If you're familiar with Hyundai you already know the automaker's modus operandi: offer a similar (or superior) product at a lower price than the competition. The company has always been a price leader, though when it entered the U.S. market 30 years ago it quickly gained a "you get what you pay for" reputation. Throughout the 1990s I was as skeptical as anyone regarding Hyundai's quality. Then I drove a 2000 Elantra for a year as part of a long-term test. The car cost under $9,000, or about 20 percent less than competitive Japanese models, yet it performed flawlessly for 12 months and 20,000 miles. That's when I knew Hyundai had transformed itself from a price leader to a value leader.
Almost two decades later Hyundai's template remains the same: build a fully-competitive model and price it substantially less than the competition. The big difference between 2000 and today is Hyundai's ability to extend that philosophy to an advanced hybrid and electric car like the all-new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq. Yes, I said hybrid and electric car because the Hyundai Ioniq comes in both forms, with the Ioniq Hybrid further available as either a traditional hybrid or a plug-in version.
The standard Ioniq Hybrid has a 1.56 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery and 32 kilowatt (43 horsepower) motor tied to a 1.6-liter, 104 horsepower engine. Total output is 139 horsepower and its EPA estimated mixed fuel economy in the base "Blue" trim is 58 mpg, making it the most fuel-effient hybrid on the market. At 58 mpg the Ioniq Hybrid is 2 mpg better than the Toyota Prius Eco and 6 mpg better than the standard Prius. The Ioniq Hybrid's starting price is $23,035 while the Prius starts at $25,570 and the Prius Eco starts at $26,030. Superior performance, substantially lower price point. Sound familiar?
Stepping up to the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid nets you the same 1.6-liter, 104 horsepower engine, but now it's tied to a 45 kW (60 horsepower) motor and an 8.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged from the grid. The plug-in model can travel up to 27 miles in pure electric mode. Pricing and mpg figures haven't been released for the Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid yet, but it will reach showrooms in September.
The Ioniq Electric is a pure EV using an 88 kW (118 horsepower) motor powered by a 28 kWh battery. With a 124-mile range the Ioniq Electric has about half the range of the Chevrolet Bolt (238 miles), but Hyundai reps were quick to point out the Ioniq Electric's starting price of $30,335, or about $7,000 below the Bolt. Roll in another $10,000 in federal and state EV credits and you can get into an Ioniq Electric for right around $20,000. As Hyundai's reps put it, "You can get a fully-loaded Ioniq EV for less than the starting price of Chevrolet's Bolt."
Looking beyond the Ioniq's basic price and fuel efficiency specs is important because consumers are no longer impressed by high mpg figures alone. Alternative fuel vehicles remains a tiny sliver (roughly 3%) of the total U.S. car market. They're far from mainstream, and automakers looking to leverage hybrid and electric vehicles to meet ever-rising government mpg standards can't do it with cars that only appeal to 3% of the market. This is all compounded by the price of fuel that, when measured against inflation and cost-of-living figures, is about as cheap as it's ever been. Thus the following statement is more true than ever: Car companies can't just make an earth-friendly car. They have make a great car that also happens to be earth friendly.
So, is the new Hyundai Ioniq a great car?
It can certainly make some great claims, beyond being the most fuel-efficient hybrid available in the U.S. First, it's Hyundai's first dedicated "green" vehicle, meaning it was meant to be an alternative fuel vehicle from day one of the engineering process. This is also why the Ioniq can offer three unique powertrains, why its center of gravity is so low, why it's cabin volume is so high (it's got more interior space than the Prius or any EV on the market) and why its coefficient of drag is the best in the industry (0.24).
The Ioniq's internal combustion engine has the industry's highest thermal efficiency at 40%, and the Ioniq Electric has a 136 MPGe rating, the highest of any EV. It's also the first EV with a lifetime warranty on the battery. From a features standpoint the car boasts an impressive array of mechanical and electronic devices. It uses a dual-clutch, 6-speed transmission instead of the soul-sapping CVTs found in so many hybrids. It's got a standard 7-inch touchscreen, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and standard HD radio with SiriusXM satellite radio reception. A wide array of luxury and advanced safety features, from smart cruise control to LED headlights to a sunroof and a premium audio system, can be added to the Ioniq while keeping its price between $25,000 and $35,000.
Does all this add up to a car that can break through the non-greenies and appeal to mainstream consumers? That's a tough call to make in a market where gas is cheap and 63 percent of new vehicle sales go to trucks and SUVs. But the Ioniq's large interior space gives it SUV-like flexibility, and the dual-clutch transmission combines with a sporty suspension tune and impressive low-end torque (courtesy of those electric motors) to make it far more engaging than your standard hybrid or electric.
All of that doesn't guarantee Hyundai's Ioniq will resonate with average consumers, but it's got the best chance (along with Chevrolet's Bolt) of any alternative vehicle currently on the market.