Korean automaker Hyundai is not one to do things halfway. A good example of its daring-do is the Veloster, a curious little sports model that has stood out on the automotive landscape with its asymmetrical chassis. The strategy for Hyundai's “greenest” vehicle is miles removed from that for the pocket rocket, except for that same spirit of innovation and full-speed-ahead determination that the automaker is using for its entry in a segment dominated by a certain Toyota Prius.
Hyundai is sparing no effort with its IONIQ. Last year it debuted the Hybrid version and the Electric version, and more recently in 2018 it has introduced the third variant, a plug-in hybrid – the Electric Plus.
In doing so the carmaker is able to meet the requirements of a larger portion of the pro-electric crowd. While the Hybrid is the most affordable of the three, the Electric is the most expensive. What’s more, the latter’s maximum 200-km range makes it a limited option, not practical for those who regularly do longer distances.
Enter the Electric Plus, in many ways a perfect compromise choice until such time as electric cars benefit from longer ranges and really take off in the marketplace. The official maximum range of the IONIQ Electric Plus is 1,000 km, although my tester displayed a range, with a full tank of gas, of 940. Either way, that’s a pretty good feat, especially if you consider that the possible average fuel consumption is 4.1L/100 km.
The PHEV as a medium-priced option?
The IONIQ Electric Plus is significantly more expensive than the Hybrid, but in return it allows for driving on full electric mode for 47 km – more than most of us drive when commuting to work, according to most studies. So if all you’re doing is to-and-fro to work and home, with a bit of luck – and daily use of a charger – you could avoid using a drop of gas.
Back to the price. Yes its true that it’s the median choice on the price chart for the three IONIQ models. But I wouldn’t classify it as an “affordable” car, exactly. The Limited trim starts at $36,499, before delivery fees. Fortunately, this higher-range version is quite amply equipped in terms of features and functions.
From the dual-zone climate control and the navigation system integrated on an 8-inch touchscreen to the heated steering wheel and heated front- and rear-row seats, the Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus has all the elements needed to keep occupants comfortable.
The presence of Apple CarPlay and Android auto compatibility almost goes without saying in this younger demographic-targeting plug-in hybrid, and of course there’s wireless smartphone charging via a pad behind the gear lever.
More sobriety inside than the Prius
The exterior styling of the Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus is mirrored inside, which is less “tech” in its vibe - to the point where the dashboard looks much like one you’d find in a mass-market sedan. We could quibble about it lacking in originality, but on the other hand the layout of the main commands is very simple.
The front-row seats offer good support for a car in this category, and I was surprised by how plush the bucket seats were. Things are a little dicier in back, but the seating there is in itself not uncomfortable. The sloping roofline does mean that back-seat headroom takes a hit. I like that the model includes a hatchback door, which gives wide-open access to a trunk that’s certainly smaller than what a minivan offers but is entirely respectable for a compact car.
I was a little disappointed by some of the materials encountered in the cabin. Not that they’re mediocre, but Hyundai has gotten us used to some pretty impressive vehicle interiors for the price asked in recent years, and this one doesn’t quite live up to those new expectations. I put it down to the cost requirements of producing a hybrid car without sending the asking price skyrocketing.
At the wheel
The Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus has no reason to be ashamed of its looks, but it’s clear that it doesn’t really compare to the truly sporty hybrids that are appearing on the market. Truth is, this model is a green car first, not a deliverer of strong driving sensations – and that’s just fine with us!
That said, thanks to a mechanical configuration that’s different than what’s available in a Toyota, for example, the IONIQ Electric Plus is not at all unpleasant to drive day in, day out. With a total power output of 164 hp and torque that maxes out at 195 lb-ft, the little car is well able to handle driving in both heavy traffic and the fast lane.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain includes the 1.6L 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, which itself delivers 106 hp. Meanwhile, the electric motor actually delivers more power than the one in the IONIQ Hybrid.
The star of the show, however, is the 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, which actually infuses the drive with a tinge of sportiness. The driver can even change speeds manually using the paddle shifters mounted on the back of the flat-bottomed steering wheel – quite something for a plug-in hybrid!
I did find that the steering sabotaged the driving experience somewhat, and that the interior wasn’t as well insulated as it could be. In the city, the vibrations of the thermal engine were particularly noticeable. Out on the highway, though, the IONIQ Electric Plus got much quieter.
By the end of my week with the car, my average consumption was 5.2L/100 km, more than Hyundai’s official number, but since when should that surprise anyone? In reality this is not bad, especially as I knew that if I’d really put my mind to it, an average of 4.1L/100 km was not out of the question.
The last word
The pending arrival of the Hyundai Kona Electric may actually gum up the works for the three IONIQ models. We therefore expect that the IONIQ Electric will get increased range in the coming months, likely for the 2020 model-year. As for the Electric Plus, it could also in theory benefit from this upgrade. Remember, in the electric-car domain, the times they are a changin’ – quickly and constantly!