2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV First Drive

Hyundai's Ioniq PHEV Finds the Sweet Spot


The 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid marks Hyundai's entry into the plug-in hybrid car segment. When buyers think hybrid, the name that comes to mind is usually Toyota Prius, the car that defined the compact hybrid class. The Prius is the go-to, the benchmark, and even mighty Honda (remember the ill-fated Insight and the CR-Z?) couldn't topple the Prius from its perch despite its shortcomings.

But it's not enough to be just a hybrid anymore. The strong second-generation Chevrolet Volt, along with Ford's less successful C-Max Energi, proved the value of having a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) — a hybrid with larger batteries that can run in all-electric mode — in your lineup. Toyota responded with its own Prius PHEV, the Prius Prime, so when Hyundai trotted out its Ioniq Hybrid and Ioniq Electric earlier this year, the carmaker knew it had to bring a PHEV to the game and it had to be good. Enter the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV.

Three's Company
In the Ioniq heirarchy, the PHEV slots in between the hybrid and the electric models, with both a gas engine and the ability to drive using solely electric power. The engine powering the PHEV is the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder as in the Ioniq Hybrid, and it makes the same 104 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque. But thanks to a more powerful electric motor (45 kW as opposed to 32 kW), the Ioniq PHEV has more pep than its hybrid sibling. This extra power is noticeable around town and especially apparent when merging onto a highway. That larger motor is fed by a larger 8.9-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, and it allows the Ioniq PHEV to run on electric power at speeds up to 75 mph. The 1.6-liter gas engine can be called into action at any time, should the driver need extra acceleration.

The Ioniq PHEV's transmission helps set it apart from the competition. Where the Prius has a continuous variable automatic transmission (CVT) and the Volt relies on a more exotic planetary gear arrangement, the Ioniq uses a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic with an integrated electric motor. Hyundai developed this transmission exclusively for use in hybrids, and it shows. The shift action is smooth at full and part throttle, and there's no perceptible clutch judder when pulling away from a standstill (a problem with some dual-clutch automatics). The driving experience will feel more familiar to drivers who are accustomed to a car shifting through gears as it accelerates, as opposed to the rubber-band rev holding of CVT automatics. An available Sport mode combines the gas and electric motors to sharpen throttle response and maximize acceleration.

Less Is More
Hyundai worked hard to keep weight down in the Ioniq PHEV, using aluminum components wherever possible. Large body pieces such as the hood and the rear hatch are aluminum, but Hyundai went further in its effort to shave off every pound. Replacing major suspension elements with the lightweight metal trimmed 13 pounds from the front and 9 pounds from the rear.

The Ioniq also has less drag. Hyundai is proud, and rightly so, of the Ioniq PHEV's drag coefficient of 0.24, one of the lowest of any production car. Yes, that's even lower than the Prius' and Prius Prime's. A three-stage active air management system located behind the front grille ensures the car gets all the air it needs while staying as slippery as possible. Despite the car's purposeful figure, it manages to strike an attractive and modern shape, especially when parked among more conventional vehicles.

All this aerodynamic, electrical and material wizardry pays off in efficiency, which you can see most easily in the Ioniq PHEV's estimated range of 630 miles on a full tank and a full charge. The EPA estimates a combined rating of 52 mpg, with an all-electric range of 29 miles. The Ionic PHEV's total range falls 10 miles shy of the Prius Prime's tremendous estimated 640 miles yet well ahead of the Volt's estimated 420-mile range, though the Volt offers nearly twice the all-electric driving range on a single charge.

Inside and Around Town
Inside, the Ioniq PHEV retains a lot of the familiar Hyundai styling we've come to like, with clear, easy-to-read gauges, a comfortable steering wheel, and a layout free of gimmicks or strange shapes. The cabin seems well constructed, and the controls have a nice feel of solidity and quality to them. Interior space is on par with the standard Ioniq Hybrid, but cargo space takes a minor hit due to the larger battery, coming in at 3.5 fewer cubic feet. Perhaps the only shortcoming of the PHEV's interior is the small-ish rear seat. Though it's fine for children, taller rear passengers might find the space uncomfortably tight when sitting behind a taller driver.

On the road, the ride is a bit on the firm side. Some of the potholes around town felt bigger than they looked, but things smooth out at highway speeds, where the ride felt well damped. The larger, heavier battery doesn't seem to affect the ride, and Hyundai has done a good job tuning the rear independent multilink suspension to cope with the added weight. Road noise at highway speed was noticeable, as was wind noise from the front windshield, but it was far from excessive.

Equipped to Compete
Three trim levels are available: Standard, Limited and Limited with Ultimate. All models receive a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a rearview camera, heated seats, and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. The Limited trim level gets blind-spot monitoring, leather seats and LED headlights. The highest trim level, the Limited with Ultimate, adds automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, a power sunroof, an 8-inch touchscreen with a premium stereo system, and wireless device charging. Prices at the time of our first drive were unavailable, but we expect them to range between $25,000 and $30,000, depending on trim level.

The Ioniq family is a strong first attempt at compact hybrid cars by Hyundai, and the Ioniq PHEV might be the best version the brand has to offer. While the electric range could stand to be a bit longer, the overall effiency, usablity and styling make the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid tough to ignore. Couple that with Hyundai's usual generous warranty, supplemented by a lifetime battery warranty, and the Ioniq PHEV should give the Toyota Prius something to worry about for a change.

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