To date, South Korean automaker Hyundai has prefered to back hydrogen fuel cells rather than battery electric or plug-in hybrid drivetrains as its chosen fuel of the future.
Because of the limited market availability of its Tucson Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV and low sales of its Sonata Plug-in Hybrid however, Hyundai’s efforts to shift away from the internal combustion engine have never been considered large enough to gain it much of a reputation as a promoter of cleaner, greener fuels.
Earlier today during the opening day of the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, that changed with the official debut of the 2017 Hyundai IONIQ. It’s a brand-new vehicle which Hyundai has designed from the ground up to be offered in all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid guises. It’s a first both for the brand and for the automotive industry says Hyundai, branding the IONIQ “an important milestone” in its sustainability strategy.
Styled a little more conservatively than some other plug-in cars on the market today, it’s clear the IONIQ is meant to be Hyundai’s answer to the 2016 Nissan LEAF, 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid and 2017 Chevrolet Volt. But does the 2017 Hyundai IONIQ really have what it takes to gain some much-needed sales in the green car segment?
It might — but not for the reasons you think.
First, a little background: Hyundai teased the IONIQ at the end of last year, ahead of an official debut in South Korea in January. Today’s appearance at the Geneva Motor Show is the car’s official International motor show debut, and coincides with release of specifications for each of the three variants for the first time.
Both the Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid and IONIQ plug-in hybrid will feature a brand-new 1.6-litre GDI direct-injection, four-cylinder gasoline engine producing somewhere in the region of 103 horsepower and 108 pound-feet of torque. Both models feature a six-speed automatic double-clutch transmission with electric motor integrated into the gearbox. In the case of the IONIQ hybrid, that motor is a 32 kilowatt electric motor capable of working in tandem with the gasoline engine to push system power output to 138 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
Powered by a tiny 1.56 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack however, the IONIQ hybrid’s electric motor won’t be driving long-distance in electric only mode, but the IONIQ Plug-in hybrid — with a slightly larger 45 kilowatt electric motor and 8.9 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack — can manage a claimed 31 miles of all-electric range on the overly-optimistic NEDC test cycle. Real world, we’d suggest 20-25 miles is a more realistic range expectation.
Interestingly, Hyundai has not given an official fuel economy figure for either the IONIQ hybrid or the IONIQ plug-in hybrid, but for the Hyundai IONIQ the 2016 Toyota Prius hatchback is of course the vehicle to beat. While most 2016 Toyota Prius models are rated at 52 mpg combined, the Toyota Prius Two Eco is rated at 56 mpg.
If Hyundai wants to steal Toyota’s hybrid crown based on performance and economy alone, that’s the figure it will have to beat.
Sadly however, the Hyundai IONIQ plug-in hybrid may have already lost out on economy. That’s because while its real-world 20-25 miles of expected range puts it on par with cars like the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, the range is about half of what the all-new 2017 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car can manage. And while it’s conceivable that the Hyundai IONIQ will be able to beat the 42 mpg combined fuel economy of the 2017 Chevy Volt when in range-extending mode, we suspect it will be a close-run competition the Volt will ultimately win thanks to its superior all-electric range.
Which leaves the IONIQ Electric. Fitted with a 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and an 88 kilowatt electric motor, the all-electric variant should cross-shop against a whole range of different electric cars from the 2016 Nissan LEAF through to the upcoming longer-range 2017 Ford Focus EV and 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf. It also features both standard Level 1 and level 2 onboard charging capabilities, as well as a more powerful 100-kilowatt
CHAdeMO CCS DC quick charge connector. When connected to an appropriate DC quick charging station, Hyundai claims a 0-80 percent charge can be undertaken in around 20 minutes.
On paper, Hyundai claims a range of “0ver 250 kilometers” is possible on the NEDC test cycle, a figure that matches the NEDC range of the 2016 Nissan LEAF as fitted with a larger 30 kWh battery pack. In the U.S., that 250-kilometer NEDC rating for the 2016 LEAF translates to an EPA range of 107 miles per charge, meaning we should expect a similar range from the 2017 Hyundai IONIQ EV.
While the IONIQ electric will obviously enter the marketplace with the kind of specifications that allow it to compete with cars currently on the market, there’s a fly in the ointment: it won’t be able to match or best the expected 200+ mile range of either the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV or the next-generation Nissan LEAF.
Given the fact current automotive design cycles are between four and six years, we’re doubtful the IONIQ Electric will be able to steal much in the way of customers from already established affordable plug-in automakers like Nissan, BMW, Chevrolet (and in the next few years, Tesla in the form of its 2019 Model 3 electric car) based on performance and specifications alone.
But while we’re unimpressed with the specifications of the IONIQ, there are some things which will really play in its favor.
First, there’s Hyundai’s reputation as an automaker. In the past decade, Hyundai’s customer base around the world has grown at an astonishing rate, helped by its excellent, comprehensive factory warranty. It also seems to have a knack for providing the features that customers crave at a price point that is, for the most part, super-competitive.
Then there’s the diesel question. As our friends at GreenCarReports note, Hyundai has never worked hard to promote diesel engine technology and as such, is unlikely to find itself embroiled in the fallout from dieselgate like many European brands. Even Toyota and Nissan, which have never really focused on diesel engine technology, are by association with European brands, already affected in a way that Hyundai isn’t.
Combined, these facts give Hyundai a leg up in the clean vehicle marketplace. Will it be enough to ensure the IONIQ is a success? Only time will tell — but we think other automakers should most certainly take note.
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