Prototype Drive: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In

Prototype Drive: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In

While the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid is already on sale nationwide, and the Ioniq Electric is up for grabs in California, the Goldilocks plug-in version doesn’t roll out until the fourth quarter of 2017. Nonetheless, the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in might be worth the wait; our brief drive of a prototype version near Hyundai’s Michigan-based technical facility left us wondering why the Korean automaker is saving the best for last.

Hyundai’s philosophy behind the Ioniq is that it should drive and feel like a normal car while achieving class-leading fuel efficiency. The thinking is that if you can remove whatever compromises buyers are apprehensive about making by switching to a hybrid, a plug-in, or an EV, the market will come around and consider it like it would any other car.

The key to this strategy is the Ioniq Plug-In’s powertrain, which mirrors that of the standard Ioniq save for its uprated battery and electric motor. For it’s engine, the Plug-In uses the same 1.6-liter I-4 as the regular hybrid, which makes 104-hp and 109 lb-ft of torque. On the electric side, the Ioniq Plug-In makes use of a 44.5-kW electric motor that adds 60 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque for a combined system output of 139 hp. That’s slightly more juice than the Toyota Prius Prime, which maxes out at 121 hp, but less than the Chevrolet Volt, which tops out at 149 hp.

In a world with plenty of hybrids to choose from, there’s nothing about this engine and electric motor combination. The real differentiator is the Ioniq’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which operates more smoothly and seamlessly than the continuously variable transmission in the Prius. While dual-clutches usually have a tendency to be jerky at low speeds, the thrust of the electric motor under acceleration from a stop gives the car enough forward momentum to avoid this entirely.

The 8.9-kWh battery sits low under the rear seats. It’s integrated into the body structure for additional stiffness and beneficially low center of gravity. The Ioniq Plug-In is not a sports car or anything even close to it, but driving around town is perfectly pleasant, especially in all-electric mode. You tend to hear every noise a car makes when it’s as quiet as an EV, so it bodes well for the Ioniq that all we heard was some tire roar from the low rolling resistance Michelin tires. The 16-inch wheels definitely improve the ride as well, as even Michigan’s punishingly rough roads never transmitted anything too jarring into the cabin.

EV range is at least 27 miles, which slightly bests the Prius Prime’s 25 miles but falls well short of the Volt’s 53 miles. Charging takes 2.5 hours on a Level 2 charger. Hyundai claims that this range covers the daily driving needs of a major chunk of American drivers. MPG figures aren’t being released yet, but given that the standard hybrid is rated at 57/59 mpg, the addition of an all-electric function will see even further gains.

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