First Drive

Head of the class | 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric First Drive

  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Engine
    Electric Motor
  • Power
    104 HP / 215 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    Single-Speed Reduction
  • Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight
    3,164 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    23.8 CU FT
  • MPG
    136 MPGe Combined
  • Base Price
With the Ioniq family, Hyundai has cooked up a recipe that looks really good on paper. As with the pair of hybrid models, the Ioniq Electric combines a high level of efficiency with a nice price and styling that is neither drab nor audacious. This is uncharted territory for Hyundai, though. The dedicated platform shared by this trio of electrified vehicles is completely new, and the electric version is the brand's very first battery-electric vehicle. Hyundai's approach means the Ioniq can carve out its own space in the market and capture the attention – and dollars – of eco-minded buyers on a budget.

The three Ioniq offerings are all very similar, both in appearance and in underlying technology. The Ioniq Electric, though, is the only one without a gasoline engine (and, for that matter, without the six-speed dual-clutch transmission the hybrids use). For propulsion, it relies solely on its 88-kW (118-horsepower) electric motor, which provides 215 pound-feet of torque. A 28-kWh battery pack supplies the energy, giving it a respectable 124 miles of driving range between charges.

"Wait a minute, Scoob," you might be saying. "Only 124 miles? The Chevy Bolt goes 238 miles on a full battery." Yes, that's right. The Bolt is kind of a young, tough shark swimming in the same waters into which Hyundai is dipping its toes. The Bolt, though, has a starting MSRP of $37,495, which is a big sack of ducats for a compact car. It's also $7,160 more than the Ioniq Electric. We'll revisit the price in a little bit.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Same as in the hybrids, the Ioniq EV's interior is attractive and comfortable. The seats are supportive, and it's easy to find a cozy position behind the adjustable steering wheel. Taller occupants might find headroom in short supply, at least in models equipped with a sunroof. The materials are all attractive and nice to the touch, tiller included. The digital instrument cluster is fairly simple, and toggles on the steering wheel allow you to put the information you want right in front of you. The 7.0-inch central touchscreen is attractive, although the large amount of information and features available in the various menus could be a little difficult to navigate for some. Others will appreciate the ability to monitor their energy usage, customize settings, find charging stations, and project their smartphone onto the screen via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There's even available wireless charging for phones that support it.

The Ioniq Electric, like its hybrid siblings, is supremely smooth and quiet. Instead of a lever, the "gear" selector in the EV is a group of buttons on the center console in front of the armrest. Hit the "D" button, tap the accelerator, and you're off, moving down the road in near-silence. It's not a particularly quick car, hitting 60 mph in about 10 seconds, but what it lacks in outright grunt it makes up for in efficiency and refinement.

The Inoiq Electric is easy to drive, tracking nicely on the highway despite its small stature. The placement of its battery pack means a low center of gravity, and the body feels nice and stiff as it eases through corners. While the hybrid models feature a multi-link rear suspension, the Ioniq Electric has a simpler torsion-beam rear to make room for its larger battery; as a result, it tends to bound a tiny bit more over uneven pavement. Overall, it's a polished and comfortable car to drive, with a temperament that allows for some light horseplay.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

While it'll dance a few steps, much of the driving joy is of the cerebral sort that an electric powertrain offers. Unlike the Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid, which both keep the driver interface simple, the Electric gives drivers more opportunities to take control of and monitor the experience.

A major highlight of the Ioniq Electric is its regenerative braking system. Instead of switching gears (this EV uses just the one reductive gear), paddles on the back of the steering wheel increase or decrease the level of regenerative braking. In addition to the standard coasting (regen level 0), there are three successive levels of regeneration, the highest of which allows for one-pedal driving. We weren't initially all that interested in the regen feature, but having the paddles at our fingertips made it too enticing not to use.

After just a few minutes behind the wheel, we found ourselves switching between them fluently and without thought, selecting the level based on road grade and traffic. It takes a little getting used to, including a shift in some of the driving reflexes that become automatic after decades behind the wheel, but it's a satisfying way to drive, with a focus on timing and smoothness. While this feature is exclusive to the all-electric Ioniq, after using it, we wish it were available on the hybrid models, too, despite the fact it would complicate their straightforward, more mainstream driving experience.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

On the center console, behind the gear selection buttons, is a "Drive Mode" button, which lets you switch between Normal, Eco, and Sport settings. In addition to the throttle and steering adjustments, the various modes also control regenerative braking levels and climate control. The driver can specify their own regen and climate settings for each mode, as well as set a maximum speed for Eco. While a number of cars, especially luxury models, offer underutilized driver-customizable modes, the enthusiastic and tech-savvy EV crowd seems far more likely to take advantage of this feature.

Back to that pricing thing. The cost premium of EVs is a major barrier for entry, Hyundai has noticed (along with the rest of us patiently waiting to turn in our gas cars for EVs). Pricing the Ioniq at $30,335 significantly lowers that barrier, especially when you consider additional federal and possible local incentives. In the car's main market of California, you could nab one for around $20,000. A lifetime battery warranty sweetens the deal.

In terms of the range, unless you regularly drive 200 miles in a day, or can't bear sitting at a DC fast charger for a half hour now and again when you need to travel longer distances, you might prefer to keep that $7,000 in your bank account instead of opting for a Bolt. The Ioniq is also more efficient and, thus, cheaper to operate, providing nearly an extra half-mile per kWh. Unless you absolutely need the extra pep and range the Bolt offers, for the eco-conscious driver on a budget, the Ioniq EV makes sense.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Then there's the Nissan Leaf, which is closer in price to the Ioniq Electric. The Leaf starts at $31,545, still $1,500 more than the Ioniq, with an EPA driving range that comes up 17 miles short. That's not so bad, but it won't charge nearly as quickly unless you shell out another $1,700 (or choose a higher trim level) to get the 6.6-kW onboard charger. Nissan does offer free public charging for two years in select markets with its " No Charge to Charge" program, although most people charge at home, making that less valuable. Plus, the Leaf looks like a loaf of bread. Advantage: Hyundai.

(This could shift, though, as a 200-mile Leaf is in the works. Similarly, Hyundai says it is also planning a longer-range EV.)

Some potential customers in California might be wooed by Hyundai's unlimited subscription model for the Ioniq Electric, the details of which are still in the works. A 36-month lease includes unlimited mileage for a yet-unannounced monthly fee, which will depend on the trim level and options selected. Hyundai will provide free scheduled maintenance, as well as replacement of any items that wear out within 50,000 miles (like tires, brakes, and wiper blades). Hyundai will also reimburse the driver for charging for up to 50,000 miles ( calculated using average electricity cost per kWh versus the mileage data gathered through Hyundai Bluelink). For customers, it could be an enticing deal. For the rest of us, it's an interesting experiment to see if it increases EV adoption.

The Ioniq Electric goes on sale in April, beginning in California, followed by other ZEV states. If you don't live in one of the car's main markets, you can custom order the Ioniq through your local dealer, but you might want to make sure they've elected the training to service the Ioniq Electric.

The Ioniq Electric gets a lot right, and its formula could help encourage many holdouts to ditch their tailpipes. This car is easy on the pocketbook and the eyes, offers an industry-beating level of efficiency, and is somehow also a pleasure to drive. Let's hope Hyundai gets comfortable with being an EV brand soon. At least for now, the Ioniq Electric's greatest handicap might just be in Hyundai's cautious rollout.

Related Video:

Hyundai Ioniq EV Information

Hyundai Ioniq EV

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