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2017 Hyundai Ioniq

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq is a compact five-door hatchback that breaks new ground among fuel-efficient cars by offering three separate powertrains: hybrid, all-electric, and plug-in hybrid. Several makers offer plug-in variants of conventional hybrids, but Hyundai is the first to add a battery-electric model that has no engine at all to its hybrid lieup. The Ioniq Hybrid comes in Blue, SEL, and Limited trim levels, while the Electric and Plug-In versions offer base and Limited trims.

The Ioniq Hybrid will be the volume model, with distribution of the two versions with plugs limited to California and a handful of other states—though Hyundai pledges those two can be special-ordered by any dealer in the U.S.

In price and features, the hybrid Ioniq sits between the small, simple Toyota Prius C and the Prius Liftback. It slightly exceeds any version of the Prius in EPA fuel-economy ratings, and its appearance is far more conventional and less polarizing than any Prius. Other competitors for the Ioniq Hybrid include the Kia Niro hybrid wagon that shares its underpinnings, the Ford C-Max tall hatchback, and hybrid versions of several mid-size sedans, including its larger Hyundai Sonata stablemate, and the Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry.

Overall, we give the Hyundai Ioniq lineup a rating of 6.6 out of 10 points. That number may rise once safety ratings are in, as Hyundai has said it expects the Ioniq to receive top marks from both the NHTSA and IIHS. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Normal design, performance

Hyundai notes survey data showing that buyers avoid buying hybrid and plug-in cars because they’re too expensive, they lack performance, and aren’t sporty enough. The Ioniq is intended to counter those concerns. Its design was intended from the start to be “normal,” effectively an anti-Prius, and it succeeds in camouflaging the high-tail shape that best reduces aerodynamic drag.

Inside, the Ioniq could easily be a Hyundai Elantra, with simple and pleasant shapes, intuitive and straightforward controls and instruments, and a healthy dose of conventional car appearance. The performance is decent, and the hybrid handles well, though the electric Ioniq makes do with a less-sophisticated rear suspension that reduces any sporty feeling. And the Ioniq Hybrid’s fuel-economy figures—58 mpg combined for the base Ioniq Blue, 55 mpg for other versions—is slightly better than comparable Prius models.

The Ioniq Hybrid starts around $23,000 including delivery, putting it right between the Prius C and Prius Liftback. What remains to be seen is whether the added cost of up to $5,000 more than a comparable Elantra in the same showroom will be justified by its efficiency in the eyes of buyers.

As for the two Ioniqs with plugs, the Ioniq Electric—rated at 124 miles of range—goes up against the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV, the 107-mile Nissan Leaf, the 124-mile Volkswagen e-Golf, and the 114-mile BMW i3. Hyundai suggests that its energy efficiency, which is higher than any of those battery-electric cars, matters as much as range. It remains to be seen if buyers feel the same.

The Ioniq Plug-In, which will arrive in the fourth quarter of 2017, will be positioned against the Chevrolet Volt, the plug-in Toyota Prius Prime, and perhaps plug-in hybrid models of the C-Max, Fusion, Sonata, and Optima.

To some degree, it feels as if the 2017 Ioniq range was finalized before the fourth-generation 2016 Prius hybrid or the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric car hit the market. Those two cars, with a known and trusted brand for the Prius and almost double the battery range for the Bolt EV, pose stiff competition to the new Ioniq—albeit at higher prices. The market will render its verdict on which approaches find buyers.

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