Slowly but inexorably, the market is filling up with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars. The majority of manufacturers, when developing electrified models, tend to stick with one or the other of these categories. Not Hyundai: the South Korean automaker has taken on all three of them at once. It is now possible to order your 2018 IONIQ sedan in hybrid, plug-in hybrid (official name “electric plus”) or all-electric format.
The hybrid and 100% electric versions hit the market in early 2017, with the plug-in hybrid version joining them towards the end of the year. This is the model we put to the test during the holiday period, during which the mercury seemed stuck at an absurdly low level. During the week we tested the plug-in IONIQ, the temperature only rarely nosed up above -20 degrees Celsius!
This is clearly not the ideal temperature for a car that needs to rely on a battery to drive a few dozen kilometres! But then again, maybe it’s just the thing for seeing what it can do. Here’s how our near-Siberian adventure played out…
Points in common
Logically, producing a trio of cars with different powertrain systems requires the use of a common foundation. All of the Hyundai IONIQs share more or less the same platform and the same basic silhouette. The 100%-electric model has no front grille, since the absence of a radiator obviates the need to direct cooling air to it. Design is dictated by aerodynamic exigencies; the IONIQ’s coefficient of drag is just 0.24, making it one of the most efficient cars on the market in that regard, comparable to the Toyota Prius.
The IONIQ benefits from a strongly sloping roofline and relatively sharp-edged rear section, while in front, the wings direct air flow toward the vehicle’s sides. Also, at each end of the front bumper sits a small deflector. Even with this technically-dictated element, the IONIQ sports an attractive design. As for the interior, nothing much to fault regarding its presentation; the display screens are of a good size, the commands easy to reach and use. The two hybrid models feature a gear shifter on the console, while the all-electric version makes use of push buttons.
The front row is quite livable and the seats are comfortable, even though I’d rate the lateral support as no more than average. The rear seats are ok for a compact car like this, but getting in requires some substantial bending down, due to that sloping roofline. Rear visibility, by the way, is not fantastic, mainly because of the configuration of the rear window overhanging another windowed space – not the best of solutions. Fortunately, the backup camera is included as standard equipment.
Before getting behind the wheel of the 2018 Hyundai IONIQ plug-in hybrid, I had the opportunity to drive the other two versions of the model. The all-electric model is touted to have a range of 200 km, but in truth 180 km is more realistic. For its part, the regular hybrid version comes with a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery. In the new plug-in IONIQ, that capacity has been boosted to 8.9 kWh. Both of these models make use of a 1.6L, 105-hp Atkinson cycle combustion engine. The hybrid version weds that to a 43-hp electric motor for a total power output of 164 horses, while the plug-in hybrid produces 164 hp in all, and has a total electric-mode range of 40 km.
It’s important to also point out that, unlike other similar models that tend to make use of CVTs, the IONIQ is equipped with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The day I picked up the new IONIQ, the temperature was a ridiculous -29 degrees Celsius. So while the car had been plugged into a 240V station, the battery only displayed a 30-km range, with a total range of 888 km. In one sense, this was disappointing, but in another, not so much. It was really, unusually, cold! In any event, aside from the powertrain that itself performed just fine, the car behaved quite well: steering was relatively precise, and the suspension was not unduly firm even in the extreme cold, situation that can cause shocks to harden.
Naturally, the aim of this road test was to evaluate the performance of the plug-in hybrid system in extreme-cold temperatures. I didn’t analyze in too much detail the range as such, precisely because of the weather conditions. My best performance, after plugging the car in to a regular outlet for 14 hours, was 32 km of electric range – in my view, not at all bad given the conditions.
By driving normally and without skimping on the heating, I obtained roughly 28 km, in other words I lost only 4 km in comparison with the initial charge. After that the combustion engine took over. Where it got interesting was that the recharging of the battery via the braking energy recovery system proved surprisingly effective. After taking the IONIQ out for a spin without having plugged it in, the system allowed me to recoup 4 km of electric range.
What’s more, thanks to the efficiency of Hyundai’s hybrid system, average consumption, despite the biting cold, was an excellent 5.2L/100 km.
My week with the 2018 Hyundai IONIQ “electric plus” plug-in hybrid was a positive experience in spite of the cold snap. In fact it made me doubly appreciative of the heated front seats and steering wheel, and of the climate control system that ensures a comfortable in-cabin temperature. As you would expect, this modern, eco-friendly car also comes with a multitude of active and passive safety systems that are equal to anything the competition can muster.
One last note: the hybrid and electric technologies and the batteries used in the IONIQ were all developed internally in Hyundai’s own laboratories.