How big a limitation is a battery range of 124 miles (198 kilometers) in an electric car? Not crippling, but meaningful, I learned in a week driving Hyundai’s 2017 Ioniq compact electric car.
The Ioniq Electric is one of three new alternate fuel Hyundais that share the same hatchback body. There’s also a conventional hybrid. A plug-in hybrid goes on sale late this year.
The three are Hyundai’s bid to boost its image for producing high-tech, environmentally friendly vehicles. Hyundai’s built hybrids before, but the Ioniq is the first with a unique body style. There’s no mistaking it for anything else in Hyundai’s line-up.
The Ioniq electric’s range would have made it a leader a year ago, but the Chevrolet Bolt changed the game when it hit the road with a 238-mile (318-kilometer) range late last year. Electric vehicles that hadn’t even gone on sale yet suddenly seemed a wee bit antiquated, including the Ioniq.
The Ioniq Electric competes with electric vehicles (EVs) like the BMW i3, Chevrolet Bolt, Fiat 500e, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf. It will also compete with the Tesla 3 and 2017 VW e-Golf when they go on sale.
Behind the wheel
Prices for the Ioniq electric start at $29,500. It has an EPA-rated range of 124 miles on a charge, and takes about four and a quarter hours to recharge from a 220- or 240-volt outlet. The hybrid, which has smaller batteries and a gasoline engine, starts at $22,200.
I tested a well-equipped Ioniq electric that stickered at $36,000. It included several features EVs often omit, including a power sunroof, adaptive cruise control and memory for the driver’s settings. Those goodies add weight or draw electricity. That reduces range, and many automakers have — wrongly, I think — decided EV buyers will trade comfort and convenience for a few extra miles between charges. My test car also had leather upholstery, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, blind spot alert; automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert, wireless phone charging, navigation, voice recognition and a touch screen.
The Ioniq’s price is competitive with other EVs in terms of features and driving experience. A Chevy Bolt with similar features would sticker for $40,905, and the Bolt doesn’t offer blind spot alert, sunroof or memory at any price.
Challenge from the Bolt
The kicker, of course is that the EPA rates the Bolt at 238 miles on a charge, nearly double the Ioniq. That’s a huge benefit, and it’s much of the difference between the Bolt’s trophy as 2017 North American Car of the Year and the Ioniq’s rating of a good, but not great three stars.
I used the Ioniq for all my driving for a week. I’ve got a short commute, and the Ioniq handled my regular driving with ease, but I couldn’t manage the 140-mile (224-kilometer) round trip to my brother’s house for his birthday. Fortunately, my niece wanted to see the Detroit Zoo’s new sloth enclosure, a mile from my house, so there was no damage to family harmony. Well, no more than on any birthday.
Anybody who owns an EV or plug-in hybrid should get a 220-volt charger. They reduce charging time drastically, allowing you to drive on electricity more frequently and with less downtime.
The Bolt is the EV range king, and that makes it the car to beat, despite the Ioniq’s better menu of features.
Tesla’s upcoming 3 aims to roughly match the Bolt’s range and cost, but there are no independent tests of it yet.
Riding and driving
My Ioniq’s interior was attractive but restrained, with grey leather upholstery, a rubbery soft-touch material on the dash and doors and simple controls. A unique feature lets you conserve electricity by directing climate control only to the driver seat when the car has no passengers.
The passenger compartment is the roomiest in its class. The front seat has plenty of room and storage cubbies. The rear seat is not generous, but no worse than many conventional compacts.
The cargo area is also best in class. The liftover height to load objects is high because of the big battery pack under its floor.
The Ioniq performs well. The electric motor produces an unimpressive 118 horsepower, but its 215 pound-feet (292 Newton-meters) of torque translates to deceptively strong, smooth acceleration. The steering is predictable and steady but doesn’t deliver much feedback.
Paddles on the steering wheel allow the driver to set different levels of regenerative braking to extend range and slow the car when you lift off the accelerator pedal. The three settings are very different, but none of them provide enough regen for the max-efficiency “one-pedal driving” the Chevy Bolt offers.
Several of my test car’s features could use refinement. There was a large, uneven gap in the trim around a small parcel shelf at the base of the center console. It was an obvious and surprising oversight in a high-profile new car like the Ioniq.
Rear visibility is hampered by a narrow rear window and the car’s Appel CarPlay shifted my iPhone out of iPod mode several times, switching from my music library to Beats 1 on Apple Radio, a service I never use.
The climate control system automatically resets to “eco” setting when you start the Ioniq. That reduces the air conditioner’s electric draw, but cooling suffered on hot, muggy days. I ended up using the normal setting most of the time.
The Ioniq follows Hyundai’s tried and true formula of offering a lot of features for its price. Its availability with popular features like a sunroof should force other automakers to improve their electric cars.
The 124-mile range probably isn’t quite enough for most drivers to make the Ioniq their only car, but it will fill a lot of people’s needs a lot of the time.
A few easy tweaks to improve steering feel and response, and closer attention to interior fit and finish will make the Ioniq electric an even better choice.