With a 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, the soon-to-launch 2017 Hyundai IONIQ EV doesn’t seem like a car worth getting excited about. After all, Nissan’s LEAF electric hatchback, with a battery pack that’s a full 2 kilowatt-hours larger than the IONIQ EV, manages only 107 miles per charge, and the just-released EPA figures for the 2017 Hyundai IONIQ give it only 124 miles of range per charge.
Even Hyundai has said that it plans to launch an updated version of the IONIQ EV in just over a year’s time with a larger battery pack so that it can better compete against cars like the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV. The former will launch next year with a range in excess of 215 miles per charge in its entry-level configuration, while the latter will launch next month with an EPA-approved range of 238 miles per charge.
But while Hyundai doesn’t win the range war with the 2017 Hyundai IONIQ, the official EPA figures for the mid-sized sedan place it in the leaderboard for something completely different: energy efficiency.
At 150 MPGe for the city and 122 MPGe on the highway, the Hyundai IONIQ EV earns itself a combined fuel economy of 136 MPGe, knocking the BMW i3 EV off the top of the electric vehicle efficiency charts by a whole 12 MPGe. Perhaps more impressive though is the fact that it manages this feat yet uses a more traditional steel and aluminum construction compared to the BMW i3’s super-light carbon fiber reinforced plastic design.
How then has the IONIQ EV managed to beat the BMW i3 in the efficiency charts? The answer can be found in a number of different design features ranging from the use of weight-saving materials inside the car to a carefully designed exterior that has a 0.24 Cd aerodynamic efficiency — the same as a Tesla Model S.
Exterior first. The Hyundai IONIQ EV features a fully closed-off engine compartment with closed grille and full-length underbody panels. Together with carefully planned wind channels, the IONIQ EV slips through the air with far more ease than its competitors, yet is far lighter than the Tesla Model S, making it far more energy efficient with every kilowatt-hour of electricity used. An aluminum hood and tailgate also help save weight where it matters without affecting overall appearance or safety, and aluminum suspension components save an astonishing 26 pounds.
When it comes to the powertrain, Hyundai claims the use of copper wire with a rectangular cross-section inside the Hyundai IONIQ’s permanent magnet AC motor has helped reduce the motor’s size and weight, while the battery pack — which uses a lithium-ion polymer cell chemistry — is lighter than non polymer lithium-ion battery packs.
Talking of battery technology, Hyundai has done away with the 12-volt accessory battery altogether in the IONIQ EV, using an integrated DC-to-DC converter instead to power the 12-volt systems that would ordinarily be powered by a lead-acid starter battery and alternator found in an internal combustion-engined car. While electric cars do not necessarily need a 12-volt accessory battery, most electric cars on sale today retain a 12-volt lead-acid battery under the hood, but as Hyundai points out, it’s an unnecessary throwback to the internal combustion engine.
Inside too, Hyundai has managed to shave pounds off the interior by using lightweight materials for everything from the center console and door trim panels to the rear load bay cover. All told, the weight savings, when combined with the low drag coefficient, allow Hyundai’s IONIQ EV to travel 100 miles using just 25 kilowatt-hours of electricity, a full 2 kWh less than the BMW i3 uses to travel the same distance, 3 kWh less than the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt uses to travel the same distance, and 5 kWh less than the Nissan LEAF.
Of course, the longer-range offered by the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3 (not to mention Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X) mean that not everyone will want to opt for the new plug-in from the South Korean automaker. Moreover, with Hyundai openly planning a longer-range version within eighteen months or so, not everyone will want to commit to owning an IONIQ EV. But given Hyundai’s clever ownership plan for the IONIQ EV — monthly subscription plans that are more similar to cellphone contracts than traditional hire-purchase or lease deals, with all maintenance, charging costs and ‘consumables’ included– it could prove successful with those who are not interested in buying their car outright.
Will the efficiency be a deal-maker? It’s unlikely: while the efficiency difference between say a Hyundai IONIQ EV and a 2016 Nissan LEAF will result in as much as 5 kWh less energy consumption per 100 miles travelled, it translates to pennies of savings every time you charge. And that, we think, will not be enough to gain the IONIQ EV any meaningful market share.
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