The Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid gets facelift and with it, a slight drop in power to sneak under the threshold for a Category A certificate of entitlement.
Hyundai ostensibly created the IONIQ Hybrid and the results of its mid-life update are pretty plain to see.
The front grille has a mesh grille (bye bye, horizontal slats) and the headlights have a distinctive new pattern; they sort of join up with the lower daytime running lights to give the car what look like tusks. Meanwhile, new tail-lights adorn the back.
The basic recipe is the same as before: an efficient 1.6-litre engine is assisted by a 43.5 horsepower electric motor, which is fed by a small, 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery. The beauty of the technology is that you don’t have to charge the battery, because that’s done automatically under deceleration or whenever the petrol engine has a bit of energy to spare.
It’s worth stating this up front: hybrid tech like this works. The IONIQ is rated at 3.8L/100km, and you’ll achieve it if your commute involves a fair amount of highway driving. If not, you won’t be far off — we returned it with 3.9L/100km showing on the trip computer — which means this thing uses roughly half the fuel of a comparable car.
Put another way, if every car on the road were a hybrid, the carbon emissions from driving would drop by half.
It isn’t quite right to say that you drive the IONIQ Hybrid like a normal car, however. With the facelift comes a new paddle shfter system, and instead of letting you call up manual gearchanges with the six-speed, twin-clutch transmission, it influences how much regenerative braking you get from the car.
Many electric cars have a one-pedal driving mode, which lets you slow down the car by lifting off the accelerator instead of stepping on the brake. It’s meant to encourage anticipation and smoother driving with lots of energy recuperation.
But in the IONIQ, I found it tough to judge how much deceleration I would get, and when it would kick in. That made for pretty jerky driving, which my colleagues already accuse me of, so in the end I found it easier to do with less regenerative braking and use the brake pedal normally. You still recover energy that way, anyway.
In terms of how it handles, the IONIQ's compact size means lends itself well to being chucked about, and it’s reasonably stable when you get frisky with the steering, but it’s fairly uninspiring to drive fast. That’s despite a Sport mode that makes it accelerate pretty urgently, courtesy of the electric motor’s abundant torque.
The real enjoyment from a car like this is from seeing how little fuel you’re using, which you can do with help from countless displays showing the ongoing juggling act between petrol and electric power, the fuel and electricity consumed over time, a driving style analyser and so on. That might sound as fun as watching paint dry, but surely there’s some satisfaction to be had from getting the best out of a drive system as carefully engineered as this?
While you’re busy playing that little game with yourself, everyone else in the car should have an okay time of it.
The IONIQ isn’t a big car so things are a bit narrow in the back, but leg- and headroom are adequate, and you get rear air-con vents. The boot floor’s a bit high, but at least you can fold the back seats for more cargo space.
The IONIQ is still well-equipped, with worthwhile safety features such as blind spot monitors and a lane-keep assist system, along with active cruise control and front seats with built-in fans.
Apple fans will love the CarPlay system, which lets an iPhone power the navigation and entertainment functions, and enables dictation for texts and WhatsApp messages.
All that aside, the facelifted IONIQ offers a nicer cabin, thanks mostly to a new touch interface for the climate control system.
To the target market for this and other hybrid cars, however, it might simply be enough that the Hyundai isn’t nasty inside, nor terrible to drive. The fuel-saving tech does work, and it will allow anyone to reduce their carbon footprint meaningfully. To more and more people, that’s the only climate control that really matters.