Thursday 21 September 2017

Three-in-one as Hyundai aim Ioniq at buyers of electric LEAF, Prius hybrid and 2017 plug-in

First drive: Hyundai IONIQ EV

Hyundai IONIQ EV
Hyundai IONIQ EV
The interior Hyundai IONIQ EV
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Hope springs eternal on the electric-car front as a year where fewer have been purchased than in 2015 draws to a close.

Hyundai is the latest to brave the challenge of persuading people to switch from fossil fuel to electric power (which of course may be fossil fuelled in the first place - but that is a debate for another day).

The IONIQ electric vehicle (EV) is one of three powertrains bearing the name: the others being a hybrid (here too) and a plug-in (early 2017).

I've been driving the EV so I can give you my early impressions. To put them in context, however, a few bits and pieces first.

With fewer EV sales this year (389 v 466 for all of 2015) Hyundai say they hope the IONIQ goes beyond the so-called 'early adapters'.

In terms of size, it sits between their i30 and i40. They claim it has more room than the Nissan LEAF and equates with the Prius (hybrid versions). It doesn't look/feel as large as the Toyota.

The LEAF is by far the biggest-selling EV (348 of the 389 EVs registered in total this year). Hyundai claim an equipment advantage on it - and the Prius.

Let me say I didn't like the look of it that much in white but am fonder of the black version I've had on test these past couple of days.

There is a 5yr unlimited warranty on the car and an 8yr/180,000km guarantee on the battery pack. The electric IONIQ costs €28,495 (after rebates and grants) while the hybrid comes in at €31,995 (1.6-litre petrol engine).

The most notable external differentiation between the EV and hybrid is the front grille.

The interior is straightforward, but there is a lot of grey/dark plastic. It needs something to lift it a bit. There was more room at the back than I imagined.

Against that, the display - and what it tells you - is excellent. From a driver's point of view it shows you what range is left, how close and what charging spots are available (really helpful). Simple to use throughout; no mystery - and that's vital.

Connectivity is of a standard we've come to expect - Android and Apple Car Play with the availability of wireless phone-charging. There is a separate heat-pump for ventilation to reduce load on the battery.

Hyundai agree the biggest challenge is 'range anxiety'. In real terms they claim this is the longest - range electric vehicle in the country - Nissan and Tesla might disagree. They also claim it will cover 40km more than the official 280km because of regenerative braking and de-acceleration boost. There are the usual charge options - home, public, fast - and two cables.

At the start my car, fully charged, showed I had 197km of range: more realistic than the 280km they claim. I kept a close eye on the reducing balance while watching the kiolmetres rising on the cluster in front of me. It dropped a km each time I travelled one. This is a positive because others I've driven slumped alarmingly when I hit 100kmh on the motorway.

The level of regenerative braking and lifting the right foot boosted battery-feed and acted like a strong braking force. But the main thing was its ease of use.

Maybe I'm becoming more realistic in my expectations of range but I worried less about making it from A to B. Could I accommodate an EV into my life? No, not with my mileage. But there are plenty who would get by for a few days starting with 190km 'in the tank'. Plug it in at home (you get cables for that and public charging) and/or at work and you'll save a good few euro each week. You just need to want to.

Which brings me to the key question: who is going to buy an electric Hyundai? Obviously and realistically the numbers prepared to do so have to increase or something will give.

Hyundai hope to sell 300 EVs next year. That's not far off what the LEAF is selling this year. Do they know something we don't?

As something of an EV sceptic (until the Government does something quite radical) I'd be a little bit more optimistic after having this for a few days. A bit.

Of course people will ask: why buy electric when they need a car that can also take them to events, family and friends around the country without having to plug in every 150km? But how many others could save themselves a lot on their school runs and suburban sorties with an electric car?

That's where the breakthrough will come ultimately. It will be interesting to see if the IONIQ can help change mindsets. It's a big ask.

Some details/spec: €120 road tax; 28kWH battery, 16in alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, lumbar support, 7in display, rear parking sensors, rear camera, heat pump, tyre mobility kit.

* Meantime the hybrid IONIQ costs €31,995 (€170 road tax). It has a uses a 1.6-litre petrol, electric motor and 6spd automatic DCT. Spec includes 17in alloys, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, 8ins touchscreen, sat nav, Map Care and TomTom LIVE services, rear camera/parking sensors, temporary steel wheel. More on the hybrid in January.

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