The country’s cheapest EV is not the perfect all-round car, but it does enough to suggest it’s a better way to go than any other battery-pure option.
For: Hugely practical, excellent urban car and okay on open road, NZ’s best new EV choice.
Against: Small boot, an update to 300kms-plus range would make a huge difference.
GOOD news electric vehicle fans – your non-fossil fuel-reliant choices will soon be cheaper to buy than conventional petrol ones.
No, it’s true, though there are a couple of small print caveats. First, when that research, undertaken by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, suggests this breakthough is nigh, they don’t mean tomorrow.
‘Soon’ translates to ‘by 2025’. Potentially. Batteries currently account for about half the cost of EVs. Their prices will fall by about 77 percent between 2016 and 2030, the London-based researcher suggests.
Also, they don’t mean cheaper for everyone. The findings actually say the advantage will present specifically in the United States and in Europe. In other words, a country where the sheer volume potential assures pricing advantage and a part of the world where every nation provides generous EV subsidies to offset the purchase price.
Still, Kiwis are showing themselves to be increasingly keen on buying into EVs regardless, yes? Well, that’s what the pro-EV lobby and the Government would have you believe.
Yet, though last month was the biggest yet for electric registrations, with just under 280 new cars signing into, there are still fewer than new and imported pre-owned 4000 EVs driving on our roads.
Meaning? Well, we’ve got a long way to go – and will have to up the interest a whole heap more – if the aim of 64,000 units within a decade is to be achieved. I’d say, and the new car industry does too, that subsidies would raise public interest, but so far the minister who holds the keys to change, Simon Bridges, seems to think speaking in meaningless catchphrases and being photographed with virtually every new model is enough.
Something needs to happen, because we’re a great place to breed an EV culture. For instance, even when our hydro plants are struggling to generate at optimum – as they are now, due to low lake levels in the South Island – our electricity is still predominantly created by Green means. Also, the new vehicle industry is working hard to deliver the latest product as soon as it becomes available in right-hand-drive. And they’re providing the warranties and investing in the sales networks and technical back up (and the specialist staff training) without which EVs could not survive.
You’re right, EVs - including the car on test today – are still expensive. And they are still restricted by range issues.
Yet we still reckon the Hyundai Ioniq EV has to be considered the best value pure electric new product in the country. Certainly, it’s the one also – due to its mainstream badge, easy driving attitude and price – standing the best chance of establishing as a fleet choice.
So, anyway, after trialling this car at its launch and then in the Leading The Charge electric car rally, we got to spend a week with this purely plug-in proposal in its top-flight $65,990 format on our home turf.
This five-seater hatchback was designed foremost with electrification and with future autonomous technology in mind, yet you wouldn’t think so from looking at it.
For sure, there’s too much tomorrow-today in the exterior styling for its to assume anonymity, but the biggest giveaways to it being different is that it has a grey plastic panel where a grille would normally place and those blue badges. Even thus presented, it looks less like a sci-fi film prop than, say, the world’s trendiest like-sized EV, the BMW i3, or even the global giant of the hybrid scene, Toyota’s Prius.
Much of this is a reflection of Hyundai thought that EVs are more likely to gain public acceptance if they don’t look like science experiments and thus run risk of winning, and losing, sales potential simply on shape alone. Mission accomplished: If not quite another fish in the traffic shoal, neither does it stand out like an elephant in a penguin colony.
Another impetus for keeping it stylistically sane is that this car has two less overt forms. Ioniq is an automotive ground-breaker in being the world’s first production machine that presemts not just as a full electric, but also a hybrid and, soon, a plug-in hybrid.
Eco evangelist who still want something to brag about can find it, of course. The interior fit-out uses components that rely less on petrochemicals, opting for recycled plastics, wood fibre and even pumice stone and soy bean oil based paints instead. The more environmentally friendly materials are not only more sustainable but are also 20 percent lighter and provide more effective sound insulation.
Hyundai has clearly designed the Ioniq as they would any regular production car and that shows in the choice of trim.
Aside from some copper-coloured detailing that’s a nice nod to the car's electric propulsion, it’s otherwise it’s not hugely different to the new i30, presenting a melange of familiar switchgear and a similar ‘floating’ mid-dash LCD touch screen, which largely puts infotainment options foremost because the NZ-market cars have yet to achieve sat nav operability (because we’ve taken Ireland spec cars). In a normal car, that wouldn’t matter – you’d just use Google Maps on Apple CarPlay which it fully supports. But the thing is that Hyundai’s in-built setup is purpose designed to work with the EV operability side of things, most specifically in giving you an idea of your potential range - expressed as a large targeting circle with your position at the centre – but also, and this is extra handy, what your recharging options are. Without this facility, I was having to use the PlugShare app, which is pretty good, and resorted to working out the maths in my head. Should I mention I utterly failed School Cert maths?
Because it doesn’t need a gearbox as such, it also doesn’t require a conventional gearshift, relying instead on a push-button selector for choosing between forward, park and reverse for its single-speed reduction gear. The EV also gets an all-digital instrument pack, which is clear, simple and works pretty well.
While the cabin is far from flamboyant, and certainly nowhere near as arty as the i3’s, it scores strongly for practicality and comfort. The seats are supportive and there's decent space in the rear, although the boot is shallow and, at just 350 litres, is a little small – and most of that space is taken up by the recharging addenda, which stows (awkwardly) in bags that have to share the space you’d probably prefer to give to luggage.
A journey that should never lead to a petrol station, save perhaps you need to check the tyre pressures or want to risk a superheated pie, starts as it means to go on: In a thoroughly different manner.
You don’t fire up an electric car; it’s just a matter of switching it on: You push the start button, hit the Drive button and (providing it’s not still not plugged in somewhere, in which case it prevents itself from operation) progress. The Ioniq slips away briskly, smoothly and quietly … nothing special there, it’s the manner of all electric cars.
First-timers will think it’s pretty fast, because the electrics also have healthy torque and ability to dump in every bit of it from the get-go: So, hoof it, and the thing takes off. Not as quickly as a Telsa in Ludicrous mode, by any means, but snappy enough to show that those Musk machines are not exactly unique in their ability to zap away.
Even so, the sensation of it affording an extra-smart step-off is something of a ruse. Against any reputable stopwatch, the car is hardly a sizzler; don’t expect to see it hit 100kmh from a standing start in anything less than nine seconds. It’s not that fast overall, either – top speed wasn’t tested on this occasion but on the launch I was with a colleague who hit 160kmh. It was still pulling, but I doubt it had much more to give.
That’s not surprising. While torque is a very healthy 295Nm, power from the electric motor is rated at a more middling 89kW. You can select a Sport driving mode, which sharpens up the throttle response and makes the Ioniq feel quick at low-to-middling speeds, but to be honest, even in Eco mode, the responsiveness is fine.
It’s pointless driving hard, though, because not only will that have hugely injurious effect on the range but doesn’t suit the car’s character. It’s hard to convince some people of this; my colleague Gavin Halls, whose track instruction abilities were used in a recent ad by Meridian in which the car was driven around Manfeild circuit, came away reckoning it had promise for a single-make series.
What tosh! The Ioniq would simply crumble, for all sorts of reasons: Even the most potent EVs tend to get hot and bothered when pushed too hard for too long, and the Ioniq hardly has the biggest battery pack - at 28kWh the lithium polymer set is quite modest, in fact. Also, the car itself is all wrong: Too heavy (1485kg), too soft. So, best forget that idea.
It far better suits the role Hyundai defines for it; as a mainly city to inter-urban operator that is capable of occasional open road excursions, though ultimately any beyond its claimed range of 200kms thereabouts would clearly require some pre-planning.
The car is comfy for a long trip, but to minimise inconvenience – and to avoid the worst possible fate, of running out of power in a place where there’s no recharging (a huge headache, because the Ioniq cannot be kickstarted or rolled as a normal car car) – you would want to plot a route that wholly availed the quickest, most powerful recharging option: From the usually pay-as-go DC rechargers. Even then, those replenishment stops are going to require patience; the DC reload is much quicker than off an AC fast recharge (let alone a wall plug, which is an overnight thing) but, from my experience, a decent one still accounts for 40 minutes of your time.
That recharging thing does way on my mind. It was an easy home guest to satisfy – every day, after driving, I’d simply plug it into the wall socket and, by morning, the battery would be pretty much fully replenished. I’d be clocking up to 80km a day on general driving, too, and never feared running out of oomph.
From my experiences with it, you could generally rely on the Ioniq covering a realistic 190-200km if you're making good use of the regenerative braking, never threatening the speed limit and never tackling an overtaking lane; and maybe 170-180km if you're intent on using all the comforts and either find yourself wanting to run a bit more briskly or, alternately, are on a route that includes significantly undulating terrain. Hills are give and take for an EV; ascents clearly sap more from the battery, but descents provide opportunity for regeneration. In saying that, you rarely find an occasion when the latter is decent enough to fully account for the first.
But the estimates above are not and fast. Every EV driving day has potential to introduce variables.
For instance, take the day when I thought about taking it on a 140km round trip involving open road driving. Obviously, that’s within the optimum range, yet doesn’t leave too much left over.
What ultimately saw me chicken out and use a fossil-fuelled car instead came down to time and uncertainties. I needed it to be a quick trip, no messing about. And the Ioniq couldn’t guarantee that would happen; it’d been used that morning so was showing 170kms’ range. But while the direct travel distance between my start out point and the visiting locale was just 75km, I ended up clocking another 15 or so through diverting into the town centre to buy a gift. So why not just stop and recharge? Well, I could have, but according to the app the city I went to only had public AC replenishment stations which are much slower than the DC type. Frankly, I didn’t have the time to be hanging off a wire for an hour simply to ensure I’d have enough zap to come back.
I wondered what effect the ancillary electric systems would have on its operation. It seemed logical to me that it would use more power running a cold, wet night (when you’ve got the heater, wipers and lights going) as opposed to a fine sunny day that’s not warm enough to warrant using the air con.
Apparently, not. Hyundai’s been quite smart about this. Look under the bonnet and you’ll see a conventional battery that has nothing to do with the drivetrain. Rather, it provides the power source for the wipers, lights, heater and so on (and is kept recharged, but at a trickle rate, by the main drivetrain).
This is why the Ioniq uses a heat-pump for the cabin ventilation system, which, like the air conditioning, can be switched on and off with the flick of a finger. This means you can warm the cabin up (or do so on a pre-set timer while the car is charging) and then switch the heat off to stretch your range for a bit. The heated seats run off the backup 12-volt battery, so you can use them without concern for the range.
The most exceptional thing about the Ioniq is that it is, by and largely, mainly unexceptional. The steering is light and has no feedback; the ride is soft, with a good deal of body lean, but will be admired by occupants. It's not engaging to drive, but leaves impression of being something special.
So the Ioniq has limitations: No news there. What EV doesn’t? There isn’t one out there that can guarantee a fast-track to true value motoring.
Yes, you save by not spending at the pump. But even though Hyundai is giving us the cheapest new EV yet, the buy-in is still high; equivalent-sized petrol cars can be bought for half the money, and they can all go a lot further than the Hyundai and do stuff the EV cannot or shouldn’t. Like tow. Or be driven through standing water.
All the same, I’m really pleased the Ioniq is here and I could easily see it working in my own life – though more as a second car than a primary choice. But an electric crossover might be a different story (providing I can find alternates to towing my race car to the track).
Electrics are our future, plain and simple and the Ioniq, within the EV-sphere, is the best thing out there: A thoughtfully-designed, technology masterpiece from a brand with high aspirations.
Everyone keeps talking about the Tesla Model 3 as being the first affordable EV, but I reckon that when/if the volume Musk machine arrives, it might be hard-pressed to outdo what Korea’s leading car maker has already given us – at the moment, after all, this five-door hatch provides around 80 percent of the ability of the American product for 40 percent of the price.