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Hyundai IONIQ: The Divine Trident

  • May 15, 2017
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Hyundai’s IONIQ line of cars carries the South Korean carmaker’s ambition to become the second biggest name among low-emission vehicles. While most brands aim for the top spot no matter how late they are to the party, Hyundai has kept its targets realistic and claims to be running for the second place.

There are no two ways about it that dethroning the leader, the two-decade-oldHyundai-Ioniq-2017-1280-56 Prius nameplate, is going to be far from easy. While cars with hybrid or electric powertrains could have run the risk of putting off buyers, Toyota’s robust and practical Prius has earned the trust of buyers and established the use case of hybrid vehicles. Interestingly, the flag bearer of the green brigade, the Prius, was only available as a hybrid. The plug-in hybrid variant of the Prius came about in 2011.

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Now, Hyundai is doing something with the IONIQ brand that no one has ever tried before, and that's catering to three different kinds of environmentally conscious buyers in one family. Depending on the comfort level, the buyer can choose either the Hybrid, the Plug-In or the Electric. Yes, those are the names of the IONIQ variants. The design, though very aerodynamic, isn’t trying to stand out, unlike the Prius. That's a good way to attract buyers who'd rather not announce their love for a higher fuel efficiency figure.

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The three cars were first showcased at the Geneva Motor Show in March of 2016 with a timeline to hit the American market with the Hybrid by the end of 2016. The Electric has also just joined the showroom floor in the US, and the Plug-In is coming soon. Now that Hyundai has confirmed that the first IONIQ will launch in India at the 2018 Auto Expo, let's dig deeper into each of the three one at a time.

IONIQ Hybrid

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The Hybrid is the first car to go on sale in the US, and, so far, it's the only one confirmed for India. The Hybrid packs a 1.6-litre petrol engine with direct injection that makes 105PS of power and 147Nm of torque. Now, these figures are far from what you'd expect from a 1.6-litre engine, but mind you, it's designed for fuel efficiency over everything else. It runs a lean burn Atkinson cycle and also gets a helping hand from the 43.5PS electric motor that adds 170Nm of torque to boost the car's driveability. All of that twist is available on demand at any RPM to get the car rolling quickly at any speed. The motor draws power from a tiny 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery known for its energy density and fast charge and discharge rate. However, it is also notorious for giving up in hot weather.

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Then, there's the 6-speed dual clutch transmission making its grand entrance to the Indian market. Hyundai has so far shown a lot of love for the extremely reliable torque converter automatics, but the fact remains that it's not the best at extracting maximum fuel efficiency. The IONIQ Hybrid will be the first car in Hyundai's Indian portfolio to ditch the torque converter for something more advanced and fuel efficient.

The new automatic transmission is there to reduce shift times to allow a minimal loss of power. It's also not known to guzzle fuel while stuck in traffic. However, its reliability will be put to the test in our climatic conditions with choc-a-bloc traffic.

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The biggest talking point though is the car's claimed fuel efficiency, which stands at 25kmpl as per the US' test cycle. Testing is far more lenient in our country, and we may see the claimed figure jump past the 30kmpl mark.

The Hybrid is a great alternative for those looking to get their feet wet in the low-emission waters, but aren't yet ready to change the way they drive. This car drives just like a regular car and the electronics decide when, how and where the power needs to be channelled.

IONIQ Plug-In

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The Plug-In is yet to enter mass production, but it's largely similar to the Hybrid with three major differences:
1. It packs a bigger battery
2. It can be charged from a power outlet
3. It gets a bigger motor

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The 1.6-litre GDI mill with the 6-speed transmission remains identical, but the 1.56kWh battery pack is swapped for an 8.9kWh pack. The electric motor makes way for a bigger 61PS unit with an estimated torque figure in the ballpark of 240Nm. Once juiced up completely, the Plug-In can cruise silently for up to 50km without even firing up the engine. When the engine does comes on though, charging resumes to aid or take over the propulsion duties.

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Those who want to go all-electric, but can't let go of the go-anywhere ability of a smoky car will love the Plug-In. If your daily driving is under 50km, you could very well survive an entire year on just one tank of petrol. The option of fueling up can be exercised when stretching the driving distance.

IONIQ Electric

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Now, this is for the committed kind. You'll have to be ready to trade your ability to wander off into the wilderness for the independence from the fuel pumps.

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The Electric packs a large 28kWh battery for up to 200km of emission-free driving. While Hyundai engineers understand the importance of packing a bigger battery, for most users it acts as a dead weight, which they have to lug around for the entire life of the car. The motor is also bigger and makes 120PS of power and 295Nm of torque. The range and power are more than adequate for a city car.

Earning Trust

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In the US, all the IONIQs come with a 5 year/1 lakh km warranty as standard. The mechanical bits like the engine, electric motor and the gearbox are rated to last up to 10 years/1.6 lakh km. Batteries make up a big chunk of an electric or plug-in hybrid car's price tag, and premature failure could get the owners twisted. Hyundai wants to rid the buyers of those worries with a lifetime warranty on the batteries.

These are big promises even for the American market, and how many years Hyundai will guarantee us, is anybody's guess.

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On the surface, the IONIQ is a car that differentiates itself without alienating anyone, and that's a good start. Having various levels of electrification opens up the doors for more buyers. And welcoming sceptics with a lifetime battery warranty sounds like the final nail in the coffin. We think the IONIQ has all the makings of a champion and becoming a household name shouldn't be a problem if priced right.

Pricing
The ideal starting point for the IONIQ to get off to a successful start will be around the Rs 20 lakh mark, but Hyundai is looking to kill the already dead Toyota Prius. Hitting the Rs 20 lakh price tag is going to require local manufacturing and high levels of localisation, unlike the imported Prius. Local assembly should keep the tag around Rs 30 lakh, which is considerably lower than the Prius, but far from exciting. The IONIQ's price tag will define the fate of the car that's here to shake up the future of transportation.
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