The Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid will do 60km on electric power, and has a petrol engine servicing as backup. Is this having your cake and eating it, or needless complexity?

The uptake of electrified vehicles in Australia lags miles behind developed markets across America, Asia and Europe. But we’re finally starting to see some brands’ walking back up their talking.

Hyundai has gone from zero to hero by launching its Ioniq in hybrid (rivalling a Toyota Prius), plug-in hybrid (rivalling a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV) and battery electric (rivalling a Nissan Leaf) forms.

We’re looking at the middle child of the range here, which kicks off at a quite reasonable $40,990 before on-road costs or, as tested in Premium spec level, $45,490. About Golf GTI money.

For the uninitiated, PHEVs are a pretty simple concept once you’ve got your head around the tech. They have sufficient battery storage to drive each car with pure electric propulsion for most daily commutes, and can be plugged into an external source to recharge – either your wall or a fast charger.

But they also have internal combustion engines to power the wheels and charge the batteries once the on-board electric storage system is depleted, dodging the thorny issue of range anxiety. Toyota Australia may deride the tech and keep its Prius Prime away, but there are some who are intrigued.

The electric-only Ioniq can go about 230km in the real world between recharges, which for some people apparently doesn’t cover all of their needs. The Ioniq PHEV has no such restrictions.

Yes, its smaller batteries mean you’ve only got a claimed 63km of electric range to play with, but you also have a regular petrol engine with a tank that can be refilled in a few minutes.

The Hyundai’s complicated drivetrain comprises a single electric motor mounted at the front making 44.5kW and 170Nm fed by a 360V lithium-ion battery pack with 8.9kWh (25Ah) capacity. This is matched to a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Complex, yes. But it’s not a science experiment. Just get in, push the starter button and be greeted by silence, release the unfortunate foot-operated park brake, and roll away silently.

First up, we should state something important. Despite the marketing material focusing on the pure EV driving, your default driving set-up is actually a ‘Hybrid’ mode where the battery and motor duo do the bulk of the work while there’s plentiful charge, occasionally augmented by petrol power.

The first 100km in this mode after picking the car up saw us use 1.5 litres of petrol, nudging the ADR claim of 1.1L/100km. Beyond this distance point, you discover a law of diminishing returns as the drive batteries become depleted.

Happily, though, the clever system won’t let you use all of this battery’s charge, instead capping it. This, alongside the fact the engine tops the battery up by creating useable charge, means the Ioniq PHEV just goes like a ‘regular’ conventional hybrid car once the battery is at a useable charge of zero.

Proving this: with no useable EV-only charge left, we still averaged fuel use of 4.4L/100km on another combined-cycle driving loop. You can watch a cool animation showing you what’s happening underneath and ahead of you in real time if all of this gets baffling.

So far then, the Ioniq has driven like a Prius at worst and something far greener at best. Next, we popped back to the office and charged the batteries up before embarking on a drive in the car’s EV mode actuated by pressing a button.

The Ioniq comes with a factory-approved wall box for this purpose that costs about $2000 fitted. With this garage-mounted three-phase (Type 2 plug, 3.3kW onboard charging capacity) set up, you can charge the batteries to 100 per cent in approximately two hours and 15 minutes. And yes, the power supply probably comes from a coal plant, though whether it’s an OEM’s responsibility to factor in power grid issues is for another place.

If you want to plug into a regular powerpoint above your skirting board, you can do that too (in an EV this would take forever, since its batteries have far higher capacities). The onboard emergency 10A cable for this purpose will charge you up in around six hours. A DC fast charger will cut this to around 25 minutes.

First thing we learned is that the mode’s name is a slight misnomer, since unlike the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, under heavy throttle where the battery is being taxed the most, the Hyundai’s petrol engine will fire up very briefly. This aside, driving without going full throttle and only leaning on the batteries, I did 58km without really moderating my driving habits. All of this in silence and emitting zero tailpipe CO2.

What percentage of Australians would travel less than 58km per working day? Most data on the issue suggests Aussies drive as a mean average about 300km a week at most. So in short, that figure will suffice for many people.

Where the PHEV comes into its own is its ability to drive an unlimited range so long as there are fuel stations on your route, which is a much less paradigm-shifting prospect for people than telling them to find fast chargers.

In a more macro sense, my total time in the car covered a tick above 300km, messing with all of the modes, driving both fast and slow, and yielded a return of 3.3L/100km by the end of it.

There are two ways to look at this: On one hand, that number is hardly superior to a cheaper ‘regular’ series hybrid such as the base Ioniq or the Toyota Camry. But on the other, neither of that pair can drive like a full EV for 58km, nor do they use 1.5L/100km over the first 100km.

Beyond the numbers, what about the Ioniq’s actual performance? Adding the engine and motor’s figures together to ascertain the overall system output is not the right formula, because each part is never working at 100 per cent at the same time.

Said peak output claim is instead 104kW and 265Nm, which is about on par for a small hatchback. That said, at 1500kg, it’s a heavy one. As such, the Ioniq’s performance is far from brisk, though the DCT gearbox has a more natural feel and more aggressive characteristics than an Outlander’s single-fixed-speed set-up.

However, the Hyundai has a Sports mode controlled by the gear shifter, which changes the throttle mapping to give you a more instantaneous response at the expense of fuel/charge use. In this mode it actually feels quite punchy using all that low-down torque, though you have to wonder what the point of a thirstier PHEV is…

Hyundai Australia invests in an Australian-based engineering team to fettle the ride and handling characteristics for our market’s roads, which are vastly more challenging than Korea’s.

These spring, damper and bar tweaks typically give its product a lovely loping ride quality, an ability to iron out sharp inputs, without sacrificing handling. The Ioniq is no exception, with a low centre of gravity helping its (relative) agility, and its light steering pairing well with predictable body control. This is helped by the fact it’s rolling on 16-inch wheels shod in tyres with decent sidewalls.

In short, it rides and handles just like any other decent small hatchback, which will go a long way to normalising its tech.

The well-built interior is likewise very… Normal. The only signs you’re in a hybrid car are the power/eco/charge and battery charge displays in the instruments, the energy flow diagrams buried in a submenu on the 8.0-inch touchscreen, and the EV/HEV button near the gear shifter.

You’re not lacking equipment, though. Standard fare on our Ioniq Premium tester includes LED headlights, keyless-go, rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav with SUNA, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charger, leather seats with heating/cooling up front, and a sunroof.

Safety equipment comprises seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitor, forward-collision alert, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

It’s not as practical as the regular hybrid with its smaller battery, even though that car gets a proper spare wheel unlike the PHEV. The boot falls from 457L to 341L, though for context that’s still more room than a Mazda 3. The sloping roof does eat into rear seat headroom, too. A few kids or shorter adults will be fine.

As with all Hyundais, you get a five-year warranty with no distance limit and capped-price servicing for life. There are also roadside assist and map update plans. The ownership experience should be pretty painless.

Servicing happens every 15,000km or 12 months, and will cost $265 for the first, second, third and fifth visits in both the Hybrid and Plug-in, while the fourth visit will set you back $465. Meanwhile, the first five services in the Electric each cost $160.

So, what do we think of the Ioniq PHEV? Is it worth the $6500 premium over the regular hybrid? Or should you cough up another $3500 for the ‘proper’ EV one? The answer depends on how you use your car, frankly.

Let’s not pretend its $45,490 list price (about $50K on the road) makes strictly financial sense, given this would buy you an i30 N Performance and an Accent. Or a fully loaded Camry Hybrid that will average around the 4L/100km mark and offer you more space and luxury.

Yet, it’s easy to imagine a vehicle that (a) does your Monday to Friday commuting as an EV, (b) can be quite quickly charged from a wall box or just your regular wall power plug, and (c) can also take you as far as you like on weekend getaways with no planning required, will make fans.

If you have only one vehicle, it’s a solid bet compared to the BEV. Hyundai is also to be congratulated for bringing the car to Australia at all considering the Toyota Prius Prime remains a no-show.

Hyundai Ioniq Premium PHEV
Price $45,490
Petrol engine 1.6L 4-cyl
Engine outputs 77kW/147Nm
Electric motor output/s 44.5kW/170Nm front
Drive type FWD
Max. system output 104kW/265Nm
Battery type Lithium-ion
Battery capacity 8.9kWh/25Ah
Battery voltage 360V
Battery warranty 8 years/160,000km
Plug Type 2 (IEC 62196-2)
AC wallbox charging time 100% ~ 2 hours, 15 min claimed
Trickle-charge time (230V/10A) ~ 6 hours claimed
Transmission 6-DCT dry clutch
ADR EV range 63km
ADR/NEDC fuel consumption 1.1L/100km 91RON
Our EV range 58km
Fuel tank 43L
Kerb weight 1495–1550kg
Towing capacity N/A
Length 4470mm
Width 1820mm
Height 1450mm
Wheelbase 2700mm
Cargo space VDA 341–1401L





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