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2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited Review – Cheaper, More Attractive, And Better Than The Obvious Choice

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Limited

1.6-liter Atiknson cycle inline-four, DOHC (104 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm; 109 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

Interior permanent magnet synchronous motor (43 hp; 125 lb-ft)

Combined system horsepower: 139

Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive

55 city / 54 highway / 55 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

4.3 city / 4.4 highway / 4.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

46.1 mpg [5.1 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $22,200 (U.S) / $24,420 (Canada)

As Tested: $30,500 (U.S.) / $33,550 (Canada)

Prices include freight charge in the United States and are estimated for Canada, where the Ioniq is not yet officially priced.

If you want to beat Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal, you have to be better than Roger, Novak, Andy, and Rafa.

It doesn’t matter if it costs less to train you. It won’t matter if you’re better looking. It will never be sufficient to merely stack up better on paper; to be taller and stronger and younger.

You have to be better.

Sorry to have to break it to you this way, but, you’re not.

To upset a paradigm that’s been in place for two decades, the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid can’t merely be less expensive than the Toyota Prius. People are willing to pay a premium for a superior known entity. The Hyundai Ioniq can’t merely be more attractive. Indeed, how could the Ioniq not be more attractive than the 2017 Toyota Prius? Moreover, the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid won’t succeed simply because of superior on-paper achievements; of greater cargo space or hiproom or horsepower.

If the Ioniq Hybrid is to succeed at weaning green car buyers off their beloved Prii, the Hyundai Ioniq must be a better Prius.

It is. Mostly.

There was this one hiccup.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid — there will also be plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants — possesses EPA ratings that make it the most efficient plugless car on sale in America. At 55 mpg city and 54 mpg highway in the case of our Limited-spec tester, the Ioniq sips even less than the 54/50 mpg Prius. The Ioniq Blue’s 57/59 mpg ratings are superior to those of the 58/53 mpg Prius Eco, as well.

Yet in the real world, the 2016 Toyota Prius with which we spent 700 miles last spring was a thrifty 57-mpg car. And the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq we just drove 311 miles? 46 mpg.

The Ioniq has valid excuses. That Toyota was a basic Prius riding on 195/55R15 low-rolling-resistance all-season tires in beautiful spring weather. This Ioniq, with only 600 miles on its odometer when it arrived in our driveway, was a top-spec Hyundai with 225/45R17 Michelin X-Ice winter tires, forced to traverse city streets and salt-covered highways in sub-freezing winter weather.

Relatively minor fuel cost differences aside, the Hyundai Ioniq typically shines in comparisons with its obvious rival. Less offensive styling is only the beginning, although the plentiful compliments this particular car received over the last week may have related more to Hyundai Canada’s choice of color — this eye-catching shade of orangey-red doesn’t appear in Hyundai USA’s palette — than the shape itself.

The Ioniq offers marginally more cargo space in a deep and wide cargo hold. All controls, from the regular shifter to the chunky buttons and knobs to the utterly sensible infotainment unit, are built so luddites can cope.

Underway, the Ioniq Hybrid’s 139 total horsepower don’t struggle to propel the Hyundai forward. Better yet, the engine doesn’t sound unhappy, so demanding greater acceleration isn’t met by the sounds of obstinance. There’s a Sport mode that makes the Ioniq feel genuinely urgent, but you then negate the possibility of EV mode — which seems to defeat the purpose of the car.

And when you’re not peeling away from stoplights? Though predictably uncommunicative, the steering is quick to respond and feels naturally weighted. The Ioniq’s left pedal masks common hybrid brake feel, and while stopping force won’t wow you, normal brake feel adds to the all-around normality of the Hyundai. The Ioniq is not going out of its way to be weird. In fact, it seems obvious that, wedge-shaped styling notwithstanding, Hyundai doesn’t want the Ioniq to feel unconventional.

The Ioniq isn’t doing a sports sedan impression. There’s too much body roll for that, just a bit too much mid-corner softness to suggest varsity levels of athleticism. But it doesn’t fight back against enthusiasm. The Ioniq copes well with greater pace rather than protesting against your more onerous requests.

The current Prius is amditedly a great leap forward over past iterations, but it isn’t quite this willing to partner on the dance floor.

I’ll take the Hyundai Ioniq’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic over the continuously variable transmission in the Prius, as well, albeit with reservations. A DCT’s purpose is seemingly to shift quicker, for third gear to be primed when you’re accelerating through second, for fourth gear to be ready and waiting to instantly engage when you’re finishing up with third. Hyundai’s DCT never seems to impress with shift speed, a complaint we also leveled against the Veloster Turbo. It’s also bizarrely laggy at parking lot speeds and can be easily confused when shift timing coincides with powerplant transitions. In most circumstances, however, the Ioniq’s DCT is a well-behaved automatic, and unlike the Prius’s CVT, doesn’t cause the engine to moan along at an unpleasant rev count.

It’s not all upside. The Hyundai Ioniq’s split rear window curtails rear visibility. Rear headroom is limited, a characteristic exacerbated by snug rear quarters. I had to pull the driver’s seat forward so a front-facing three-year-old had foot room; Mrs. Cain had to move up so that a rear-facing infant seat could get in and out.

The Ioniq’s not a big car, to be fair. At only 176 inches bumper to bumper, the Ioniq is 15 inches shorter than the Hyundai Sonata. But the Ioniq quickly creeps into Sonata Hybrid pricing territory, and its passenger space certainly can’t compete. Front seat cushion length isn’t long enough, either, and the seat cushion bolstering isn’t shaped well for my lanky frame.

Presumably hampered to some degree by the lower profile tires — lower trims use 195/65R15s — the Ioniq Limited also exhibits too much ride stiffness. Impacts with harsher pavement, especially for rear passengers, can be jarring. If there was a more obvious payoff in handling prowess, then this poorer-than-Prius ride quality would be easier to tolerate.

Yet in general, among this obviously comparable duo, the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid is the more enjoyable car in which to spend time. The structure feels stiffer, the absence of cheap bits is noteworthy, the simplicity of operation is welcome.

Plus, with a base price of $22,200, Ioniq pricing starts $2,900 below the Prius. With navigation, adaptive cruise, dynamic headlights, Infinity audio, driver’s seat memory, and other features added to the $27,500 Ioniq Limited with a $3,000 Ultimate Package, the $30,500 top-spec 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid is $2,555 less than a fully loaded Prius Four Touring.

Perhaps the Prius claws back some of its price premium with superior real-world fuel economy and superior resale value.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter that the Ioniq can beat the Prius, just as it doesn’t matter that you can beat the septuagenarians at your community tennis club.

You need a better backhand. And you want an ess-you-vee. Lo and behold, the Ioniq’s platform partner, Kia’s Niro, is whispering its sweet off-road credentials into your listening ears.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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