WORDS: Russ Atkinson
As a petrolhead, I sometimes find writing about everyday cars tougher to approach – but sometimes, just sometimes, the ordinary can strike you as, well, extraordinary. News of the ever-lowering local speed limit is becoming almost as tiring as the latest non-news about Brexit, and despite public opinion there seems little we can do to change the government’s mind about implementing them, but today I think I might have discovered the antidote. To the lowering of local speed limits, that is – not Brexit.
You see, apparently a horde of very clever people with a hoard of impressive qualifications to their names have deduced that driving combustion-engined vehicles at 20 miles per hour, rather than 30 miles per hour, is actually worse for the environment – leading people to question why the speed limits over here only seem to be going one way. In an ideal world, everyone would be driving electric cars that are recharged with clean, renewable energy, but in practise there’s going to have to be a transitionary period as the EV (that’s electric vehicle, to you and I) charging infrastructure grows. Thankfully, Hyundai have all of the bases covered with their IONIQ model.
Available as a hybrid (with both a petrol engine and electric motor, charged by regenerative braking, that work seamlessly with one another), a plug-in hybrid (with the option of, you guessed it, plugging it in to charge whenever convenient, too) and a full-electric (without the petrol engine), there’s an IONIQ to suit all situations; whether you’re able to fully-commit to an electric vehicle (and let’s face it, on a 45 square-mile island it shouldn’t be difficult) or need to retain the flexibility that having the option to also burn a bit of petrol now and then gives you – when travelling abroad, for example.
The thing that struck me most about driving the IONIQ though, was that it made me WANT to drive slowly. My days of tearing around everywhere are long in the past, but I couldn’t help but notice how lightly I was using the throttle. Absurdly lightly. Doing-twenty-miles-per-hour-in-a-thirty lightly. I can only assume that it was a subconscious reaction to the bold, clear dash display showing how efficiently the car has been driven (from ‘economical’ to ‘aggressive’, via ‘normal’) and when it’s using the battery, the petrol engine or charging the battery regeneratively. I soon realised that it’d almost become a game – keep the ‘EV’ light illuminated as much as possible, drive smoothly, and get the percentage split to err toward the ‘economical’. The transition from electric to petrol and back is so smooth you barely notice it, which is likely also thanks to how quiet the engine is when it does run, and I’m convinced that an IONIQ would be just as comfortable on a motorway as it was around Jersey’s lanes – especially compared to other non-hybrid hatchbacks I’ve driven recently. The model I drove even had flappy-paddles to control its DCT gearbox, but, if I’m entirely honest, I didn’t touch them – purely because I was enjoying driving at a leisurely pace a little too much. Worryingly so, in fact.
Inside the cabin, the controls are nice to the touch, the switchgear solid, with chunky rocker switches on the steering wheel for the radio and cruise control functions (all of the most iumportant ones, right?), and the seats are supportive. Flashes of blue punctuate the textured dashboard, reminding you that blue is the new green when it comes to flaunting your eco-credentials. The dials are bold and clean-looking, with a level of information detail of which Goldilocks would approve of. It all feels very ‘premium’, to the point where I had to double-check the sign that had been on the dashboard when I picked it up: £16,995. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t a lot of money for a good-sized hatchback these days, let alone one that’s also packed full of hybrid technology.
It’s all well and good filling cars with tech, but it’s all for nothing if it isn’t easy to actually use it. Most of it all happens seamlessly behind the scenes in the IONIQ hybrid, but for the parts that you can touch – the creature comforts – it’s blissfully straightforward to find your way around. Hyundai have considered ergonomics across the board, not only with the ease of finding a comfortable seating position, but also when it comes to operating the heater controls in particular, with bold, yet unobtrusive labelling and easy-to-locate buttons and dials. It sounds almost ridiculous to comment on, but I found that everything I needed was easy to locate at a glance even though I’d never sat inside an IONIQ before, which pays testament to Hyundai’s design efforts. The only thing that caught me out slightly was the parking brake, which is operated by your left foot and had me looking around for a little while, wondering if it was completely automatic or not, but once you know, you know. So there’s a pro-tip for anyone thinking of test-driving one – which you probably should be if you’re after a medium-sized hatchback and want to do your bit for the planet without having to cycle the kids to school in winter.
I don’t know any giants, but if I did, I’d be confident that there’d be room in the front for one, while leaving ample space for more normal-sized people in the rear. It’s a hatchback, yes, but it’s surprisingly roomy – and that’s before you even consider the boot, which looks as if it’d have enough space for the luggage that’d accompany a giant. If you know one, that is. Failing that, there’s plenty of space for a decent helping of child-related paraphernalia, to complement the ISOFIX fixings on the rear seats to keep your little angels safe and secure.
So if you’d like to do your best to counter the effects of being forced to drive at 20mph almost everywhere and actually enjoy it, then I’d say that Hyundai’s IONIQ would be a great place to start. You’ll be getting a lot of car for your money, and you can rest assured that – if you can keep the EV light glowing – you’ll be doing your bit for your children’s, children’s children, too.
The Mansell Collection. www.themansellcollection.co.uk
Model tested Hyundai IONIQ hybrid, £16,995