Hyundai Ioniq: Sparking up an interest

Hyundai’s Ioniq has landed in hybrid and full electric vehicle formats. Which makes the better sense – and do either of them feel like real cars?
Tuesday February 14, 2017

By Richard Bosselman

SNOW melt from the multitude of mountains feeds the hydro schemes that churn out more than 80 percent of our nation's electricity.

Electricity is the lifeblood of Hyundai’s blockbuster first utterly bespoke, factory-supplied electric vehicle, the Ioniq.

You might therefore presume intent to stage, in mountain-surrounded Queenstown, the media drive launch of hybrid and wholly battery-propelled editions of the world’s first car to be offered with three battery-involved powertrain options was an intention to segue a car whose names hints at ions with primary source.

Apparently not. Rather, Hyundai just wanted somewhere with nice scenery and a good vibe.

Coming here had one drawback. For all its positives, the tourist trap could also be an EV quagmire. The focus on installing quick chargers for these cars presently sensibly favours State Highway One so, from what I can glean, the closest embedded public fast charger to where we are is in Dunedin, 282kms’ away (so, at least, 60kms further than the Ioniq might reasonably be expected to achieve in real world driving at reasonable clip).

Queenstown, for now, has no public rechargers whatsoever; in fact, there were no commercially-operated spots, either, until Hyundai put one into their local service agency as a prep for their launch event, having identified that the alternate – simply plugging the half dozen launch cars into normal household plugs – could well have led to this three-day exercise going embarrassingly flat (because from-empty replenishment by this method takes most of a day).

Even with this all covered, there’s still a perception to overcome. Most EV brands tend to spruik their stuff in urban settings simply to support an obvious logic about this being the best environ for what they do. That emphatic city-centricity is certainly enforced with the BMW i3 and Renault Zoe, the two passenger EVs that have kept the sector alive until now.

Hyundai New Zealand, however, reckons Ioniq EV owners needn’t feel so constrained. They want them to run free on the open road, too.

Obviously, some of this reflects the patent size and dynamic logic more than one concerning range, which is much of muchness between all three contenders.

Being at least 40mm longer and a bit wider than the BMW and Renault, with proper five-seater capacity and a boot that still looks decent even though the suitcase-sized recharge cable bag – being slap bang on the middle of the load space - is an awkwardly-located permanent fixture, it is a true medium car.

But does it have the commensurate driving feel? We’d determine an answer to this ‘have plug, will cope’ ethos, given the outing of 170kms that the brand planned for us turned out to be almost urban-phobic.

In the hours of driving, barely 10 minutes each way were on Queenstown’s congested streets, and only then because it was an unavoidable transit from one end of the town to the other.

Otherwise we were on open road – even gravel - to Kinloch Lodge at the far end of Lake Wakatipu and return, attacking curves, corners, hills and ascents along the lake front in the company of a horde of visiting tourists who kept things entertaining by undertaking all the madcap touristy things you read about, including halting without warning on the downward side of a blind crest because they wanted to take a photograph of the always stunning vista.

The distance and terrain was easy fare for the hybrids, of course, and all but one of the EVs came through with at least 25 percent charge in hand. The exception ran 4kms close to battery exhaust but only because was in a video shoot which required umpteen drive-by shots.

Driving the EV to Kinloch Lodge then returning to our hotel in the petrol-prioritised hybrid which made for interesting comparison about how different these models are.

You won’t pick much difference in exterior look – the EV has a mask where the petrol requires a grille, and they run on different-sized wheels and tyres (195/65 R15 for the hybrid, and 225/45 17s on the Elite-spec EV) – and even inside the basic layouts are identical.

Hyundai’s big on ‘grey-with-grey and a touch of grey’ colour schemes, but there is some – but only some - daring in the Ioniq. One car I drove had some nice, if fake, brass-look highlights on the air vent surrounds. It’s not a car dressed to particularly high standards of luxury, but neither does it look obviously cheap, save for the usual blight of vinyl-look leather. It’s disappointing that it has been made to look so car-like inside. I’m not asking for a Star Trek approach, but it’s a pity you don’t see the innovative thinking in respect to design and materials that makes the i3 cockpit all the more inviting.

Wide, low-set and slightly soft seats, same steering wheel and basic console, though instrumentation differs, with the EV throwing up a lot more info in respect to battery usage.

Look for the gear shifter and you’ll only find it – and, for that matter, a proper gearbox – in the hybrid. To get the EV motivated requires nothing more than pressing ‘R’ and ‘D’ buttons, with ‘P’ for when you park up. It also has a larger LCD screen and a busier secondary display on the instrument panel.

In our car, the data was predominantly in imperial measurement, so everything measured in ‘miles per’ rather than kms.

Huh? Well, it’s the necessary outcome of an interesting story. See, originally, Australia and New Zealand were going to take the same cars, in the same spec. But then the Aussies got cold feet about the full battery model. So that left the Kiwi side, which of course is the minnow volume-wise, in a bit of predicament. In theory, they’d just lost access to a model they’d already committed to.

Salvation came from the Irish. The Green Isles is also taking the EV, and as luck would have it, the spec was pretty much as the Kiwi lot wanted it. So we’ve got ‘their’ car, which makes for some unavoidable compromises (the indicator and wiper switches are reversed and the sat nav is unusable until some mapping issues has been sorted out).

You needn’t worry about trying to explain to police why 100 on the speedo was clocked at 160 on the road. Our car was the first demo model delivered to NZ so couldn’t be provided with the metric speedo and trip computer that we’re assured will go to showroom stock.

So how’d it go? At start the car was registering a range of 114 miles (183km). By arrival at Kinloch, we’d travelled 82km. Two thirds of this distance in the default economy setting – but with air con working at its ‘proper’ rather than eco setting, albeit at low fan speed – because the tourist traffic was such there was no opportunity to entertain what we would call reasonable clip. Fortunately, the majority of visitors to our land didn’t want to go beyond Glenorchy, so from thereon it was a faster trip. Quick enough to encourage use of the Sport mode, which as you’d expect optimises performance at greater expense of battery life.

That operation resulted in energy being consumed for the entire trip at an average rate of 4.5 miles (7.2km) per kilowatt hour and the estimated range had reduced to 111km.

Is that Green enough for you? Hyundai NZ doesn’t actually claim an optimum best economy, but in other markets it is supposed to be good for 4.7 kilometres per kWh, albeit on an urban beat, and patently we were nowhere that. Then again, lab test results are almost always impossible to beat.

Anyway, at point of handover, it was interesting to note that the car had calculated that, were we to have there and then sought electrical replenishment, it would have to draw down household power for two hours to get back to full strength.

That’s the least efficient way, however. Hyundai itself believes owners will seek out a full-blown commercial fast charger – in which case, replenishment from empty takes just 30 minutes – when they’re out and about or, if drawing from the household supply, do so with their specially-sorted, locally-developed home recharger which does the job in a matter of several hours. Provisioned for $1500, with installation estimated to cost no more than $1000, that’s the set-up installed at the Queenstown garage.

In terms of driving feel, neither is going to easily convert a petrolhead in an instant, but that was never the point with this car.

The EV is unavoidably more artificial than the hybrid. Being set up for regenerative return, the brakes are very wooden and quite grabby because it’s set up to harvest kinetic energy for the battery.

Actually, unless you specifically set it up to coast as a power-saving – worth using because it has very little rolling resistance - it will start to self-slow from the moment you release the throttle, which can make for a porpoise-like progress until you realise what is going on. Alternately, it asks for very little throttle pressure to maintain even progress.

In fairness though, the hybrid does not go out to be anything like the world’s most entertaining driving machine, either. The current Elantra and i30 will seem far more involving.

The petrol-assisted Ioniq’s steering has a bit more weight and, with engine braking and gears to work through, it does have more of an orthodox driving feel. Yet only to a point.

The low-rolling resistance rubber that comes with both types seemed reasonably grippy on the dry schist roads we drove, but you’d have to treat more prudently in rain or worse – indeed, we learned quickly to drive circumspectly on the gravel road from the Dart River bridge through to Kinloch.

Maybe the coarse chip surfaces that are prevalent north of Cook Strait might create more road roar, too. To be fair, though, both cars ran very quietly on the roads we drive. They sat solidly, too – a given, perhaps, with the EV since it is carrying a hefty battery pack but surprising in respect to the lighter, hybrid, in which the weight is more evenly distributed.

Surprisingly, body roll and a squishy suspension are most likely to temper your rate of pace in the EV in particular than anything else.

In terms of fizz, it’s actually far from being sedate. Tesla loves banging on about how quick their cars are off the line but the Ioniq EV reminds that startlingly smart starts is not a trick the Americans alone have mastered.

What also impresses is how reactive the all-battery Ioniq is at highway speed. Quick smart overtaking efforts are certainly not beyond it. Those who dare drive beyond the posted limits will find it a very willing accomplice, too. Those big numbers at the top of the speedo dial are not there for show, alone.

The range anxiety factor – and cost – is presumably why Hyundai reckons it will sell more hybrid Ioniqs than EVs. I’m now keen to drive the plug-in PHEV that lands later this year, simply because it will conceivably present a best of both worlds ideal.

You get enough electric range (somewhere around 112kms’ according to the brand bumpf) but also a petrol engine in reserve to keep you going when the battery runs out of zap.

The interesting thing about the PHEV is where it will sit on the price ladder. Logic would suggest it should sit between the hybrid and the EV. Yet with the first costing up to $52,980 and the second starting at $59,990, there’s not much room to move.