IAIN ROBERTSON 

In a ‘made-you-look’ moment, Iain Robertson hopes to draw attention to a car that truly warrants it; a near-perfect can of ‘three-in-one’, by which EV, hybrid and PHEV choices are offered in a package that makes more sense than the popular Prius.

How many times have you happened upon something new and innovative, believing that it might become immensely popular, only for it to disappear without trace, when next you wanted to sample, or even buy it? There is a reason for it and it is tied-up in the inconvenience of happenstance; a condition affected by fashion, fads and fast-moving-consumer-goods, most of which are linked to the immediacy (or not) of fickle shopper demand…there is a lot of ‘Fs’ in there, linked to the final ‘F’, when you cannot obtain an example.

Perhaps that ‘F’ can become a ‘PH’ by quirk of English language and pronunciation, which happens to be the first two initials of this latest Hyundai Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle that also happens to be called Ioniq? It is my sincerest hope that motoring consumers, who are driving fewer miles but eking extra MPG from every tankful these days, will not do to Ioniq what they did to the Veloster, a genuinely good looking, if quirky, coupe possessing a driver’s single door but two passenger access points on its nearside flank. It lasted less than ten minutes in the whole scheme of things…sadly.

Before launching into the PHEV, let me attempt to explain Ioniq to you. It is, in a strangely God-like Trinity manner, three separate models in one. One is Electric, one is Hybrid and the other is Plug-in Hybrid; identifiable separately by different alloy wheel, frontal aspect and badge styling details. In other words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the automotive scene, without wishing to delve too deeply into sacrilege. It ought to receive a Papal blessing (as all new Fiats once used to, such was the pulling potency of the Agnelli dynasty!), which might aid its future prosperity.

Despite the troubled times in which we live, by which a metaphorical feeding of the 5,000 might be regarded as preferable to worrying about the rising costs of consumer goods, an undoubted market transformation has been taking place of late, if not entirely of biblical proportions. The march of the alternative fuel brigade is being led by a Band of Christian Soldiers (music by Arthur Sullivan) in a comic opera conducted by governments needing and demanding zero emissions vehicles. The uptake of EVs is increasing daily, despite tumbling retail sales of conventional transport.

Yet, the consumer remains confused, which should not come as much of a surprise really. Still, choice has seldom been greater, even though it remains somewhat limited. While companies are drawn towards saving a few bob, not just to save their bottom-lines but also to make life less expensive for their BIK-paying, company car-driving staff, their uptake rates of any of the choices offered by Hyundai in the Ioniq remain at a modest ebb. Mind you, they are not exactly clamouring for Nissan Leaf EVs, or Toyota Priuses either, as most of those movements seem to be towards active-retireds, living off a fat enough pension to enable the acquisition of a heftily price-tagged ‘eco-car’, because (firstly) they can afford it and (secondly) they like to be perceived as ‘doing their bit’. To the rest, a lack of available, well-promoted information ensures that sales, rentals and total acquisitions remain in single-figure percentages’ territory, a factor not helped by sky-high recommended retail prices.

However, Hyundai cannot be said to be doing anything less than aiding the conversion necessary from the heathenism of fossil fuels’ consumption, to the clean-and-green hedonism of hybrid. I love hybrids. I always have. Until a true ‘alternative fuel’ becomes available, my heart lies in a petrol pump. It could reside in a diesel one, were the issues of invisible pollutants not so reportedly prevalent. Yet, I await the day when a chemically-formulated alternative that does not rely on the excavation of coal, or the sucking dry of Mother Earth’s oil-filled paps, becomes available, although I fear it will not happen in my lifetime.

Yet, hybrid technology, eked out by engaging petrol power with self-generated electricity remains a star turn. Since the arrival of plug-in technology, in the Ioniq’s case, creating a 30 to 35-miles pure EV range, while the genuine ‘well-to-wheel’ environmental footprint might not be as optimised as it could be, the educational value is high. Driving the Ioniq PHEV reveals that life-with-an-EV can be amusing, while lacking the battery life and range anxiety of pure EVs. The fact that a single overnight charge can enable an office commute, or Saturday shopping trip, or delivering the offspring to nursery/school, or the 9.00am service at the local synagogue can be carried out with halo-intactness is much to Hyundai’s credit.

The Ioniq PHEV targets total efficiency as its primary aim. In using a 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to a six-speed twin-clutch automated gearbox (complete with steering wheel paddles) optimised for fuel frugality, rather than the larger 1.8-litre of the Prius (complete with whiney CVT), or the 2.0-litre of sister brand Kia Optima (with a 6-speed auto-box), 60mpg is well within the reach of 99% of Ioniq drivers, when the 35bhp battery needs a boost. However, factor in the EV mode and, while the officially stated 256.8mpg Combined figure might be in cloud-cuckooland, its CO2 emissions of 26g/km are taxation-tantalisingly low. To be fair, around 75-80mpg should be within the reach of most Ioniq daily drivers, using a mix of hybrid power, which is a most welcome aspect worth clinging to. The Ioniq can clock the 0-60mph dash in around 10.3 seconds, before reaching a maximum velocity of 110mph.

More importantly, the Ioniq is affordable, weighing in at £29,860 in Premium SE trim, which is around £5,000 less than the aforementioned Toyota, which shares a similar style profile but is also markedly uglier than the pleasing-to-the-eye Ioniq. At the risk of corrupting a biblical expression, ‘If thine eye affects thee, then pluck it out!’; no need to resort to such extremes with Hyundai.

Packed with fascinating features both inside and out, the Ioniq is not merely well-proportioned but is moderately accommodating too. However, I am not suggesting that it is without negative issues. The rear-view is obscured by a transverse ‘spoiler’ bar running across the rear pane and the three-quarter, over-the-shoulder view is not brilliant, although the large, electrically adjustable and folding door mirrors do compensate in part. In seeking to provide a ‘stadium’ seating position in the rear, an aspect not helped by underfloor, Lithium-ion polymer battery storage that robs space in the boot too, while children will be moderately comfortable back there, adults need to be less than 5 feet 5 inches tall to be accommodated. The boot does offer some below-floor slots for valuables but the various cables (one for roadside fast-charge plug-in, the other for domestic, three-pin ‘emergency’ supply), while stashed in neatly logo’d bags, must sit atop the boot floor. Not very convenient.

The interior décor is pleasant, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces and attractive highlights, such as the passé blue rings around the instruments and air-vents. Of course, the electronic dials ahead of the driver are configurable, in typical hybrid manner, by dabbing on the appropriate steering wheel button, of which there are plenty to become familiar with. The touch-screen in the centre of the dashboard will suffer from the customary greasy fingerprints but a less reflective surface means that it is legible when the sun is behind the car. It is all very neatly laid-out and, despite a plethora of buttons, which do present a more up-market image, familiarity soon breeds and searching for USBs and power sockets (there is also a useful, wireless induction charge pad for the mobile-phone built into the storage slot ahead of the gear selector) is very easy.

Equipment levels are high, including heated, ventilated and electrically adjustable front seats, hide upholstery, dual-zone climate control, auto-on wipers and lights, puddle lamps, heated steering wheel rim, rear camera and guidance system, sat-nav and connectivity galore.

It is worth highlighting that, in EV mode, the Ioniq will pull strongly up slopes, without kicking-in the petrol engine, although when the car needs to top-up its battery pack (using the over-run and brake energy recovery system), it happens painlessly and quietly. What’s more, the Ioniq is eminently drivable, feeling as much at home being pedalled along country lanes, as it is cruising on motorways. Its relative ‘normality’ is the key to its potential success. Its ride quality is sublime, considering it runs on compromising ‘eco-tyres’ and the steering feels connected to the front wheels, as it should but seldom does on eco models. The pure electric Ioniq replaces the multi-link rear suspension of the PHEV with a simpler set-up, due to its enlarged battery pack, that harms both ride and handling of the car, which creates another case for acquiring a PHEV instead.

Interestingly, as only the second brand that I have tested that features semi-autonomous steering (the new Volvo models have it), I was able to demonstrate how the car self-steers around bends and maintains station between road-lines, although a completely hands-off situation results in a bleep warning and on-screen display suggesting that the steering-wheel sensor detects a lack of contact…well, sampling the Steering Assist was worth the effort. It is part of a typically growing array of advanced technology that signifies a future of driverless ‘joy’ and will be incorporated on an increased number of new cars soon.

Potential Ioniq PHEV owners will be delighted to note that no less than 10 years’ worth of sat-nav map updates are included in the price, as are a five years unlimited mileage warranty, five years roadside assistance and eight years (125,000 miles) of battery warranty.

Conclusion:   Wearing an eco-warrior’s halo is not essential attire for the buyer of an Hyundai Ioniq PHEV. Yet, the ‘plug-in’ designation on the hatchback will surely make followers inquisitive. In truth, there is little to dislike about the car and business-users receive benefits galore that regular motorcars cannot provide. It is handsome, provides a relaxing drive and performs strongly, with a useable range in excess of 450-miles from its hybrid drive system. I really like the car but I worry that the people who should like it will simply never comprehend it and Ioniq may be saying ‘Hello’ to its former Veloster stablemate, when it is elevated eventually to Heaven and its after-life.

 

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).