Curiosity, as writer William Ward put it – is the wick in the candle of learning. Curiosity beckons, guides and conceives the “what ifs” that empower us to challenge the norms of the day. Curiosity also spawns innovative ideas, ideas that sometimes have the ability to change the way we live, work and play.
Some 20 years ago, the Toyota Prius was born, a car that virtually changed the way the world looked at efficiency, and likewise the Bugatti Veyron, which came some years later, pushed the boundaries of what was possible in aerodynamics and powertrain engineering; over the past two decades, no two cars, in my opinion, have been more influential to motoring and mobility in its entirety, than the Toyota Prius and Bugatti Veyron.
We celebrate these cars today for two very opposing capabilities, but the curiosity nonetheless, would have been a guiding force that spurred everyone from the designers to engineers until greatness was achieved.
Likewise, by now, you might be at the least, curious about Hyundai’s new hybrid offering – after several teasers and the launch - it’s only normal to approach the Ioniq's loud statement with equal amounts of curiosity and skepticism.
Why now, and is it any good?
Priced as it is, roughly RM9k more than a top-spec Toyota Vios, makes the Ioniq a compelling alternative for drivers who value exclusivity and the virtuosity of having a 'hybrid' badge stuck to the tailgate of their cars. Since we will not be getting the fourth-generation Prius, and the Honda Insight is no longer on sale, the Ioniq currently enters an unchallenged marketplace. Make no mistake, this is an very important car.
The salvo of industry awards would suggest Hyundai are on to something here. It may be slightly late to the party, but, Hyundai have thrown their proverbial kitchen sink of ideas at this little hybrid hatchback. Which as you will learn, could have only been accomplished with their other talents and resources, such as chassis, safety, engine and body construction technology progressed - consolidating into one cohesive package that is also superbly priced.
It may be late to the party, but I assure you, the Ioniq is decked out in a navy blue satin tux, sporting a suave top hat and glossy shoes, still curious?
Price: RM103,328 (HEV), RM110,828 (HEV Plus) - OTR without Insurance
Engine: 1.6-litre, Inline-4 Transverse, Direct Injection, VVT, Petrol
Power: 103hp @ 5,700rpm
Torque: 147Nm @ 4,000rpm
Hybrid Electric Motor: Power: 43hp, Torque: 170Nm
Transmission: 6-speed Dual-Clutch Auto, FWD
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, ISOFIX, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), *Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), *Autonomous Emergency Brake (AEB), *Blind Spot Detection (BSD), *Adaptive Cruise Control, *Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA).
* HEV Plus variant only
Origin: Locally-assembled in Kulim, Kedah
The Hyundai Ioniq is the world’s first car developed from ground-up to house three distinct electrified powertrains – a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and a full-electric.
The Malaysian market only gets the hybrid version, for now at least. Two variants are on offer, with the range HEV Plus (on test) adds a generous suite of active safety features.
Under the hood lies a 1.6-litre transverse mounted direct-injected inline four, from Hyundai’s Kappa engine family. The engine produces 103hp and 147Nm at 4000 rpm and is an astute piece of engineering by itself. The engine runs the Atkinson cycle much like the Prius, further to that, Hyundai have included other technology to improve the engine’s efficiency, such as the split cooling for the engine head and block and optimised the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system. All this equates to an overall thermal efficiency of 40 percent, double that of a regular internal combustion engine.
The engine is matched up to a permanent magnet electric motor, which outputs 43.5PS and 170Nm from the get-go, providing torque low down in the rev-range and also assists the engine at mid to high engine speeds. Total system output is rated at 139hp and 265Nm and for a frame of reference, that 15Nm more that the VW Golf 1.4 TSI produces.
The engine and gearbox are tacked to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission specifically developed for the Ioniq hybrid. The motor draws energy from a 1.56kWh Lithium-ion polymer battery, positioned under rear seats. Besides powering the traction motor, the high-discharge battery also powers the electric air-cond compressor and hybrid starter and generator (HSG).
To keep the weight down, Hyundai employed aluminium panels on the hood, tailgate, front and rear bumper beams and certain suspension components. Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS) was used in 53 percent of the body's construction – increasing rigidity and thus making the Ioniq among the safest cars on the planet.
For the most part , I never quite took to the design of the Toyota Prius, despite being developed form the ground up to be a hybrid vehicle – visually, it’s overly complex, tries too hard, and has a rear end that would make Kim Kardashian jealous. Again, this is just my opinion.
In contrast, the Ioniq just looks more ‘car’ than a spaceship. The frontal proportions are sleek, the imposing grille flows subtly towards the sleek headlamps which are specified with obligatory daytime running lights. The front bonnet meets A-pillar at a nice angle which flows rearward over the smooth roofline.
A subtle kink in the flank flows just after the front wheels arches, forming the waistline, which serves to draw the car’s stance closer to the ground. The wheels are a toss-up in my opinion, either you like them or don’t, the graphite coloured panels that fill the spokes are actually functional plastic items, there to decrease drag when air passes the around the side.
Hyundai are quick to point out that replacing the wheels with aftermarket items will affect the car’s slippery drag coefficient. The entire architecture of the car, works as a cohesive system to reduce wind resistance and thus improve mileage. The combination of (3 stage) active air flaps in the front grille, seven panels that produce a near-flat underbody and the rear spoiler, all work in tandem to produce a streamlined profile.
Round the back – high mounted tail lamps set the tone for a nicely rounded rear fascia. Lower down, a black rear garnish on the bumper houses the rear reflectors and adds a touch of detail at the rear end.
Aside from the scratchy plastics of the steering wheel’s ‘centre cover’, lower regions centre console and door panels – which are perhaps a necessary compromise to keep weight down, I find little other qualms with the Ioniq’s interior. The dash layout is simple, understandable and elegant.
The center console is crowned at the top with the infotainment screen and flows towards the gear-shifter column with stylish, fluidic contours, creating a rather premium design feel. I especially like the blue colour accents that wrap around the air-cond vents.
The switches and toggles that augment the dual-zone climate control and audio controls operate with pleasant tactility, while other touchpoints within the cabin space, i.e., the door panel grab handles, steering wheel and gearshift knob are all up to spec.
The seats are very comfortable, even over a long stint of driving, and the side bolsters around the thigh and backrest positions the driver nicely and provide adequate lateral support even during spirited driving.
Given the car’s width, rear accommodation is pleasantly comfortable. The Ioniq will take five in comfort even on longer journeys. However, some of the journalists, the taller ones especially, noted a slight lack of headroom, due to the car’s sloping roofline, but, one would have to measure over 6.0 feet to experience this. Otherwise, leg and shoulder room is on par with the best of the current crop of C-Segment cars currently offer.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Ioniq’s interior is the boot space, by positioning the batteries under the rear seats (in the hybrid and plug-in hybrid models), provides users with 443 litres of useable room, even before the 60:40 split folding rear seats are reclined.
Take a close look at the two pictures below - a tight sequence of left-to-right gates were deliberately setup by Hyundai on the closed driving course. This particular section simulated somewhat of a ‘Scandinavian Flick’ manoeuvre, popular in rally driving – which was taken by the fastest of drivers between 60-65 km/h. The sole purpose of which was to throw the Ioniq off-course, and instigate a violent ‘tank slapper’ – which never happened.
Again, this comes down to the ingenuity of the design itself, by placing the rear batteries low within the car’s frame, the centre of mass is thus lower and reduces the effects of load transfer during hard cornering, plus, the added weight allows the rear tyres to bite harder into the tarmac – improving traction levels front-to-back.
It takes roughly 10 minutes of driving in the Ioniq to determine just how well balanced and poised the driving characteristics are. All that testing and development at Hyundai’s Nurburgring test centre has seemingly paid off – the ride quality even on bumpier roads is very composed, the bound and rebound of the suspension is fluid and there’s little knee-jerk type responses even when catching a pothole.
By using high-strength steel on vital load bearing components of the car’s body and chassis, the inherent rigidity of the Ioniq resists body roll very well, and spreads the forces rather evenly across the car’s framework.
On the highway, at the speed limit, the ride is supple with little intrusion in the way of wind or tyre noise, there’s even less audibility from the engine, which hums away, out of sight and mind, whirring between the motor and internal combustion engine. Switching between power units is almost imperceptible unless you plant your foot hard to the floor.
If so, the engine will protest, but performance isn’t dismal either, the surge from 80-120km/h allows for easy overtaking of slower traffic and the engine does have decent poke up until 165km/h. Move the gear lever to the right to engage ‘Sport’ mode to harness the engine’s maximum response – signified by a shift in the information display, to display a vibrant tachometer.
The transmission is nicely calibrated and offers smooth operation in traffic and on the highway. Crawling in traffic is despatched with ease; there's little judder or hesitance when 'creeping' in traffic and even under hard acceleration, gear engagement is smooth. If you have ever experienced a Volkswagen or BMW dual-clutch setup, you'd find the operation in the Ioniq, by comparison sluggish, however, we're told that this shift mapping is deliberately setup to preserve the gearbox. Overall, the operation is closer to that of a torque-converter auto.
The brakes need some getting used to - tasked with braking and energy regeneration, the brake pedal can seem 'squishy' at times. The pedal travel versus the brake force does not always feel linear, especially during mid to low speeds and when in traffic. Granted, it's a characteristic that affects quite a number of cars that employ energy recuperation through braking.
Returning to the Scandinavian flick part – as the Ioniq moves form the right to left, the rear end remains progressive and controllable, the steering quick and responsive enough for rapid corrections, requiring little or no interventions from the stability control. A testament indeed, to the chassis engineering of the Ioniq.
It’s a techy treat to cycle through the Ioniq’s many information displays to one marked ’Energy Flow’ – which graphically demonstrates the activity of the car’s hybrid power unit.
Whether it be the transference of electrons and/or the combustion of fossil fuel – the quick seamless flow of blue and green lines between icons marked as the battery and engine illustrate just how intelligent the Ioniq is at managing its power reserves.
Over a distance of some 220+km traversed across city roads, tyre bashing B-road driving and long stints on the highway – the Ioniq returned a parsimonious consumption of 6.7 litres/100km according to the car’s telemetry. And this was averaged over two drivers with very distinct driving styles.
For the most part, the first 150kms or so were covered with the petrol needle seemingly pinned to the ‘F’ position, only dropping away slightly after the 40km odd stint of B-road driving. Under a careful right foot, a full tank mileage of 700km or more would hardly be surprising.
Indulge me for a while, let’s for a second forget the stated facts and figures and concentrate on the car alone, does it make you curious enough to buy one, or at the very least take a test drive? And, would this curiosity be piqued any further if the Ioniq sported another badge, say a Honda or Toyota?
No doubt, when you buy the car – you buy into the brand. Admittedly, in the case of Hyundai, there is much to do in the way of brand perception.
But, in my opinion, car’s like the Ioniq are a dime a dozen – not because of the design or the safety features, but because it’s sublime and virtuous in its execution. It’s because I believe Hyundai set out to build the best car they could with the resources they had, and in many ways, they have - at least for a market like Malaysia.
More so than just being a hybrid in name, in many ways, the Ioniq is actually democratizing the future of efficient mobility and should be lauded for doing so.
After all, wasn’t the Bugatti name all dead in the water until the Veyron came along!