Hyundai doesn’t just want to be Toyota, it wants to break Toyota, in part by relentlessly copying the Big T’s jiujitsu. Toyota created the mass-market hybrid, and it’s pretty much had the corner on it, as others chipped futilely at Fortress Prius with unworthy competitors, including the failed Honda Insight, or shied away from hybrids altogether.
Yet, even as soft fuel prices have partially deflated the eco-car business over the past year, Hyundai sees opportunity, both in newfangled ride-sharing fleets where the break-even point on a hybrid is easily reached, and in up-and-coming millennials. They will represent 40 percent of new-car buy-ers by 2020. And as long as these young’uns stay the course with their values as they age (just like the baby boomers, cough), including a preference for urban living and smaller electrified vehicles, a parade of bearded and plaid-wearing buyers could march right into Hyundai’s open arms.
The Ioniq and its sister, the Kia Niro crossover, are just volleys one and two in a seven-vehicle broadside over the next year intended to bust the Prius’s lock on the average person’s mental image of a hybrid. Hyundai’s plan is to fight hard on pricing. The base $23,035 Ioniq Blue comes in $2535 under the base Prius Two, though you’ll have to compare the respective features lists closely to see which car has the stuff that matters to you. Would you rather have heated mirrors (Prius) or dual-zone climate control (Ioniq)? As you go up the Ioniq’s trim levels, from Blue to SEL to Limited, the Hyundai’s price advantage narrows but remains.
Hyundai plans to employ the same basic component set to yield not only the hybrid Ioniq, which in its most stripped-down Blue trim lays claim to a 58-mpg EPA average, but a plug-in hybrid and a full EV as well. It is also Hyundai’s first platform designed with autonomy in mind, the car said to be ready to add all-seeing, all-knowing hardware to its portfolio of optional driver’s aids when the tech becomes available.
There is opportunity here. If Toyota can be faulted for something besides refusing to make anything more than modest improvements to the Prius’s handling, it’s for not expanding the Prius sub-brand into body styles such as crossovers, which are the preferred choice of today’s buyers. Not everyone willing to pay extra for electrification wants a potato, and Hyundai doesn’t plan on making that same mistake.
Hybrid efficiency is far more complex than pairing an electric motor/generator with a gas engine. The Ioniq’s Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter inline-four optimizes the miles from every gallon of gas thanks to efficiency-boosting measures such as its water-cooled exhaust-gas-recirculation system. With lower EGR temperatures, the Ioniq’s Kappa engine can fill each cylinder with as much as 20 percent exhaust gas during the intake stroke. The typical uncooled EGR system displaces only 10 percent of the fresh-air charge. Hyundai claims that this difference alone is good for a 3 percent fuel-economy benefit by reducing the engine’s pumping losses.
The engine cooling system uses a split-circuit design to modulate the temperatures of the head and block separately. The control logic opens the cylinder head thermostat at 190 degrees, while coolant starts flowing to the block at 221 degrees. The higher block temperature decreases the viscosity of the oil, reducing friction. Lower cylinder-head temperatures help prevent knock, allowing Hyundai to use a high 13.0:1 compression ratio and more-advanced ignition timing. The engine’s Atkinson-cycle operation further reduces pumping losses with an expansion stroke effectively longer than its compression stroke. The net result is a claimed 40 percent thermal efficiency for the internal-combustion side of Hyundai’s gasoline-electric powertrain.