THE surge of energy on electric avenue has hit a new high – and Korean brand Hyundai has emerged as the leader.
As consumers push to save fuel and cut air pollution, hybrids – powered by a petrol or diesel engine plus electric motor – plug in hybrids and 100 per cent electric cars are all on an upward curve.
And Hyundai is about to become the world’s first car manufacturer to offer all three of these electrified powertrains in the shape of its new IONIQ model.
It’s part of a strategy that will see the company launch no less than 28 alternative fuel models by 2020, adding to its armoury of already having the world’s first mass produced fuel cell electric vehicle, the ix35 Fuel Cell.
If the early hybrids and electric vehicles to hit the motoring scene looked a bit quirky and were short on range, the opposite is the case with the IONIQ – it both looks and feels like a mainstream model.
Making the IONIQ just like a regular family hatchback – but with a fair bit more style and panache than most – will, Hyundai believes, make it an easy step rather than a big leap for a buyer to join the low emission ranks.
When the hybrid and fully electric variants hit the streets on October 27 – the plug-in follows next year – prices will start at £19,995.
That’s for a hybrid 1.6-litre GDi in entry grade SE trim, while the IONIQ Electric Premium will have a tab of £24,495 including the Government’s £4,500 grant for vehicles of this type.
As both Hyundai and its sister brand Kia continue a trend that has seen them closing in on the premium producers, the IONIQ arrives as a high quality performer, both on the road and in terms of its fit and finish.
Technology too, was seen as a priority, the likes of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems on every car.
Go for higher grade models, at an extra cost of £1,800, and features like wireless phone charging, a TomTom Live sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity join the party.
That’s in addition to Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited mileage warranty which for the EV has been extended to eight years and 125,000 miles for the lithium-ion battery pack.
Of the two newcomers the hybrid model is sure to prove the more popular.
Its 1.6-litre petrol engine produces 141PS, boosted by another 43PS thanks to the electric motor, and while tuned more towards efficiency than outright performance, it still has plenty of spirit.
The car benefits from having a a six-speed dual clutch transmission rather than a CVT and is both enjoyable and lively to drive with its 0-62mph acceleration of 10.8 seconds and instant power delivery.
A 120-mile test drive on mixed roads through North Wales and on to Merseyside saw the hybrid return an average fuel figure of 61 miles per gallon, acceptable even if the official claimed consumption is 83mpg.
A switch to IONIQ electric is a rewarding experience. You just press a button for drive, reverse, neutral or park and slip off silently.
Within minutes though you forget what it exactly is you’re driving as the experience is more akin to piloting a smooth petrol-powered model.
Our test drive began with 117 miles of electric range in the ‘tank’and by the end of a 60-mile route we still had 62 miles left thanks to the IONIQ’s regenerative braking.
It basically uses deceleration to help recharge the batteries and there are three main levels of regeneration, selected using paddle shifts on the steering wheel.
Number three is the most effective, though it doesn’t make for the most relaxing drive – the car braking itself quite dramatically.
Otherwise, displays show up battery condition and power flow, you can pre-heat the cabin and the sat-nav will point to the nearest charging points.
To that end, an 80 per cent charge can be completed in around 35 minutes from a rapid charger while a home charging point will fully recharge the car in about four-and-a-half hours.
As for practicality there’s ample space for a family of five in both variants, though the centre rear position is perched, and boot space ranges from 443 to 1,505 litres in the hybrid to 350 and 1,410 in the electric model, in which the batteries reside under the rear.
If the IONIQ suggests that the next 12 months will be a hectic time for Hyundai, well it’s actually going to get a whole lot busier.
A new i10 city car is due in January, followed by the compact i30 in March, a wagon around mid-2017 and a model with a new bodystyle due later in the year.
And in contrast to the eco vehicles Hyundai’s performance ‘N’ division is revving up for its debut too. Interesting times.