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Faster, funner, cuter, cheaper: Ioniq runs rings around Prius

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

Updated: Saturday, October 7, 2017, 3:01 AM

2017 IONIQ HEV

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Blue: Has real economy finally come to the masses?

Price: $23,160 as tested (no options on test vehicle).

Marketer’s pitch: “The hybrid without compromise.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that it’s “quicker, cheaper, and better-looking than a Prius, and equally efficient” but not that it’s “hardly thrilling, needs a little more driveline refinement.”

Reality: Beating Toyota at its own game.

Bare bones: There’s nothing like a stripped-down test car to really make an auto writer get a sense of the car underneath it all. And what better way to try Hyundai’s new Ioniq hybrid hatchback? Cloth seats, basic infotainment, and simple heater controls hearkened Mr. Driver’s Seat back to the days of yore — 2012 or so.

What’s new: The Ioniq offers little that hasn’t been around for years in hybrids — a four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor that captures brake pedal energy to recharge the battery and help conserve fuel economy. There’s no worry about plugging in the test model, as there’s no cord for the Ioniq yet (although that’s planned for 2018).

The shape of things: The Ioniq even borrows the wind-cheating profile of the Prius, with the split rear window interfering with rear visibility but reducing drag and saving fuel.

The little Hyundai shares its underpinnings with the Kia Niro and offers a lesson in weight and shape. The Niro weighs in at 3,106 pounds and it’s shaped rather like a Soul; the Ioniq weighs in at 2,996 pounds and is shaped like a Prius. Write these numbers down for later reference. There will be a quiz.

Shifty: But it’s not all copying off the other guys. The Ioniq offers shiftophiles a real, honest-to-goodness six-speed shiftable automatic transmission. There’s no feeling to old-timers like controlling the gears — and thus the power — of the engine and using it to improve performance and economy just to our liking.

Up to speed: The 139 combined horsepower from a 1.6-liter engine and 32 kW motor doesn’t make a rocket out of the Ioniq, but the little car certainly runs rings around the Prius for fun. Switch the gearshift to the shiftable side, and a Sport light comes on and the nice car gets a little peppy.

I put the Ioniq to the test in a couple pullout situations and some passing spots and found that it could run with the medium dogs, if not the big ones. Car and Driver reports a 0-to-60 time of 8.9 seconds, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Fuel economy: But let’s let cooler heads prevail. We’re here to conserve fuel, and even despite these harsh tests, I still observed 52 mpg in a highway-heavy round of driving. (High-speed conditions are less than ideal for hybrids because they don’t make the most of regenerative braking.)

The Kia Niro averaged 42 mpg in similar Mr. Driver’s Seat testing.

On the road: Country roads were not exactly fun, but the little car handled them with aplomb. The batteries certainly add to the cornering, by pulling the weight of the car down to the wheels.

2017 IONIQ HEV

Driver’s Seat: The bare-bones cloth interior sported seats that felt like those in the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat’s old Kia Soul Base. They were always comfortable, and the breathable fabric never made me long for cooled jets. Plenty of support also made long drives not uncomfortable, and the manual adjustments worked just fine.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat in the Ioniq is not roomy, but a 5-foot-10 passenger could sit behind a driver of the same size in reasonable comfort.

The cargo bay holds 26.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up, an astounding number for such a small car.

Outside: And you don’t even have to wince when you look at it. Unlike the lightning-lighted Prius, the Ioniq is even kind of cute.

Play some tunes: The bare-bones stereo still featured Apple CarPlay and a Hyundai navigation system. A row of buttons changed radio source while dials controlled volume and tuning. Everything else happened via touchscreen.

The sound was not top notch, but certainly in the B+/A- range, and actually A range when factoring in the cost of the car.

Night shift: The standard arrangement of the dashboard, with the gauges on the left and radio in the center, made night driving easier than a recent run in the Prius Prime, with its center high gauges and large, bright infotainment center.

Where it’s built: Ulsan, South Korea.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts a 3 out of 5 for the Ioniq’s reliability.

In the end: Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Ioniq bonded. And with plug-in capability near, the only sound you may hear while driving on the road would be Prius owners gasping.

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

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