Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
The advent of the Chevrolet Bolt and upcoming Tesla Model 3 points to a new era of practical, high-range, mass-market electric vehicles. Although the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric's EPA range of 124 miles falls far short of the 200-plus-mile benchmark set by those competitors, I never felt range anxiety while driving it.
In fact, the Ioniq Electric outperformed its own range estimations by a considerable margin, and actually proved an engaging car to drive.
Hyundai spawned triplets with its Ioniq model, offering this midsize hatchback as a gasoline-electric hybrid, electric and a plug-in hybrid, the latter due next year. The Ioniq Electric, as the name suggests, relies on a pure-electric drivetrain combining a 28-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and 88-kilowatt motor turning the front wheels.
Look in the rearview mirror or open the hatchback, and there's a touch of Prius here, due to the horizontally split back glass. Hyundai can claim aerodynamic efficiency for using this design, which gives the Ioniq an impressive .24 coefficient of drag. That same excuse can be given for the glossy black nose cone in place of a grille, reminiscent of the Tesla Model S' previous design.
With its leather-wrapped steering wheel, seats and dashboard, the Ioniq Electric's cabin shows upscale Hyundai aesthetics. Buttons on the lower left turn on some of the car's driver assistance features and open the charge port, while the center dashboard holds an 8-inch touchscreen for the navigation, stereo and phone systems. The row of buttons beneath that touchscreen, which give quick access to map, phone and media, impressed me with their metal edges and solid feel.
Unlike cars of the past, the Ioniq Electric gets by with a single analog gauge on the instrument panel, the speedometer, bracketed by LCDs that show battery level and power use. And forget shifters, which even in modern gasoline cars are merely electronic controls, the Ioniq Electric uses a clever button pod for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. It didn't take me long to learn it by feel, as Hyundai arranges the buttons well.
On the center touchscreen I found Hyundai's standard cabin electronics tweaked slightly for the Ioniq Electric's drivetrain. This system works very responsively and uses an easily understood, straightforward interface. On top of that, it also supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which present a modified mirror of the Android and iPhone interfaces on the main screen, giving access to the phone's own navigation, calling and music apps.
The navigation system provides solid route guidance, complete with traffic avoidance, but the car lacks a head-up display for turn-by-turn directions. Navigation includes Google online destination search and, in a nod towards the electric drivetrain, a distance-sorted list of charging stations. Unfortunately, that list doesn't provide the kind of detail offered by Plugshare, which could make on-the-go charging frustrating.
A set of electric vehicle-specific screens also showed me how efficiently I was driving, how many miles per kilowatt-hour I was getting and how far I could go given my remaining range. That last screen just uses direct distance from the car's location, so doesn't take into account real road miles.
The Ioniq Electric also let me schedule its charging time to take advantage of periods when electricity costs less. Hyundai says a full charge takes 4 hours and 25 minutes on a 220 volt Level 2 charger, the kind you can install in your home, but can also use its Level 3 Combo charger to restore 80 percent of its battery level in half an hour from a public station.
My one gripe with charging is the port's location, on the left rear fender. Most new electric cars put the charge port up front, so you can nose into a parking space with a charger. The Ioniq Electric forces you to back in.
Hitting the Ioniq Electric's start button leads to a silent but light-filled bootup, as the cabin screens come to life. Putting it in Drive, I find an easily modulated accelerator, despite the instant-on 218 pound-feet of torque. I never once found myself chirping the front wheels from a start, likely due to a combination of sunny, dry days and Hyundai programming. The Ioniq Electric moved forward with authority and a minimum of drama.
The steering and brakes also felt completely natural, doing the jobs I asked of them transparently. In fact, I began to think of the drive experience as lacking character, which could be a general curse of electric vehicles.
The more I drove the Ioniq Electric, however, I began to note the car's comfortable balance. The 28 kilowatt-hour battery pack likely makes up a healthy percentage of the car's 3,164 pound curb weight, but Hyundai distributed the cells so as to prevent overloading the front or rear. In one test, I drove up one of San Francisco's steeper hills, a 20-plus percent grade, and didn't feel excessive lift off the front wheels, while the Ioniq Electric powered upward without complaint.
Hyundai includes three drive modes, Eco, Comfort and Sport, the latter seeming kind of silly in the Ioniq Electric. Each mode appropriately tunes the throttle from soft to sharp, and Eco also detunes the climate control, something I could get away with in the temperate San Francisco Bay Area weather. While I tried all three modes, I found no difficulty driving in Eco, as I could still get all the acceleration I needed.
Where I found driving the Ioniq Electric truly engaging came from making use of the steering wheel paddles, which increased and decreased the regenerative braking, making the car slow or coast when I took my foot off the accelerator. With the right timing, I didn't need to work the brakes much when approaching a stop light. However, the Ioniq Electric doesn't support real one-pedal driving, like in electric cars with such heavy regenerative braking that lifting off the accelerator effectively stops the car.
As important as a comfortable and well-tuned driving experience, the Ioniq Electric also more than proved its range capabilities. Setting out with a healthy 122 miles of range displayed on the instrument cluster, I drove on freeways and streets in both suburbia and the city, from moderate to heavy traffic. Tracking the displayed range versus real miles covered, the Ioniq Electric beat its own estimates by 5 to 10 miles, suggesting Hyundai set that range estimate very conservatively.
Ultimately, I found the Ioniq Electric more than met my needs while commuting or running errands. 122 miles may not sound like all that much, but that easily represents 3 hours of driving in a suburban area, and how often do you spend that much time in the car?
As an electric runabout, the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric proves practical and comfortable, able to seat five with room for cargo. It drives easily while feeling well-balanced, and the cabin electronics are simple and easy to use, yet include connected functionality and the ability to mirror smartphones. Hyundai also offers driver assistance features, such adaptive cruise control, which automatically keeps pace with slower traffic ahead.
While I found the range reasonable for a suburban area, its EPA rating of 124 miles might fall short of the daily needs of some. And it faces new and daunting competition. The Chevrolet Bolt earns an EPA range of 238 miles while offering comparable feature content. Tesla begins production of its Model 3 this summer, with an estimated range of well over 200 miles, and Nissan will likely unveil a new version of its Leaf electric car later this year, also likely to eclipse 200 miles. As these competitors hit the market, range will likely be the biggest differentiator.
Hyundai offers the Ioniq Electric in Base and Limited trims, the latter adding features such as a power-adjustable driver's seat and blind-spot monitor, which alerts you to traffic in the next lanes over. The Limited trim can be further juiced up with the Ultimate package, adding a bigger touchscreen, onboard navigation and adaptive cruise control. As much as I like that last feature, I would opt for the Base trim, which at $29,500 comes in at $6,500 less than the fully loaded Limited trim. Both Base and Limited support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which basically takes care of my in-cabin electronics needs.