All hail the new hybrid king. Meet the new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: the car that took on Toyota for the title of most fuel efficient car in America without a plug… and won. At a maximum combined estimate of 58 mpg, the Ioniq has effectively out-Priused the previous king of the hybrids.
But those are just numbers and test cycles. I wanted to know how the rest of the Ioniq measured up, so I hit the road recently in a shiny, new Limited model to find out.
I should note that the Ioniq Hybrid is not alone. It's actually one-third of a trio of green vehicles that all use this hatchback chassis, but have different electrified power trains. In addition, there's the Ioniq Electric and a Plug-in Hybrid. I've included my driving impressions for those models, as well, taken from a Hyundai driving event earlier this year.
Hyundai's Hybrid power train
The Hybrid variant of the Ioniq is not a particularly powerful car, but it offers decent performance. Under the hood, you'll find a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine generating 104 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque. Joining the power-train party is a 32-kW electric engine that makes 43 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque and draws its power from a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Total system output for the Ioniq Hybrid is estimated at around 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
Interestingly, the Ioniq's hybrid power train uses a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) rather than the more-conventional continuously variable setup. This makes the hybrid feel more like a regular gasoline car on the road.
Though there is a neat sport mode that livens up the throttle response, there are no paddle shifters, so you're at the mercy of the computer to choose the DCT's ratios. Also, the DCT feels awkward at low speeds. It's fine when you're wailing on it on a country road or the interstate, but when driven like a hybrid, it's not as smooth or immediate as Toyota's CVT. In stop-and-go traffic, the Hyundai's gearbox feels very hesitant to engage, which created a noticeable lag between throttle input and actual motivation. This is odd, because stop-and-go is typically where electrified cars excel and feel best.
The Blue trim-level base sips fuel at a seriously impressive 58 combined mpg -- that's 57 mpg in the city and 59 mpg on the highway. Hyundai claims that weight savings, improved efficiency of the gasoline engine, and a slippery low-drag body design help it to achieve this Prius-hunting fuel economy. The Blue is the lightweight of the lineup, but the SEL and Limited trim levels feature more equipment and, as a result, more mass and a slightly lower 55 combined mpg estimate.
On the road, I averaged around 52 mpg, with a week's best of 54.1 mpg. That is in line with the EPA's numbers and is still impressive, but I should point out that I averaged 60 real-world mpg on an identical driving route with very similar traffic and driving techniques in the Prius when I tested it last year. What does that tell you? Well, not much more than the old adage that your mileage may vary, but I've got a hunch that the Prius may be a tad more efficient in the real world. I'll be keeping an eye on other real-world reports as the Ioniq makes its way into more driveways.
The Hybrid features a multilink rear suspension and MacPherson front setup that makes for decent handling. The steering reminds me of the-- that's not a huge surprise and no bad thing. I'm a fan of the Hyundai's responsive and nonfatiguing handling.
Blue Link talks to Alexa
All Ioniq models feature the same Blue Link infotainment system in the dashboard with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The display is either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen, depending on whether the optional onboard navigation has been spec'ed.
Overall, the Blue Link software is quite good. It's simple and easy to understand, features smooth minimal animations and crisp graphics, and generally stays out of its own way. If I have one complaint, it's that the USB port doesn't put out enough amperage to charge my phone when using Android Auto. I ended every trip with my phone's battery 10 to 20 percent lower than I'd started at. I know, that's like the most millennial complaint ever.
This generation of the Blue Link hardware can be had with an always-on data connection subscription that allows the status of the vehicle to be remotely monitored. Hyundai also uses this connection for in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and for the bi-direction integration with Amazon Alexa and, soon, Google Home systems. Owners can ask Alexa if they remembered to lock their doors when leaving the car or tell the service to turn off their web-connected appliances and lights while on the road. And if you don't have Alexa, you can always use Hyundai's apps for Android, Android Wear, iOS devices or Apple Watch remotely control and monitor the Ioniq.
The Ioniq is also available with a modest range of standard and optional driver aid technologies. Base models include a basic standard rear camera, but the SEL and Limited models gain standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and optional packages that add automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning. However, the Ioniq lacks available semi-autonomous parking-assist tech, which you can get on the Prius.
Other tech treats at the Limited with Ultimate Package trim level include a Qi wireless smartphone charging pad on the center console -- which is nice to have but will probably go unused, since the USB connection is required for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay -- and an 8-speaker Infinity audio system.
Coming attraction: The Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid
Joining the lineup in the fourth quarter of 2017 will be the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid. The Plug-in takes the 1.6-liter gasoline engine and gearbox, but steps up to a significantly larger 8.9-kWh battery pack and a slightly more powerful 44.5-kW (60-horsepower) electric motor. The PHEV also gains a J1772 port that, when connected to a level 2 charger, allows the battery pack to be charged in just 2.25 hours. Hyundai claims that the bigger battery gives the PHEV an estimated full-electric range of 27 miles on a full charge, but I only managed 22.1 miles of cruising before the gasoline engine kicked in at a preview event earlier this year.