The 2019 Hyundai Ioniq, the third model year of the South Korean liftback, is unique in the ever-evolving, alternative fuel segment. It’s the least expensive mainstream electric vehicle available in the United States, and it has the best fuel economy.
Cheap and economic don’t always equate to quality. But the five-door Ioniq provides another example of why skeptics of Hyundai and its close relative Kia should be forever enlightened. The manufacturers’ lineups have vastly improved in recent years.
Electric-only vehicle promoters are often quick to tout the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Both have more than 200-mile ranges and have faster acceleration than the Ioniq. The Nissan Leaf also has a better range.
But the Hyundai, with its varied engine options, smooth ride, extensive standard equipment, lower price and lifetime electric motor warranty, defines worthiness.
The Ioniq was the first automobile offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants. Good for Hyundai. But what was the carmaker thinking with the name? What’s an Ioniq? Is it a reference to the refreshing nature of tonic or a not-so-appealing colonic? Is it slang for ironic or a homage to the wonders of bionics?
Hyundai promotes the name as an amalgamation of the words “ion” and “unique.” It may catch on, but it’s not exactly catchy, curious or direct. Chevy Bolt works; Tesla piques interest. Even the Kia Soul has merit as a car name.
Lucky for consumers, the Ioniq’s overall performance, craftsmanship and styling are first rate. The plug-in hybrid features a 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder with 104 horsepower and a 44.5-kW Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor with 35 horsepower.
Eighty percent of the electric battery can be recharged with the included 120-volt charge cable in about 30 minutes. The cable is contained in a small zippered pack. Fuel economy for the Hybrid Blue model is as much as 57 miles per gallon in city driving and 59 miles per gallon on the highway. The fuel-economy equivalent for the electric-mode is 119 miles per gallon, and all three totals are industry bests.
Unlike other electric hybrids still presented with futuristic designs, the Ioniq has a smooth roofline and a flat rear. Rear visibility could be ideal with the large liftback windows. But the window is horizontally split, resulting in an annoyingly divided perspective.
The exterior styling is complemented by a clean, straight-forward interior design and appearance. The material quality is surprisingly upscale for a premium compact. The hybrid relies on a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Paddle shifters are included but don’t seem necessary.
While no competition for the power of a Tesla, the Ioniq has sufficient performance as a daily driver. Shifting is smooth and advancement over road imperfections or speed humps is handled with minimal turbulence. Rear-seat space is generous for the segment and comfort front and rear passengers.
Standard equipment also includes a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, hill-start assist and seven airbags. All controls are well-placed and user-friendly. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a wireless phone charging are part of the $2,975 Ultimate Package.
The Limited trim includes a power sunroof, high-beam assist and Blue Link connected car services, plus a healthy list of standard features from other trims. Heated front seats are standard in the Plug-in and Electric trims and are optional in the Hybrid. Limited models can be upgraded with an Infinity audio system, adaptive front headlights, driver’s memory seat and rear-seat vents.
“Electric when you want it. Hybrid when you need it” is tHyundai’s marketing mantra for the Ioniq. It’s logical enough. And while neither as sexy nor as performance-oriented or eye-catching as some rivals, the Ioniq offers a lot for a top-of-the-line price of $33,350. A $1,500 rebate is available from the California Clean Air Vehicle Project.
The final calculation places the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid Limited within a few dollars of the average price of a 2019 model new car in the United States. It seems about right.