, the strongest of which doesn't deliver quite enough aggressive braking to allow you to drive solely with the accelerator — a practice referred to in automotive parlance as "one-pedal driving."


Leaving Lead-Acid Behind
The lithium-ion batteries of the Ioniq are located underneath the rear seat, which frees up space for the cargo area and puts the battery weight lower to the ground for favorable handling and stability. Hyundai also did away with the conventional 12-volt lead-acid battery, building it into the same underseat lithium-ion stack. This alone saves 26 pounds, according to Hyundai, not to mention the chunk of space where the clunky conventional battery would have lived.

So what happens if you leave a dome light on and accidentally drain the 12-volt battery that's buried under the seat? Well, there is still access to the 12-volt battery's positive terminal from under the hood. But the Ioniq hybrid goes one step further and features a brilliant battery reset button in the cabin that enables you to jump-start yourself using the bigger lithium-ion pack. That's right, you can now resurrect your own car battery with the push of a button. And those hybrid batteries will always have juice due to their programmed charge strategies.

The Ioniq plug-in hybrid's 8.9-kWh battery, if fully depleted, will charge in 2 hours and 30 minutes off a Level 2 (220/240-volt) station, while the Ioniq EV's 28-kWh battery requires 4 hours 25 minutes off the same charger. The EV also comes standard with DC fast charging capability using the Combined Charging System, which will get you to 80 percent of full charge in 23 to 30 minutes, dependent on the fast charger being 100 kW or 50 kW.

Highlights and Shortfalls
We drove a midlevel trim Ioniq Hybrid SEL and premium trim Ioniq Electric Limited and found the interiors to be comfortable in all the critical areas. Bio-based plastic lines the upper door trims and provides a nice soft-touch surface, while a flat-bottomed steering wheel, one of the nicest we've seen from Hyundai, is wrapped with soft leather and is pleasantly ergonomic. Both of these details go far to improve the interior's overall sense of quality.

If you're a fan of active safety features, you'll find many of the popular ones available in the Ioniq. This includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist, a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and adaptive (swiveling) headlights. Of note, in order to bring the car to a full stop and hold, Hyundai's adaptive cruise control system requires an electronic parking brake. It's a standard feature of the Ioniq EV, but the hybrid models don't have an electronic brake and will slow just shy of the point of stopping.

The Ioniq line falls short of expectations in a few areas. The amount of road noise that penetrates the cabin from the underfloor is enough to make you want to turn the radio up a bit. Rear visibility is compromised by the short rear window. And although this segment of hybrids isn't known for speed, we wish the Ioniq had a little more punch for highway-merging confidence.

Lastly, after driving EVs such as the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt, we have to admit we enjoy the experience of one-pedal driving. It simplifies driving inputs and assuages the strain of commuting more than you'd imagine, and is also the best way to maximize the amount of energy you recoup during deceleration.


What Does It Cost?
Ioniq Hybrid pricing starts at $23,035 for the high-efficiency Blue model that delivers the highest mpg number. From there, it's $24,785 for the midlevel SEL and $28,335 for the Limited. The Ioniq Electric will be available in two grades ranging from $30,335 for the base Electric to $33,335 for the Limited (before a $7,500 federal tax credit). No pricing is available on the plug-in hybrid coming out the fourth quarter of 2017, so stay tuned.

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