Hyundai’s plug-in hybrid looks — and goes — like normal car
THE age of the electric car is upon us. Haven't we heard that one before? Several times?
It's actually happening in Europe, largely due to increasingly tough emissions regulations, backed by tax concessions and other perks for owners, plus an already comprehensive and rapidly expanding network of charging stations.
In Australia, though, the internal combustion engine still rules and will do for many years yet. Governments here show no inclination to encourage electric car ownership via meaningful incentives. Ask a local in Deniliquin, Dimboola or Dirranbandi where the nearest EV charging station is and you'll get a laugh, followed by "A what?"
That said, if your place has 5kW or more of solar panel grunt on the roof, plus battery storage, the holy grail of eco-motoring is now within your reach. You can keep an electric car juiced up, free, and you'll produce zero emissions when you drive it.
Electric vehicle technology has progressed to the point where 200km and beyond is now an achievable range, so if you live in a capital city an electric car is certainly a viable option as your daily driver.
Hyundai's new Ioniq "fastback" (really a sedan but that's become a dirty word because nobody's buying them) comes in three flavours.
The line-up includes a pure electric version, with a claimed range of up to 230km, and a Toyota Prius-style petrol-electric hybrid, where the electric motor improves the efficiency of the petrol engine rather than being able to shift the car by itself.
The Ioniq plug-in, which we're testing here, claims up to 63km on electricity alone from its 8.9kWh lithium-ion battery. In hybrid mode, where it switches between 1.6-litre petrol engine and battery power - sometimes using both depending upon how and where you're driving - its range can exceed 600km.
Plug-in means exactly that. You can charge the Ioniq's battery at home, in about two hours using a wall-mounted charger that costs $1950 (including installation), or by plugging the supplied lead into a 10-amp household power point. Using that method, I recharged the test car's battery from dead flat to 100 per cent in three hours, 50 minutes.
If you forget or if the battery runs out of charge while you're driving, no problem. The Ioniq automatically goes into hybrid mode.
I got 40km on electricity alone in optimum conditions - city traffic, where frequent braking puts charge back into the battery - so Hyundai's claimed 63km is possible.
In hybrid mode, with about 80 per cent highway and 20 per cent around-town driving, the test car averaged 3.0L-3.5L/100km. On the open road you won't get close to Hyundai's claimed 1.1L.
Priced from $40,990 in Elite grade (pictured) or $45,490 for the Premium (as tested), the plug-in is $7000 more expensive than the petrol-electric hybrid. In turn, it's $3500 (Premium) to $4000 (Elite) cheaper than the pure electric model.
Premium grade includes heated and cooled, power adjustable, leather upholstered front seats, a sunroof, Hyundai's touchscreen infotainment with fast, reliable Bluetooth, full smartphone functionality, navigation, digital radio, wireless phone charging, dual-zone aircon and Infinity audio. The battery warranty is eight years/160,000km.
Refined and luxurious, the Ioniq has a comfortable ride, a supportive driver's seat and hushed cabin in electric (EV) mode. You hear only a faint drone from the petrol engine at highway speeds and virtually no wind noise.
Hyundai's designers have tried to make the Ioniq look and feel as much like a "normal" car as possible. So it's a bit dull and grey inside, like an i30 or Tucson. Recycled sugar cane by-products comprise up to 25 per cent of the upholstery, carpets, roof and door trims.
Rear seat space is fine for most adults, the seat is firm and comfortable, vents are provided but there's no connectivity.
All the must-have tech is standard, though autonomous emergency braking works only up to 80km/h.
Performance, especially in EV mode, is sedate but we're not in a hot rod here, are we? The objective is efficiency, not tyre-frying acceleration.
It's fine in daily driving and when you need a shove the petrol engine kicks in with reasonable enthusiasm, assisted by a responsive six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
You can select EV, hybrid or Sport mode, which extracts maximum hybrid performance and adds weight to the steering.
But "Sport"? Not even close.
Tight, solid and planted, Ioniq's dynamics are a highlight. Locally tuned independent suspension (at both ends) gives excellent control and compliance, even on rough roads.
It's heavy but its low centre of gravity means it doesn't feel ponderous. I've driven plenty of "normal" cars that are less capable and enjoyable at speed.
I'd like to do my bit for the planet and go electric but I'm terrified of being stranded with a flat battery. A plug-in is insurance that it won't happen.
This looks like the best of both worlds. I can get around town on battery power but when I'm using hybrid mode, fuel economy is also better than any comparably sized petrol or diesel.
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV FROM $45,990
Australia's only other affordable plug-in, the Outlander has SUV space and practicality. Front and rear electric motors, lithium-ion battery, plus a 2.0-litre engine. Claimed 55km range on electricity alone.
The Ioniq has most of the advantages of a pure electric car, without the limitations, in a reasonably priced package that's comfortable, enjoyable to drive and backed by Hyundai's best-in-the-business quality and reliability.
HYUNDAI IONIQ PLUG-IN HYBRID
PRICE From $40,990
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years; $1525 for 5 years/75,000km
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert
ENGINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl, plug-in hybrid, 104kW/240Nm
SPARE None; repair kit