Hyundai Ioniq: When in doubt, double down

Remember 4th June 2008? If you owned or operated a vehicle during that time, chances are that you would’ve been queuing up at a petrol station trying to brim the tank full. On that tumultuous evening, shell shocked Malaysians found out that fuel prices would rise by a staggering 40% (petrol) to 60% (diesel) by midnight, after government subsidies were pulled against the backdrop of the 2008 oil price shock.

I can’t help but think how the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid would have fared in the aftermath, one could easily envisage that the Ioniq, with its tax incentivised price (starting at RM100,000) and class-leading safety features to have chalked up handsome numbers instead of just the 50 or so units a month currently.

The underrated Hyundai Ioniq: Quite possibly the best hybrid you’re not buying.

For a carmaker that’s late to the electrification game, the Ioniq Hybrid (there’s also a PHEV and a fully electric variant in the Ioniq’s global line-up) is a product that belies Hyundai’s newcomer status, whether you’re looking at it in isolation as a hybrid or a legitimate Civic or Corolla contender. This is Hyundai putting its best foot forward as a carmaker, yet for what it brings to the table (which is a lot), the Ioniq has had a curiously lukewarm reception in Malaysia.

The complete package?

In our hands, the hybrid system which comprises a 105hp/147Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder combustion engine aided by a 44hp/170Nm electric motor (the latter powered by a 1.56kWH lithium-ion battery pack tucked under the rear seats) returned an average of 19km/l in frisky city driving. This may be short of Hyundai’s claim of 25.6km/l, but for a vehicle that’s able to accommodate five comfortably while delivering credible real-world efficiency is pretty impressive in our books.

Hyundai did dabble with hybrid systems prior to the Ioniq, can now claim to be on par with the Japanese, if not better.

More surprising is how accomplished this drivetrain performs in everyday use, it’s as if Hyundai been making hybrids for as long as Toyota or Honda has. Unlike some hybrid systems that are calibrated to be overly miserly in consumption (such as the last generation Prius), this one offers proper poke when you require performance and remain inconspicuous when you’re not in a rush. The transitions between the two propulsion sources are barely discernible, while the smooth six-speed dual-clutch transmission further adds to the overall refinement.

Five-door notchback design may be a little derivative, but is otherwise neatly executed.

If anything, the Ioniq drives just like how you’d expect a competent C-sedan powered by an internal combustion to. Primary controls such as steering, throttle and braking have a natural, linear response and the damping is neither too soft nor too firm, so you do get an impression of what the suspension and tyres are up to, which in turn builds confidence behind the wheel. It doesn’t quite qualify as fun, but the Ioniq is a pleasant drive nonetheless.

Apart from the blue accents, the Ioniq cabin could do with more material contrasts.

Gripes? Just one, and it would be having too much plastics of the same colour and similar texture lining the cabin, some of which are hard to the touch. At around the RM100,000 mark, perhaps shouldn’t expect too much but better material contrasts between the different surfaces would’ve been welcomed, though the blue accents and leather-wrapped seats and steering (in our Plus spec test car) do cut the monotony somewhat.

Time to double down

It’s puzzling why the Ioniq isn’t making more headway when you consider that it has safety features that rivals a Volvo. Semi-autonomous drive is made possible through the Ioniq’s active cruise control, lane keeping assistance and autonomous braking systems, with blind spot warning included as well. We can attest that these functions are easy to use (via steering controls) and are quick to inspire trust through the measured reactions to variables encountered on the road. Put it this way, there’s simply nothing out there that offers such a high degree of safety technology for the money asked, which by the way also includes vehicle stability control and seven airbags.

The Ioniq is capable of semi-autonomous drive; active safety suite is easy to use as well.

Short of fuel prices hitting the heights of 2008 again, it’s clear that the interest for mild or self-charging hybrids in Malaysia have cooled significantly, at least amongst the mass market brands. Despite being the impressive proposition that is the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, a different tack is required if Hyundai is make the Ioniq a successful venture, and that is to double down and push on with the introduction of the plug-in hybrid variant. Surely the rationale of Hyundai in developing three variants of the Ioniq is to cover different markets with varying levels of acceptance in terms of vehicle electrification.

Will Hyundai lead the electric charge among mainstream brands by introducing the Ioniq PHEV next?

Granted that Malaysia still has some ways to go in establishing a more comprehensive charging network, the chicken and egg situation can work itself out. There is a much higher probability of a better infrastructure if it is driven by a demand for vehicle charging, as opposed to setting up charging points that are initially be under-utilised. Since the Ioniq is already locally-assembled, the worst that can come out of this is for Hyundai to take the lead in electrification and be the first non-luxury brand to offer a PHEV.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Price: RM100,388 (HEV), RM114,088 (HEV Plus) (both w/o insurance)
Engine: 1.6-litre, direct injection inline-4, FWD
Output: 105hp @ 5,700rpm, 147Nm @ 4,000rpm
Electric motor: Permanent magnet synchronous type
Output: 44hp, 170Nm
Transmission: 6-sp dual-clutch auto
Performance: 0-100km/h in 11.1 seconds, top speed 184km/h
Fuel efficiency: 25.6 km/l (combined cycle)
Wheels/tyres: 17in alloys, 225/45 R17
Safety: 7-airbags, Electronic Stability Control
Warranty: 5-year incl. 3-yr maintenance; 8-year for high voltage battery

(Hyundai Sime Darby Motors has recently added a third Ioniq variant dubbed the HEV Plus with AVN System. Priced at RM116,488, it differs from the HEV Plus in that it has an upgraded eight-inch [previously seven-inch] infotainment system with native support for popular mobile apps such as Spotify, Waze and Google Map. The AVN System can be retrofitted for a fee.)

Ioniq can now be had with Android Auto and Waze on an enlarged infotainment screen.