Hyundai Ioniq electric rekindles spark of adventure

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Hyundai doesn't believe EVs should look like spaceships. Maybe it's too regulated within the cabin; aside from EV-specific copper trim, the look is really straight-laced and uninspiring. Photo: Hyundai

In the dawn of motoring, over a century ago now, any kind of road trip had potential to become a stern test; what the route or vehicle would deliver was always a lottery.

Perhaps some of the challenge and thrill of those days comes with an electric vehicle.

Better batteries are improving range, electricity is almost everywhere and you really only need access to a household plug to keep any electric vehicle (EV) from feeling ohm sick. Yet, until the day when the whole country is covered by a rapid recharger network, every long drive requires planning.

By my reckoning, had I been availed opportunity to drive to Dunedin an Ioniq EV from the media launch location, Queenstown, and with Google suggesting it's 282km from the centre of one to the middle of the other, then I would have had to seek rejuvenating salvation in Roxburgh. That's because the distributor reckons 200km driving at real world pace is about what you can get out of this car. Any excuse for a Jimmy's Pie, right?

It doesn't have to be this way. The beauty of the Ioniq is that it delivers in three progressively battery-involved powertrain options, a world first. In addition to the variant wholly weaned from fossil fuel there are two others - hybrids - that still rely on Big Oil, though not too heavily.

Those alternatives are a standard hybrid (like the all-electric, here now) and a plug-in petrol-electric (PHEV) arriving towards year-end. Both hybrids use a 1.6-litre petrol engine in their hybrid set-up and have a much greater range. 

The PHEV has yet to be priced, but conceivably it will have to place between the two others, which won't be good news for rivals. By siting the hybrid Ioniq $1000 below Toyota's most popular Prius and, more impressively, placing the EV at the same money as the country's best-selling PHEV - and thus $15k below the only two wholly electric cars that have been available new here until now - Hyundai has already really rocked the boat.

This after all, is no teensy urbanite but a fair-sized car, basically as big as the brand's Elantra. It has proper five-seater capacity and a boot that still looks decent, even though the suitcase-sized recharge cable bag is sited awkwardly, slap bang on the middle of the load space.

What to do with it? Hyundai NZ has one word: Explore. Which is why, for the media run, we were put on a 170km return route that included barely 10 minutes each way on Queenstown's congested streets.

Otherwise we were on open road to Kinloch, at the far end of Lake Wakatipu and return, attacking curves, corners, hills and ascents - even gravel beyond the Dart River bridge.

No batteries were exhausted, though towards journey end all the EV drivers were employing on-board features designed to eke best economy: Moving the air conditioning to its Eco setting, putting the Coasting Energy Regeneration system into a maximum setting to effect optimal battery recharging using kinetic energy created. One came in with 4km range left, but they'd added extra ks.

No such issues in the hybrid, which I'd swapped into at the halfway point, in order to establish how different these models are.

The EV is unavoidably more artificial. Even when regen effect is minimised, the brakes are necessarily very wooden and quite grabby, though to be fair it asks for very little throttle pressure to maintain even progress. The petrol-assisted derivative's steering has a bit more weight and, with engine braking and gears to work through, it does have more of an orthodox driving feel. Yet only to a point.

Body roll and squishy suspension are most likely to temper your pace, though the cars sit solidly, so much so you start to question the suggested 1420kg kerb weight. You cannot expect high adhesion from the low rolling resistance rubber.

If power games are your thing, go fully electric: Such is the way of battery propulsion that the least powerful of the three models has the smartest step off . It remains impressively reactive at highway speed, too, and will top out at - well, best I keep that one to myself.

Hyundai doesn't believe EVs should look like spaceships. Maybe it's too regulated within the cabin; aside from EV-specific copper trim, the look is really straight-laced and uninspiring. Yet, while not a car dressed to particularly high standards of luxury, it at least avoids looking obviously cheap. You get plenty of soft-touch materials on the upper portion of the dash and doors, with harder materials underneath.

Wide, low-set and slightly soft seats, same steering wheel and basic console, though instrumentation differs. In place of a gear selection lever the EV sports buttons for Park, Neutral, Drive and Reverse. It also has a larger LCD screen and a busier secondary display on the instrument panel.

Our cars are green in more than environmental respect. Australia and New Zealand were set to go Anzac with Ioniq, but the neighbours U-turned on the EV late in the piece, so we had to find another right-hook market to partner.

Salvation came from the Irish. That's why the indicator and wiper switches are reversed but the showroom examples won't have the imperial speedo and trip computer of our drive car. The sat nav is off-line until local mapping compatibility is sorted. Fortunately, it has Apple Carplay/Android Auto so you can still use your phone to find those recharging points.

Ioniq seems well-placed to plug into a national push to have 64,000 EVs on our roads by 2021. Government and big corporates intend to increasingly implement electric-prioritised cars into fleet use and, for once, it's not a Toyota-fest, because the country's biggest brand just doesn't have an EV to match.

Hyundai Ioniq electric rekindles spark of adventure
At a Glance

HYUNDAI IONIQ Price: Hybrid, $46,990, Elite $52,990; EV $59,990, Elite $65,990
Engines: 1580cc 16-valvefour-cylinder DOHC Atkinson Cyclepetrol with permanent magnet synchronousmotor, maximum power 77kW@5700rpm, maximum torque 147Nm@4000rpm; EV electric motor, 28kWh battery, maximum power 77kW, maximum torque 295Nm
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch hybrid and PHEV; EV single speed reduction gear
Brakes and stability systems: Disc/disc brakes, ABS, BA, EBD, VSC
Safety rating: Five-star Euro NCAP
Wheels, tyres: 195/65 R15 Hybrid; 225/45 R17 EV
Fueland economy: Hybrid 3.4 litres per 100km on European combined cycle, capacity 45 litres
Emissions: CO2 Hybrid 79 g/km on combined cycle, EV 0
Dimensions: Length 4470mm, width 1820mm, height 1430mm