The 2019 Ioniq plug-in hybrid.
The 2019 Ioniq plug-in hybrid. Source: Hyundai

The Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (plug-in hybrid) is a sporty, neat fastback that offers nimble response and the tight turning circle of a small car, but with extra space in the back for luggage and shopping.

One of three powertrains – hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric – available in the Ioniq family, it is a one up on the “self-charging” hybrid Ioniq in that it can actually be run with zero emissions driving – so long as you keep an eye on the battery.

Priced from $46,294 drivea-way for the Elite trim or $50,997 driveaway for the Premium trim, this five seater fastback allows ample access to the generous luggage space, and reduced running costs thanks to low fuel efficiency to boot.

The driving experience is relaxed, with comfortable seats, plenty of legroom and electric controls for the driver’s seat that also thoughtfully pulls back as you open the door to get out, giving extra room to manoeuvre.

Driving range

As long as most daily driving needs do not exceed the 60km or so offered in the electric-only range offered by the Ioniq PHEV, it’s a great option for those who can’t stretch another $5,000 or so for the fully electric Ioniq, or who aren’t ready to make the leap to true zero emissions driving.

From driving on the highway from town to town, to doing everyday errands, the range indicator is spot on even with the air conditioning on.  On the highway, of course, you lose a little range but generally speaking unless you have a heavy foot you will still get at least 50km driving before the engine kicks in.

If you do have a heavy foot though, whether it be to get some extra speed in traffic or when going uphill however, you may be disappointed – as I was – when the engine switches on to boost the 44.5kW electric motor with the lagging shrug of a poorly tuned transmission.

The minimal power of the electric motor translates also into lane changes and traffic lights, something that you begin to take for granted when driving all-electric.

Charging

One drawback with the 2019 Ioniq PHEV is that while the 8.9kWh battery can be charged at home in around 4.5 hours or on a Type 2 AC charger in about half the time, it does not have DC charging capabilities.

Not that this would make a difference with long distance trips; nobody is going to stop every 60km to recharge so small a battery.

But in my week-long test in regional NSW, there were instances of regular trips to neighbouring towns where I would have welcomed the ability to do a quick boost of the battery to get back home with no emissions involved.

If this had been possible I would have been able to boost the battery within a matter of minutes at the only local DC fast-charger – NRMA’s recently opened Tritium chargers at Byron Bay’s The Farm – before doing the run home.

Even though it’s proximity to the Pacific Highway means it is aimed at travellers more than locals, a five minute stop would be worth it do avoid having to pump more carbon into the atmosphere.

However, the restriction to a Type 2 connection also highlights the need to be aware of what extra cables you may need when out and about. Always check via Plugshare if a local connection is listed as “BYO cable” before turning up at the local shopping centre expecting to recharge while you do the groceries.

On the highway, you may also only get half an hour down the road before the engine needs to kick in; this happens with 16-20% left on the battery (which assists in maintaining battery health rather than bleeding it dry).

After that, the petrol engine will help recharge the battery along with regenerative braking, so that the vehicle acts in much the same way as in a non-pluggable hybrid.

Overall this meant that in the 700km I covered while testing the vehicle the fuel efficiency came in at 2 litres per 100km.

Connectivity and safety

The Ioniq has a great interface accessed via the 8″ touch screen that is highly configurable and gives you instant access to many aspects of the car as well as in infotainment features and connectivity like Apple car play and android auto.

In addition to be connectivity and touchscreen interface, the Ioniq is kitted out with other modern technology such as lane assist, adaptive cruise control and forward collision avoidance, makes driving the Ioniq a pleasure.

When the car is in cruise mode on the highway, the vehicle is very good at staying between the lines as long as there are not too many curves. This is the same for streets and roads if there are sufficient road marking.

It’s not quite the level of “auto-pilot”, and is not designed to be. But because its sensors seem to monitor one side of the lane at a time, the effect is of a gentle zig-zagging down the road.

Otherwise, driving with adaptive cruise control is a pleasure as with the Hyundai Kona EV – put the car in cruise mode and in heavy traffic the Ioniq will follow at the distance behind the car in front, slowing coming to a stop smoothly as the traffic slows.

When the car’s speed reduces to zero, the adaptive cruise control will pause, then indicate when the vehicle in front drives off and asking you to hit the right steering wheel control to reactivate the adaptive cruise control.

The Ioniq, as a low profile fastback is not my favoured vehicle type, and while I have been won over by other low-profile fully electric models, the poor performance of the switch to petrol engine, ensuing carbon emissions and sluggish performance up hills meant that I was not overly enamoured in the same way.

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