2017 Hyundai Ioniq first drive impression: If you can lead a horse to water, can you really make him drink?

BODY WORK

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Extensive use of aluminum and high-strength steel helps deliver both strength and best-in-class fuel efficiency.

Creating an electric vehicle takes a lot more effort than redoing a gas-only car, mostly because you have to think about the lightness of being from the first line drawn on the tablet to the last coat of wax. For the Ioniq, Hyundai relied on a lot of the technology it’s already using on its other new products, with a focus on more aluminum to provide strength yet light weight. The Ioniq’s body is made up of 54 percent high-strength steel for strength without adding pounds. Structural adhesives also do the bonding duties instead of heavier welds. It may not sound like a is heavy, but enough of them around the body, and they add up quickly.

Aluminum is used on the roof, hood, and liftgate, as well as myriad suspension components. Using aluminum in the suspension dropped about 22 pounds total in unsprung mass. By lowering weight through aluminum use, and correct battery placement, the Ioniq has a lower center of gravity for better road handling at speed.

INTERIOR

Hyundai Ionic

Hyundai Ionic

Inside the Ioniq is more of the same thoughtfulness and purposeful design elements. When chasing weight in a vehicle, every feature must have a function, and thought must be put into every detail. It all starts with the materials. Eco friendly is a great way to describe what’s happening inside the Ioniq. Biothermal plastic olefin on the soft-touch surfaces, Bio fabrics featuring sugar cane for raw materials, recycled plastic combined with powdered wood and volcanic stone to help reduce weight, and bio materials for the carpet as well add up to a vehicle that with a lot of recyclability potential. There’s even soybean oil in the door trim paint that helps create the polished metallic color.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid (76)

The charge/power status readout on the left can be difficult to see when driving and with Polarized sunglasses.

The design focus was purified high-tech: Hyundai calls it futuristic and intuitive. It’s not overly buttoned, the dash is clean, we love the flat-bottom steering wheel, and the LED instruments are, for the most part, easy to read. Because the Ioniq shares a basic platform with the Kia Niro, which we reviewed not that long ago, some comparisons are inevitable. While the Hyundai is a hatchback design and the Niro is more wagoneseque, they probably won’t see a lot of cross-shoppers. But we prefer the Niro’s gauge that shows the battery charge status; it’s larger, more colorful, and easier to see at a glance.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Ioniq models.

For functionality, the Ioniq gets an A. The color 4.2-inch display screen allowed us to follow navigation, see how the power flow, well, flowed, and displayed Apple CarPlay in big icons. Piano black on the control area, metallic accents, and plenty of storage keeps the “I’m just a regular car” theme alive and well. We’ll talk about the standard six-speed transmission on the hybrid in a moment, but the center console that houses the shift lever is different on the BEV Ioniq because it’s not required.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid (89)The seats are comfortable for longer trips, yet supportive for moderately brisk driving stretches. We never felt cramped with two people, and even the back seats allowed enough rear legroom for us to sit behind ourselves. The numbers back up that statement, with the Hybrid Ioniq offering more interior volume and cargo volume than Prius and Niro, and more cargo volume than the Ford C-MAX. The reason is because the Ioniq locates its batteries below the floor, where the C-MAX, for example, shoves the battery in the back and under the second row, forcing a hump in the cargo area.

IMG_7638In addition, the Ioniq full-electric has more interior volume than its competitors, especially the Chevrolet Bolt, with the Ioniq offering almost nine cubic feet more interior space. That’s quite a bit of cargo, as you can see from the photo.

IMG_7783Blue is the entry level trim for the Ioniq Hybrid, and comes nicely equipped with a proximity key with pushbutton start, a 7-inch color audio display touchscreen, tilt/telescoping steering column, and more. The SEL with Blue Equipment Plus adds a power, heated driver’s seat with lumbar, heated front passenger seat, Blind Spot Detection with rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, and more. The Limited adds on top of that leather seats, Blue Link telematics and power sunroof. The Ultimate Package tops it all off with Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, adaptive headlamps, rear parking sensors, wireless device charging, and more.

UB8YwFor those audiophiles, there’s a Harman Infinity audio system with Clari-Fi technology to improve MP3 sound quality (we love Harman audio systems, no matter what vehicle they’re in), and also Blue Link connectivity complimentary for three years. Blue Link is expanded this year with an app that lets you set the charge times for best prices, as well as remote functions that you can control from your app or from a home assistance system like Alexa or Google Home.

PERFORMANCE

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Our best mileage was just shy of 56 mpg in the Ioniq Hybrid, while the EPA number is 58. We know if we get another go at it, we can break 60!

Although Hyundai claims the Ioniq is the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. without a plug, that doesn’t mean the only emphasis is on economy. Quite the contrary. Ioniq Hybrid, and BEV, are fun to drive and handle better than you might expect from a vehicle with a 58-mpg rating. Now driving it a WOT isn’t going to net you those numbers, but it’s good to know that you can be sane and sedate in the city, yet wild and free on the open road. There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to performance. Let’s tackle the hybrid first, then work on the other powertrains.

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The 1.6-liter Kappa engine is the gas power source for the Ioniq Hybrid.

The Ioniq Hybrid features Hyundai’s Kappa 1.6-liter GDI inline four-cylinder engine with an Atkinson-cycle and long stroke/bore ratio. Hyundai claims it has the world’s highest thermal efficiency of 40 percent. The permanent magnetic electric motor is 32 kW, and is designed to deliver high-torque output at initial startup, as well as initial traction power plus assist at high speeds. It’s a high-efficiency motor that creates 125 lb-ft of torque. A 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery supplies the charge.

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Driving coast to coast for under $100 in gas is impressive; imagine where you can go for a Benjamin.

Altogether, the net output for the hybrid is 139 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. While this may not sound like much, because there’s 100 percent torque at initial tip in, the Ioniq moves quickly down the road. And as previously mentioned, the Ioniq Hybrid gets a best-in-class 58 mpg. While we tried to reach that number on the test drive, the best we could get was 55 mpg, mostly because there were a lot of uphills on the driving route. Keep in mind that 55 mpg is incredible; give us a week with the Ioniq and we guarantee we’ll record a 60-mpg number easily. As a matter of fact, Hyundai put together a team to drive an Ioniq cross country, and netted that a drive from San Diego, California, to Jacksonville, Florida (2,338 miles), used only about 40 gallons of gas, and cost under $100. Such a deal!

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid (73)Paired with the standard six-speed dual-clutch transmission specifically designed for this hybrid application, the Ioniq’s fun-to-drive quotient steps up a notch because you don’t have to suffer from CVT whine or lack of sport shifting if you desire. The shifts are quick and connected, and it’s a welcome pairing in a segment that relies too heavily on the easy way out.