2020 Hyundai Ioniq: Underdog defines value, economy

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The 2020 Hyundai Ioniq, the fourth year of the South Korean liftback hybrid and all-electric, maintains the brand’s status as the country’s most fuel-efficient vehicle. Its top-line trim costs several thousand dollars less than the average price of a new vehicle in the United States.

The combination of price and economy warrants consideration. What can a new car buyer expect from a vehicle that costs $32,000 and gets at least an estimated 55 miles per gallon?

2020 Hyundai Ioniq
The 2020 Hyundai Ioniq is value-priced, economical and an under-appreciated rival to the Toyota Prius.

Like other models from Hyundai and its relative Kia, the Ioniq offers more proof the manufacturers make worthy vehicles. The carmakers’ offerings are not only substantially improved, their respective 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranties are also the industry’s longest.

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Still, Hyundai and Kia remain unheralded and far less popular than the now 20-year-old Toyota Prius. With its various models and configurations, the Prius still vastly outsells all hybrid sedans despite its falling year sales totals.

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 window. But the hatchback designed results in a horizontally split view and 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 non-premium compact. The hybrid relies on a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Paddle shifters are included but don’t seem necessary.

All 2020 Ioniq hybrid trims retain the tandem of a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and a 32-kW electric motor. A 1.56-kWh lithium-ion battery pack resides under the rear seats. Altogether, the system produces 139 horsepower. The Ioniq Hybrid’s fuel economy is 58 miles per gallon combined for the entry-level Blue model and 55 mpg combined for other trims.

While still in its first generation, the 2020 model has improvements. A new grille with angular inserts further removed the Ioniq from the once-prominent staid hybrid appearance. There’s also a new wheel design.

Higher trims also now have attractively designed LED headlights, wireless phone charging, ambient lighting, power-folding mirrors, and a new 10.25-inch horizontally positioned infotainment screen with a crisp display. All controls are well-placed and user-friendly.

The adaptive cruise control system has a new stop-and-go feature. The SmartSense suite of safety equipment now offers forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist and a driver attention monitor.

As the top-line trim, the Limited also includes a power sunroof, high-beam assist and Blue Link connected car services, plus a healthy list of standard features from other trims, such as Bluetooth, a rearview camera, hill-start assist and seven airbags.

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.

The Ioniq isn’t a performance vehicle. Acceleration gets the job done, without any expectations for any zippy, on-ramp maneuvering or a sudden desire to quickly pass another traveler. But the Ioniq has road presence. It offers a firm, stable ride and advances at freeway speeds with confidence.

One curiosity about the Ioniq remains. What’s up with its name? Hyundai explains the car’s unique title is an amalgamation of the words “ion” and “unique.” But it doesn’t exactly convey much.

Two decades ago, Toyota took a chance when it introduced the Prius. It means “first” in Latin and it’s worked. The Prius is the aging standard for the hybrid segment and it’s still unsuccessful in its quest to attract more than niche buyers.

With its superior gas mileage and fair pricing, the Ioniq has a strong appeal. But like the Prius, it’s likely to remain a niche market choice. And its name won’t help.

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