SINGAPORE — 2017 is shaping up to be a year of hybrid cars for Singapore, but the Hyundai Ioniq has arrived to show that petrol-electric propulsion (or diesel-electric) isn’t a game that only the Japanese and Germans can play. The question is, what does Korea bring to the game? Read on to find out…
Another hybrid? But I won’t buy a hybrid leh…
That’s where you’re wrong lor.
Even if hybrids have been around for more than two decades, and Singapore has never quite got around to living up to its Garden City name in driving terms. Even before 2016, the Honda Civic Hybrid (of two generations ago) was Singapore’s best-selling hybrid in 2008, largely because it was keenly priced, due to the less expensive nature of its series-hybrid system. Now, the success of the parallel import Honda Vezel Hybrid, as counterintuitive as it may seem, lays bare the truth of it: Hybrids haven’t done well because they’ve been too expensive.
Now we wouldn’t buy a car – hybrid or not – from a grey importer, because there are simply too many downsides, and while you spend more at a official distributor, there are very good reasons for doing so. Chiefly, they’re very unlikely to take your deposit and sod off and won’t leave you hanging if there’s a battery issue. But now there is an officially-backed hybrid car that doesn’t cost more than $130k or even $120k – and does everything a proper, official Japanese hybrid can: Enter the Hyundai Ioniq.
A Korean hybrid? Isn’t that a new thing?
Hyundai has made no bones about its desire to be one of the world’s leading automakers, and that means it has to aggressively expand into established areas: Toyota’s global success with its Prius and other hybrids being one of them. Hyundai – and sister brand Kia – have actually been producing and selling hybrids overseas for years with offerings like the Kia Optima hybrid.
You can read our detailed comparo chart first, but it comes as no surprise that the Hyundai Ioniq is benchmarked very, very closely to the world’s leading hybrid in almost every way possible, which why this review reads almost like a Prius comparo. To succeed, the Ioniq needs to better its Japanese rival in at least a one or two areas.
Ah, so Koreans really are tech-leaders…
Yep, just look at your phone, tv or washing machine. And it’s good that the Ioniq doesn’t look like a top-loader too –
Seen in the flesh, the Ioniq looks every inch a modern Hyundai: It’s bold, confident and good-looking.
The full LED lights, multi-louvred grille, black fascia and blue trim remind you you’re looking at something a little different though, while the split-window hatchback rear confirms this. Which is just as well, since driving the Ioniq feels pretty special – like the Genesis luxury sedan, it’s the start of something bursting with promise and potential.
Like the outside, the Ioniq’s cabin is familiar, but with profound and subtle differences.
The layout is clean, open and easy to get to terms with – it’s very utile, and you won’t scramble for a place to put your wallet or phone, for instance. Where the Ioniq differs is in the extra touch of modernity: The car’s gray and blue interior feels very new age, high-tech and a nice change from the ubiquitous beige or black of most East Asian cars.
The steering wheel feels like it came from a far costlier vehicle, while the instrument panel is a computerised, fully-active display and the first of its kind, in our experience anyway, in a Korean car. Other high-tech/high-end points include the air-conditioned seats and the qi wireless charging pad in the centre console, which is only the second such unit we’ve seen in a car here (the first was the Lexus NX), but its placement and function are second to none.
So it looks and feels the business. How does it drive?
That, and the fact that the Ioniq’s silent at start-up and low speeds, gives it a little of that cutting-edge, new age feel – a bit like how BMW’s i cars look and feel more special than regular Beemers. More importantly, it delivers an experience different from that of Toyota’s hybrid titan.
The hybrid system operates like most full hybrids do these days, with slow speeds in electric mode, accelerating means both engine and motor kick in, while decelerating charges the battery. Coasting, or high-speed, low-gas input cruising, also uses just the electric motor when charge is sufficient.
There’s almost no discernible difference in smoothness between Hyundai’s dual-clutch choice and Toyota’s CVT, in any case, the handover of power is near imperceptible. It retains that serenity as only hybrids can. At full bore acceleration, the Ioniq’s also impressively punchy, its electric torque means it can keep up with turbodiesels for the sub-50km/h dash, but Hyundai’s engineers claimed to have paid additional attention to lessening noise and vibrations. It’s impressively quiet, even at high speed, and creates far less tyre noise than the Prius does on the highway.
You mean it’s actually better than a Prius?
In more than one way, too. While the Ioniq’s not marketed as a sporty hybrid, it does feel more fun to push than the Prius. The car has larger, slightly wider tyres than the Prius, and while you’d never trade one in for a Honda Civic Type R if you’re that sort of person, regular Joes will find much to laud about the Ioniq’s driving capability.
There’s 140bhp of system power on tap, but it’s deceptively quick rather than in-your-face punchy like the energizer-bunny-like BMW i3, the Ioniq rarely has the ‘I need more power’ feeling of most hybrids, at least when Eco mode is not engaged.You’ll never really be wanting more from its cornering, ride or acceleration, unless you just swapped over from something with twice the power or more.
That’s pretty impressive…
And as they say on TV, that’s not all. The Ioniq is easy to drive – there’s no EV button for instance – and the displays are all quite simple to process. But it’s ‘complex’ precisely where it should be: In terms of safety and driver assistance.
It packs more than the usual gaggle of safety systems you’d find on an East Asian car, and many extras you wouldn’t even find in a luxury executive sedan like an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series.
To begin with it has seven airbags (most cars have six at most), blind spot detection (one of our favourite features in this blind-spot-lurker-filled world), lane keeping assist (good for the easily distracted or those who are philosophically-incapable of using turn signals) and a reverse camera. Pretty exceptional, at this price point, but that’s not all, as it even has autonomous braking (like Volvo’s pioneering City Safety system) and adaptive cruise control, although the latter doesn’t go the whole hog of stop-and-go, but it’s still an outstanding feature at this level. The only drawback is that the sensors for the systems replace the Hyundai badge on the grille with a 2D analogue. But notably, Toyota’s similar, advanced ‘Sensing’ suite of safety features, are missing from the local Prius which lacks the advanced features that the Japan domestic market, or even the US-spec models have.
But surely the Prius won’t be kicked from its throne by a Korean?
Well there is one medal the Toyota will likely retain, one which is arguably the most important for a hybrid: Fuel efficiency,
While the quoted figures put the Ioniq in the advantage, our real life test drive which involved about 100km of highways, slow town traffic and everything in between, plus a bit of idling for photo shoots, delivered an average of 4.4L/100km, the highest being 4.6L/100km. The Prius, on the other hand, can make even a dedicated emissions provider (read: flatulence) like Ju-Len turn in 4.1L/100km on its worst day.
So until a back-to-back, long-distance test can prove otherwise, the Prius takes the win here. But the Ioniq is more refined, has more equipment, is equally high-tech and dynamically both are on an even keel. And while Hyundai is new to the hybrid game, it’s already offering a 10-year battery warranty and 5-year car warranty, matching what Toyota offers for the Prius.
As a hybrid, the Ioniq doesn’t really break new ground, and it can’t as a plug-in and full-electric model it doesn’t either, since cars of these types have already preceded them here with the Honda Insight being Singapore’s first hybrid, the 2014 BMW i3 being Singapore’s first proper-retail electric car to sell in numbers, and the 2015 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid being the first plug-in.
Yet, the conclusion is that the Ioniq doesn’t nab the big win – the absolute green crown – from the Prius, but it does better its Japanese counterpart in a few other ways, most notably price. And if the grey-import Honda Vezel is anything to go by, that could be the only ‘green’ factor Singaporeans listen to.
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Engine 1,580cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 105bhp at 5700rpm
Torque 147Nm at 4000rpm
Electric Motor 44bhp, 170Nm
Battery Lithium ion, 1.56kWh
System Power 140bhp
System Torque 264Nm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 185km/h
0-100km/h 10.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency 3.4L/100km
Price $118,888 with COE