The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid looks to the future but still works here and now

Presenting huge fuel savings and more than enough usable pure-electric range for the daily commute, the Ioniq feels perfectly suited to today's age.

The future of the car is electric, or at the very least involves the electric motor, and Hyundai is a company that knows that. With it recently having spun its Ioniq model off into it’s own sub-brand focused on all-electric vehicles as a way of showing its commitment to future tech, it’s clear that the South Korean company is looking far forward into the future.

However, while the current Hyundai-badged Ioniq offers a glimpse at the future with the top-spec Electric model, as does the Kona Electric also, it also features more here and now with the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid variants, the latter of which is what you see here.

While the regular Ioniq Hybrid doesn’t really solve issues anymore than any other series hybrid such as the Toyota Prius, with it still using around 4L/100km in the real world due to not offering more than a few short bursts of electric-only driving at a time, the Plug-in Hybrid to me actually looks to be a viable solution for those wanting to cut down on fuel use and tailpipe emissions without living with the caveats of owning an electric car in a country such as Australia in which public charging stations are a relative rarity.

Priced from $42,410 for the base Elite model, it comes in at a hefty $7270 more than the regular Hybrid but $6560 less than the Electric range-topper, but I genuinely do feel that the price jump over the entry Hybrid is justified when you spend some time living with it.

Inside, both this and the Hybrid are practically identical, which means both actually feel fairly different to the Electric model. Key to that is the redesigned centre console which features a more conventional shifter arrangement and higher walls, rather than the Electric’s more open design that features a huge storage bin where the shifter would normally be, with a compact push-button design utilised in it instead.

Also a point of difference is that it lacks the digital gauge cluster made standard in the Electric Elite, with this using a mechanical speedo and a smaller 4.2-inch screen, with it not even featuring a tachometer at all.

To get the digital gauge cluster you’ll have to spend an additional $4500 to step up to the Premium model, which also brings with it niceties such as heated and ventilated leather seats with memory for the driver, a sunroof, wireless phone charging, automatic wipers, front parking sensors, LED headlights rather than basic halogen projectors, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and power-folding wing mirrors.

However, the base Elite doesn’t feel too bad at all inside. I’m a huge fan of the grey cloth upholstery on its well-cushioned seats, it still features the big new 10.25-inch infotainment screen with its slick operating system and a lengthy list of features including sat nav and smartphone mirroring, the premium Infinity audio system is fitted as standard, it features dual-zone climate control where the Electric model only features single-zone, and the complete Hyundai SmartSense active safety suite is included as well which even features Level 2 semi-autonomous driving ability, with it ranking among one of the best systems of its kind that I’ve tried.

Perhaps the only notable difference between the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid is that the latter features the smallest boot in the range due to it having a larger battery pack mounted under the floor, reducing the boot capacity to 446 litres instead of the Hybrid’s 563 litres and even the Electric’s 462 litres due to its batteries being mounted under the cabin floor.

What really makes the Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid quite special though is what I think is an incredibly clever drivetrain that not only improves on driving feel compared to many other hybrids, but also delivers properly astounding fuel economy returns that could likely never be matched by a non-plug-in.

At the heart of its drivetrain is a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that runs on the more efficient Atkinson cycle, which produces 77kW at 5700rpm and 147Nm at 4000rpm.

Paired to that is a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor that adds another 44.5kW and 170Nm into the mix, bumping the system’s total output up to 104kW and 265Nm – nothing to write home about in the power stakes, then, but a healthy dose of torque regardless.

The first clever bit of tech it features though is that to send the power to its front wheels, rather than use a CVT as the likes of Toyota and Subaru utilise in their hybrid models, the Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid feature a six-speed dual-clutch automatic instead.

While some may come down on DCTs, in this application it’s a masterstroke – whether running on petrol or electric power, it’ll shift through the gears to provide an incredibly direct and normal feel, and it actually keeps the electric motor in its sweet spot at higher speeds. I know most car companies may act like one gear is enough for electric motors, but it really isn’t when higher-speed driving, such as on freeways and long country roads which abound Down Under, is factored into the equation.

However, whenever the petrol engine is required to kick back in, the fact the dual-clutch has been running through the gears anyway means the petrol engine can fire right back into life in the correct gear at the correct engine speed. It might sound complicated, but in reality it makes it feel far more normal than anything else.

Plus, even in Sport mode when using the paddle shifters, the dual-clutch will happy skip-shift from second to fourth or third to fifth if it feels you aren’t asking for the drivetrain’s full performance potential, so efficiency is clearly embedded into the transmission’s electric brain.

What’s also great about this drivetrain is how much it offers in the way of electric driving. With an 8.9kWh lithium-ion battery pack allowing for what Hyundai claims to be 63km of pure-electric driving, which is a pretty accurate claim I found, it’s more than enough to cover the average person’s drive to work and back every day – even if they aren’t able to charge it at work in the cases of many.

As a result, driving it from my home in the Adelaide Hills to the city and back on a couple of days to simulate if I needed to commute daily, the roughly 80km round trip which only required the petrol engine to kick in under hard acceleration and for the final short stint after the battery was depleted saw fuel use of only around 1.5L/100km – not bad at all against a WLTP claim of 1.1L/100km, and this in a notably hilly part of the world as the name of the implies, too. Its CO2 emissions of 26g/km mark a drastic reduction compared to the regular Hybrid’s 79g/km when rolling on 15-inch wheels.

Charging from a household power outlet only takes four hours as well, so you can be certain you’ll have all 63km of range back in the batteries by the next morning, and there’s no real need to go to the expense of having a home charging station installed either.

But when you do need to go on a longer drive as I did on a quick 200km day trip to Mannum with a friend, you’ve got the petrol engine to fall back on, and even then fuel consumption wasn’t sitting much higher than 3L/100km at the end of the day.

Think about it, and it’s a very clever system that only has a couple of caveats – those being that you will actually need somewhere at home to be able to charge it up, and that if you don’t have a solar system at your house the energy it’s being charged with isn’t actually so green, and nor is it free.

It’s worth noting as well that aside from the cleverness of it’s drivetrain, it’s nothing to really marvel over as a car in its own right. Looks-wise it’s still a bit unusual when you think about it and bland when you don’t, it’s not exactly the fastest thing in the world even if its torquey electric motor makes it feel fairly punchy in traffic, and it certainly doesn’t ever feel sporty with efficiency being it’s key goal.

None of that is to say that it’s bad in any way, though, as it’s quite the opposite in fact – with multi-link independent rear suspension where the Ioniq Electric uses only a torsion beam, it feels truly imperturbable when it comes to its ride quality, and its chassis and well-weighted steering helps it feel fairly well-judged in the corners although the low rolling resistance eco tyres mean it does lack lateral grip when pushed hard, which no owner will likely ever discover.

As a daily driver though, it’s perfectly suited to the task. The interior is comfortable and roomy, the steering nice and easy in carparks, and even on the freeway it remains quiet and serene when cruising on the freeway – unless, of course, you’re cranking the great Infinity stereo in it.

And so, to return to my opening point, while EVs or at least vehicles using electric motor technology such as hydrogen cars may be the way of the future, PHEVs like this when executed correctly are a great solution right here and now, and the Ioniq is a perfect example of just how on the money they can be.

With a good amount of usable range, a reasonable enough recharging time, a transmission that helps normalise the entire experience, and it all wrapped up in a perfectly pleasant and easy to live with package, for those with a place to plug it in, the Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid feels like one of the better and more convenient forward-thinking solutions that still works in today’s age.

This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on September 28, 2020. The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).

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