Sixty-four. Without context, that number means little. However, in the world of transportation 64 miles per gallon is a huge number for any gasoline-fueled device. A 400-mile series of days traveling coastal Maine, commuting and in-town driving produced an impressive 64-miles per gallon in the latest Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid five-door, a compact entrant into an alternative-power segment still looking for the elevated sales promised by bureaucrats and marketers.
EPA ratings for the Ioniq are 57/59/58 — pretty strong numbers that beat the car the Hyundai has cloned, the benchmark Toyota Prius. Viewers can be forgiven; the Ioniq looks a lot like a Prius, is shaped like a Prius with the bi-level rear liftgate glass, the two cars are almost exactly the same size and weigh the same and both can run on just battery power up to about 20-25 mph — for short distances. The Hyundai, however, has more power, 139 vs. 121 hp, gets better mileage, accelerates stronger and generally drives like a version of the Accent instead of a lab experiment. Sales, though, still strongly favor the established, 20-year-old Prius.
It’s not hard to find multiple stories espousing the great benefits of hybrid/electric/alternative energy automobiles. And the engineering and science behind these projects has been immeasurably important. But consumer behavior is the caveat that has not changed, as there has been little compelling evidence to convince the greater population to spend more money and worry about range anxiety or finding sufficient recharging stations given the established performance of their existing fleet of known gasoline-fueled vehicles. Yes, there are many early adopters for Prius, Volt, Leaf, Tesla and the surge of German-designed electric cars about to hit our shores, yet the value of these alternative products has not risen to the level that buyers think of them as disruptive, gotta-have products.
Will this evolve? Certainly, but not at the magnitude forecast, as 20 years of Prius sales have proven. Despite the elevated attention, despite greater consumer awareness and heavy marketing emphasis, hybrids and electric cars still account for less than 3 percent of total new-car sales each year in America — a statistical rounding error that has to give analysts, product planners and car-makers pause about what their future portfolio will look like. If, or when, automakers can create the emotional attachment to their electric products, at price points significantly less than the six-digit Teslas and BMWs, the pendulum will start to move faster.
And that is why the 64 mpg number is big for not just this Hyundai. 64 mpg is approximately double (triple for some) the fuel economy that many drivers are now experiencing. Here’s another number: the Ioniq starts at $23,200 with Apple/Android compatibility, satellite radio, dual-zone climate, split-folding rear seats, rear-view camera and 7-inch touchscreen. The 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine produces nice thrust running through a dual-clutch six-speed automatic that actually was smoother than our recent Audi’s dual-clutch transmission. The 32kW permanent-magnet electric motor adds extra torque that gives the Ioniq driver confidence to merge comfortably and overtake slower traffic when necessary. Equally impressive: extended length highway travel at today’s prevailing rate (more than the speed limit) returned 53 mpg.
Functionally, four real adults fit comfortably, the liftgate-aided cargo area is expansive, and the Ioniq even has a flat-bottom leather-clad steering wheel like a VW Golf, which was apparently another model worth copying to some degree as the Hyundai may look all Prius like, but it drives like something else altogether.
It would be good to see the Ioniq (and many cars) use a steady-state rear view camera in place of the rear-view mirror as the split rear window offers a distorted, interrupted view not helped by the lack of a wiper, and the fuel economy-focused tires (wearing plastic hubcaps) create a slapping effect over sharp road interruptions. Yet, when you refill the Ioniq’s fuel tank, the gauge displays a range of over 700 miles, more than double most all other cars — regardless of size.
The Ioniq comes in Blue trim, our sample, Limited or SEL. There are also plug-in and fully electric models available.
There is no mistaking the elevation of the Hyundai brand in this market. The quality scores are near the top of the industry, the new Genesis luxury brand is making premium car inroads, and cars like this Ioniq prove that the Koreans are engineering-ready for the next decade.