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TEST DRIVE: 2017 HYUNDAI IONIQ HEV Plus - Torque, Economy, Refinement and More For Under RM115,000
In the early 1990s, somewhere around the time when I first started driving the average 1.6liter family sedan made somewhere in the region of 110-125hp and about 145-150nm worth of torque. It was a period where everyone threw in multi-valve cylinder heads on to their engines and the first proper use of multi-point fuel injection. It was all actually quite good for the compact, lightweight, pre-safety feature family sedan which had seat belts and gosh, side-impact beams at the very most. Even airbags were optional or non-existent.
By the early 2000s, most of the manufacturers found out that having all the peak power at 6,000rpm was a pain unless you were in a race. So they started bringing down peak horsepower for a more linear torque curve. Of course, by the mid-2000s, everyone was somehow concerned about efficiency and we first started hearing phrases like downsizing engine capacity and Atkinson cycle engines. Turbocharging and hybrid powered cars also started appearing as the need to save the world and its polar bears, whales as well as pandas grew necessary over pure performance. It was a sensible move as by then, fuel prices was on the way up. The first hybrids, which were not very nice to drive at the time took off and everyone started making cars that would easily hit 6.6liters/100km or less. But again, there was not much driving pleasure from any of these whale-saving cars.
These days things are so much better. I recently set foot in a 2.0liter and electric powered SUV and it could do the 0-100kmh dash in under 6.0seconds. In the 1990s, you needed a Subaru Impreza WRX to just that. Not an elephant. In those only a handful of cars could do that or claim to have over 280Nm of torque to play with. Torque is very important in terms of pull or acceleration. It is more important to horsepower when you accelerate away at the traffic lights or when you need to overtake. A mixture of both gets you going places faster, but if you had to choose, its torque to surft everywhere on a wave of effortless power. Which brings us to the Hyundai IONIQ that I am writing about here.This is the most torque abundant car you can buy for under RM120,000 today. And even though it’s a hybrid, that can save the whales or the rainforest, it is a hugely interesting car to drive.
I have got to give praise to the engineers at Hyundai for coming up with the IONIQ as this is the first affordable hybrid I have driven that does not leave me sad and depressed even though I have just saved about a hundred humpback whales. It puts a smile on to my face when I drove it the other day.
The IONIQ is what Hyundai calls the next generation of eco-friendly vehicles. It is manufactured in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all electric variants but the Malaysian market gets a locally assembled hybrid variant. This version is powered by a 105hp/147Nm 1.6liter four cylinder Atkinson cycle engine coupled to a 43hp/169Nm electric motor (powered by lithium ion polymer batteries). Both work together to produce a total estimated output of 139hp and 265Nm torque which goes through to the front wheels via a 6speed dual clutch gearbox. Note the interesting 265Nm torque figure here. It is because of this driving this car is quite effortless in many ways – more on that later as we have to talk you through the other bits of the car first.
The Exterior & the Interior
At first glance the IONIQ looks like a thoroughly modern C-segment sized hatchback. It actually is, as the styling is aerodynamic (0.24cd) and has just the right amount of styling cues to make it stand out from the norm. It isn’t over styled like some of the latest Japanese C segment players. I suppose with chief designer of the Hyundai-Kia Group being Peter Schreyer it does have a more European take on things. Even Hyundai’s fluidic styling seems to be less fluidic in nature with clean lines and a bold grille that is the first thing that your eyes are drawn to. Even the rear with the split glass tailgate warrants a closer inspection. The styling is playful, but not at the outset. As stated, this is somehow very European in execution rather than Asian.
When you step into the cabin of this Plus specced IONIQ HEV, you’d notice that it is very well equipped and you also get lots of soft touch plastic where it matters most – the dashboard, door cards, and there’s also a nice leather rimmed flat bottomed steering wheel and gearknob for you to steer and fondle. The instrumentation in this IONIQ Plus is also nice as it has a high definition Digital information meter cluster for you to look at (the non-Plus IONIQ makes do with a smaller supervision info screen rather than nice graphics and all that).
The infotainment system in this Plus variant also comes equipped with a larger touch screen. Unfortunately, whilst the screen is large, there is actually nothing truly useful that can come out of it aside from changing from which media output to the radio to the reverse camera. It lacks navigation and all the extra functions that this car has can be accessed from the high def information meter on the meter cluster mentioned earlier. See how empty it looks if the radio is on.
All the Lane Keeping Assist, Autonomous emergency braking systems (yes, this high specced variant comes with this amazing thing), cruise control and other vehicle function as well as monitoring is handled through here rather than the large touchscreen. Big, but lacking any function actually. But that being said, this car is loaded with toys to keep the driver occupied. The front passenger will have to be content changing radio stations or fiddling with the media selection for the USB pre-recorded songs. Or maybe they can be fascinated with the wireless charging system on the centre console which is standard in the IONIQ Plus (those with phones that can use this facility are certain high end smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy 6 or equivalent).
Space inside isn’t class leading. It is ample enough for most and four people could seat comfortably in it. Although I must say that taller passengers at the rear must be aware of the slightly high rear seat vis-a-vis the rear door opening. One compromise of the IONIQ is that the battery pack is partly located under the rear seat thereby making the seat higher at the rear than the front. It is good for the passengers as it feels like theatre seats where the seats at the rear are higher than the front. The drawback of this slight compromise is that taller people would have to take extra care when exiting the car (or even entering it).
The second thing you’d notice is that if you’re the driver, the C-pillars are a little bit thick and does block the view a little. Good thing there are blind spot detection sensors located at the wing mirrors if you’re on the move (not as sensitive as the ones on that Swedish marquee but it works fine). The third thing you’d notice is the split rear screen on the tailgate. It is visible to the driver from the rear view mirror and you need to get used to it.
The Drive Experience
Anyway, once you start driving the IONIQ HEV Plus Hybrid you will notice that like most hybrids it will start moving on its electric power before the engine starts up. When the engine starts in this still very new IONIQ is that you can hardly feel it coming on line. You may hear is turning on in the distance but there is no vibration at all. The switchover point is seamless. The only issue I have of the powertrain is that the switchover point from full electric to hybrid mode is not as clear cut. Sometimes it comes in earlier than I expect, sometimes it is later even though it is on the same stretch of road I usually use.
The car could run on full electric mode to around 70kmh, but if you aren’t as gentle on the throttle, expect the engine to turn on. Of course, if you couldn’t be bothered then it isn’t so much of an issue. Even with like totally lack of economical driving the IONIQ could still net me a fabulous 6.6liters/100km.
Range is good too, with the car showing around 650km distance covered even with a heavy footed guy like me driving it. This is even though I used it around urban areas instead of lots of highway driving and the fact that the electric motor will only charge up to a certain level of bars if you are just driving it on a regular commute - It would only charge more than usual if there are a lot of downhill stretches or you use the regenerative brakes a heck of a lot, where full efficiency in terms of recharging could be achieved. Since this isn't a plug-in hybrid, it would be quite hard to charge up the batteries to its fullest potential on a daily basis. This is one drawback of a 'normal' hybrid. I assume a 40-60% battery capacity is about average during the time I used it.
By my standards, this is already an amazing figure since I wasn’t driving like Mother Theresa or the equivalent saint. I for one am into driving cars for the thrill of driving and surprisingly this Hyundai is actually quite a fun drive especially for a hybrid.
It may have a flat bottomed steering wheel to show its sporty intentions. Hyundai also claims that the IONIQ is one of those hybrids that are fun to drive but I do have to say that whilst this is true to some extent, the steering wheel seems a bit too sporty for something which is first of all a compact family hatchback. It gives very little feedback to the driver and that flat bottom does distract you a little if you are on some switchback corners where you could suddenly miss grabbing the steering wheel in those tight corners. For me, flat bottom wheels work if it is geared super fast, but that wouldn’t actually work for a family car actually so this is more for the looks than for actual driving. Yes, it does look good though.
The car also rides well on the roads in and around the Klang Valley. It isn’t set up hard. Bump absorption is good and no one complained whilst being in it. The handling is also predictable with little roll even up to speeds up to 180kmh. However, the car isn’t all that grippy on the eco-specced low rolling resistance tyres which isn't designed for ultimate grip. They may be a large 225/45/17 in terms of size, but these aren’t as grippy as I would have liked. It would save you petrol though and I know most of you out there love fuel economy more than anything in the world. I do think that if I slapped on a set of Michelin PS4 tyres on them it would definitely kick things up a notch.
I believe it actually would. You have to remember that this hybrid has 265Nm of torque to play with. Driving in and around town is so easy (and quiet – very, very quiet in full electric mode) with so much pulling power. Now it isn’t all out performance, the hybrid powertrain feels like it serves up everything early. Like a big turbodiesel but without the noise and actual displacement. 0-100kmh is a conservative 9.8seconds when tested.
I do think the gearing is set up for efficiency rather than pure acceleration (of course as it still is an eco-friendly hybrid). But, it’s a fascinating experience. Mid-range is very enjoyable as the smooth shifting dual clutch gearbox (their best DCT to date and one of the better ones around) shifts down a few notches and you feel as though you are being rocketed forward in a car that has an engine capacity of 2,500cc at the very least. Note that you actually have a 1.6liter engine and something closely related to your kitchen blender under the bonnet. So it’s a fun drive and so darn refined too.
I must say that aside from the fact that you get to play with so much torque for something priced less than RM115,000, I have to also state that this is the most refined C-segment car you can buy today. It is near silent on electric mode. It is still more than decently quiet on a cruise. It feels as refined as one of those RM220,000 premium sedans you could buy today. It is quieter, more refined and more economical than any 1.5liter turbocharged C-segment competitor on sale right now and cheaper. I should know. I've driven both.
So, with this car you do get some performance, a lot of refinement, a lot of equipment, great fuel economy, decent driving pleasure and basically a whole lot of car. Definitely an interesting ‘Driving Device’ that is worth getting.
2017 HYUNDAI IONIQ HEV Plus
Pros: Super refined, so quiet with seamless interaction between motor and engine, fuel efficient, good ride, decent handling dynamics, smooth gearbox, lots of active and passive safety equipment, lots of equipment/toys, affordable pricing for so much car
Cons: Some rear headroom issues when exiting the car, split tailgate may cause some visibility issues, infotainment system seems to be more basic for such a car, flat bottomed wheel a little out of place even though the car is meant to be a fun hybrid
Conclusion: Definitely the most refined C-segment car you can buy today with decent drive dynamics and a large dose of torque to surf on at under RM115,000. Like buying a super rich, moist chocolate cake at a bargain, eating it and not gaining any weight.