Can any automaker out-do the Toyota Prius? Some have tried and ultimately have failed in one way or another. But the latest challenger, the Hyundai Ioniq, appears to be a formidable opponent. On paper, the Ioniq boasts higher fuel economy figures than the Prius. It also features a design that will not scare people away. We spent a week in the midlevel SEL to find out if the Prius needs to watch its back.
The Ioniq’s design appears to be heavily influenced by the second and third-generation Prius. This is shown in the overall profile and rear tailgate design. The front end comes with a large hexagonal grille, raked projector headlights, and deep cuts in the bumpers enclosing a set of LEDs. The only downside to the Ioniq’s design is the plastic rectangle around the Hyundai emblem on the front. It looks out of place, but that houses the radar system needed for the automatic braking and adaptive cruise control systems.
“It seems quite normal,” will be thought of many when they come inside the Ioniq. There is no futuristic design, joystick controller for the transmission, or endless acres of white plastic trim. This is an interior you might expect to find in the Elantra compact sedan. Material quality is similar to what you’ll find in a Toyota Prius - a mix of hard and soft plastics. The control layout is simple and is within easy reach for those sitting up front. The SEL comes with cloth upholstery and a power driver’s seat. Finding a comfortable position isn’t too hard with the power adjustments and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. But the Ioniq’s front seats do falter on long trips. I found myself squirming around the seat after driving the vehicle for an hour. The back comes up slightly short in terms of head and legroom for taller passengers. For example, I’m 5’9” and my head was touching the headliner.
A 7-inch infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard on all Ioniqs. A larger 8-inch system with navigation is only available on the top-line Limited trim. Hyundai offers one of the better infotainment systems with an easy-to-understand interface, quick performance, and having physical shortcut buttons to various functions. The only thing I wished Hyundai would do is making the 8-inch screen standard. This would make it easier to read the information at a quick glance.
Hyundai employs a 1.6L Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine, a 32 kW electric motor, and a Lithium-ion Polymer battery for the Ioniq’s hybrid powertrain. Total output is rated at 139 horsepower, 18 more than in the Prius. Around town, the Ioniq is noticeably faster than the Prius. I had no problems with keeping up with the flow of traffic. Sport mode does sharpen acceleration, but it will eat into fuel economy. Like the Prius, the Ioniq does struggle with getting up to speed on the freeway. The six-speed dual-clutch automatic didn’t exhibit the hesitation to drop down a gear or the clunky gear changes that I experienced in the Kia Niro. It delivered smooth and quick shifts.
The EPA rates the 2017 Ioniq SEL at 55 City/54 Highway/55 Combined - better the 54/50/52 for the Prius. My average for the week was a disappointing 45 mpg. Some of this can be explained by the extremely cold temps that hit the Detroit-area only a couple days into my loan. This caused the gas engine to run constantly to keep the vehicle warm.
Like the Prius, the Ioniq is surprisingly fun to drive. There is little body roll and the vehicle quickly transitions from one turn to another. Steering has decent weight when turning, but is devoid of feel, something common in the class. The Ioniq comes up slightly short in terms of ride quality. On rough roads, the Ioniq lets in more bumps than the Prius. There is also a fair amount of tire roar that comes inside when driving on the freeway.
Pricing is a strong point for the Ioniq. The midlevel SEL trim begins at $23,950. With the optional tech package (adds adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning) and floor mats, the as-tested price comes to $25,910. Taking into account what you get for the price, the Ioniq continues Hyundai’s reputation of delivering a lot of car for the money.
As my time with the Ioniq was coming to a close, I found myself stumped between choosing the Ioniq and Prius. The Ioniq has the less outlandish design, better performance, higher fuel economy figures (on paper), and value. But the Prius can hold its own as it has a better balance between ride and handling, slightly larger back seat, and impressive real-world fuel economy figures. Plus, the Prius name holds a lot more recognition than the Ioniq.
Despite the positives, the Ioniq finds itself between a rock and hard place.
Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Ioniq, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.6L GDI Atkinson Cycle Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor
Driveline: Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Transmission, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 104 @ 5,700 (Gas), 43 @ 0 (Electric), 139 (Combined)
Torque @ RPM: 109 @ 4,000 (Gas), 125 @ 0 (Electric)
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 55/54/55
Curb Weight: 3,031 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Ulsan, South Korea
Base Price: $23,950
As Tested Price: $25,910 (Includes $835.00 Destination Charge)
Tech Package - $1,000.00
Carpeted Floor Mats - $125.00