Although it’s a spin-off from the i30 range, Hyundai’s Ioniq family of maximum economy flagbearers is a completely different engineering proposition to the popular hatchback.
Designed from the ground-up to accommodate three different drivelines, the Ioniq allows Hyundai engineers to demonstrate readily accessible technology, hopefully ahead of its major competition.
The Ioniq concept is to engineer a lightweight and efficient automotive template that has nimble suspension, a high level of driving dynamics, plenty of people and luggage room and a cabin fit-out that matches some premium cars.
The difference is you then plug-in one of three optional drivelines to deliver the blend of electrons that is your preference.
On the outside, the car still displays an echo of Toyota’s well-established Prius, with a sloping rear roof line and a tall impression from the front.
It’s for aerodynamics, but most hybrids spend their lives in cities and suburbs where aerodynamics plays little part in the fuel statistics.
Connectivity is of course critical, and the Ioniq inherits the new i30’s crammed-full package of features that turns the car into an adept extension of home or office. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto deliver what is becoming a standard in cars, and wireless conductive charging in a small compartment forward of the centre console is standard for compatible devices.
Tom Tom LIVE services are also on board to deliver the information owners are starting to consider essential.
Vehicle systems are optimised for energy efficiency. The Ioniq’s climate control has an efficiency mode and the dual-zone system can be set to a driver-only mode to reduce the load on the energy package.
Batteries are all lithium-ion polymer and vary in size between the three, but despite the big difference between the hybrid pack and the all-electric’s resource, the car’s basic architecture doesn’t change.
Weight savings have been high on the list of must-dos for the engineers, who selected aluminium for the hood and tailgate, the biggest slabs of sheet metal. The hybrid and plug-in share a multi-link rear suspension system with dual lower arms, and also includes a healthy dose of aluminium that chops around 10kg from the suspension.
On the all-electric version, space requirements means a torsion beam rear axle is used to fit the 28kWh battery pack, which extends into the spare wheel well.
All the cars use a new-generation permanent magnet electric motor with reduced thickness of core components and rectangular section copper wire to decrease core and copper loss.
In detail the differences between the three cars are significant.
The new Kappa 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine is an Atkinson cycle unit with a healthy thermal efficiency of 40 per cent. It produces 77kW and 147Nm of torque. The control unit combines this with the 32kW and 170Nm electric motor to produce a total output of 103.6kW and 265Nm. A top speed of 185km/h serves to illustrate potential and the all-important fuel figure is drilled down to as low as 3.4L/100kms.
A six-speed dual clutch transmission gives the drivelines an edge missing in the competitive hybrids, and the software manages to keep an unbroken stream of torque available at any speed. Multi-link rear suspension and a tight front suspension helps the Ioniq hybrid to stick to the line you select and reward a driver looking for something more stimulating than just getting there.
The petrol engine is small and develops its power over a wide range. But the instant torque boost from the electric package keeps the front wheels dragging the car around bends without interruption.
A high-resolution instrument cluster is in fact a digital display that presents requested information in a different hue, depending on the drive mode selected. A revolving speedo surrounded by a tacho appears in SPORT mode.
I didn’t get to drive the plug-in as its release date is still a few months away from its hybrid and all-electric brothers, which are already on sale in South Korea and the US.
But in essence, the major difference is, recharging the battery pack doesn’t depend entirely on the engine driving the electric motor in regenerative mode. That’s there as well, but you can plug your car in when you’re stopped to provide you with a healthy 50km of pure electric range before the engine will cut in to top up the charge.
The plug-in’s electric motor is rated at 45kW, 13kW more than the hybrid.
You don’t start an electric car. You turn it on. One press of the “Power” button, which replaces the “Start/Stop” button in the i30, and the systems engage. The dash lights up telling you some things you need to know, like battery state, range and distance to a recharge location, and a lot of stuff you don’t.
A fan under the bonnet cranks up to cool the inverter stack sitting across the top of the electric motor unit, but apart from that it’s silent.
Foot on the brake pedal, press “D” and off we go.
I had the new Ioniq EV five-door around the environs of Incheon, a satellite city to Seoul, to see how Hyundai’s electric experience shaped up.
Two conclusions were immediately apparent. Firstly, it’s no Tesla-beater, but secondly, it’s a better drive than most other electric vehicles short of top-end premium technological explosions like the BMW i8.
Thankfully, the car is completely free of any electric “whine.” Silent progress is as good as any other small car, while Sport mode opens the electron’s pipe for a liveliness that starts with a punch on the back on take-off and a fair amount of wheel spin if you’re not careful.
A surprise is the paddles on the steering wheel. They’re not for gears, but to control the three levels of regenerative braking, with level three making the brake pedal unnecessary except in coming to a complete stop.
As a price indicator, in the US the three cars start at $US22,200 ($28,850) for the hybrid, with the all-electric on sale from $US29,500. The plug-in hybrid hasn’t been released yet but is likely to be priced somewhere between its brothers. Hyundai can look to a procession of environmentally conscious buyers — and lookers — heading to Australian showrooms when the cars arrive soon. Putting an electric small car on the road in Perth is a move guaranteed to stimulate much more discussion on issues such as range anxiety and noiseless motoring.