Car reviews - Hyundai - Ioniq 5
Exceptional refinement, brilliant suspension, user-friendly cabin, supremely easy to drive
Room for improvement
Small boot, single-spec range structure, high price of entry, low supply
As far as step-changes go, the Ioniq 5 is a big one
22 Oct 2021
By TONY O'KANE
DON’T make the mistake of thinking the Ioniq 5 bears any relation to the existing Ioniq small hatch that’s been on sale since 2018. Despite the similar nomenclature, they are brothers in name only.
And for the Ioniq 5, that’s a good thing. Its platform is entirely unique, in fact, it’s the first of its kind to hit the market, and 240 fortunate Australians have managed to get their hands on one a mere eight months after the Ioniq 5 was revealed in full. As far as journeys to the showroom go, the Ioniq 5 has arrived remarkably swiftly.
For Hyundai, it’s a harbinger of things to come. The Ioniq nameplate no longer represents a model line, but a family of vehicles – all electric, and all sporting the most futuristic interpretation of Hyundai design both inside and out. That all-new platform we mentioned before (dubbed E-GMP) is vital to separating the Ioniq 5 and the incoming Ioniq 6 (a large sedan) and Ioniq 7 (a three-row family SUV) from garden-variety Hyundais, as it liberates those cars from “the old way of doing things”.
So, if the Ioniq 5 is thus divorced from the “old way”, then what’s “the new way”? It’s purely electric, for starters, and unlike the existing Ioniq hatch there will never be a combustion engine found in the Ioniq 5. In Australia, there are few options – two models are available, one rear-wheel drive (RWD) and one all-wheel drive (AWD), with both using the same 72.6kWh Lithium-ion polymer battery.
In Europe a 58kWh battery is available for both drivetrain configurations with lower performance and range, while US-spec Ioniq 5s will be sold exclusively with a 77.4kWh battery pack. Neither are on the cards for Australia just yet, however Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) has pledged to monitor customer demand for smaller (and thus cheaper) batteries and respond if necessary. For the time being though, the range structure is small.
And that extends to specification, though with all Australian-market Ioniq 5s being offered in a single very highly-specified grade, that’s no bad thing for the customer. Fully loaded, every Ioniq 5 comes with a huge level of comfort and convenience technology as standard, making the Ioniq 5 experience about a lot more than just all-electric motoring. For Hyundai, this car is the cutting edge – at least until the next-generation Nexo fuel-cell vehicle (FCEV) breaks cover.
Being at the pointy end of technology does come at a price. The opening ask is $71,900 for the “base” rear-wheel drive Ioniq 5 variant, while the AWD derivative comes in at $75,900 – a respectable premium considering that extra $4000 spend nets you a power upgrade from 160kW to 225kW, a torque jump from 350Nm to 605Nm, and a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds rather than the RWD’s 7.4 seconds.
Pricey, but crucially it manages to fit under the Luxury Car Tax (LCT) threshold of $79,659 for low-emission vehicles.
But the question most will have is what does the Ioniq 5 do differently from Hyundai’s previous battery-electrics, the Ioniq Electric and Kona Electric? A pertinent question, especially considering the Kona Electric Highlander is almost $8000 cheaper than the Ioniq 5 2WD, but it turns out Hyundai’s latest electric arrival is a very different animal.
The first impression the Ioniq 5 makes occurs long before you sit in the driver’s seat. It’s huge, far bigger than the photographs suggest, and its scale enhances the significant visual presence provided by its crisp-edged, almost alien design.
There’s exactly three metres between its front and rear axles, so that hatchback-like form you see on your computer screen is deceptive. Even though it has the three-pillar layout of a compact five-door it’s more akin to a midsize SUV in its footprint, while that stealth fighter styling ensures that the Ioniq 5 commands attention.
In fact, few cars draw in the eyes of strangers quite like this. I’ve felt more anonymous when driving a Lamborghini.
Entering it is an event too. Flush-fit door handles pop out as the car unlocks, with the doors opening wide to the cabin and giving easy entry to the front and rear seats. With the battery located entirely under the cabin floor, the step up into the Ioniq 5 is indeed SUV-like, but not to the extent that a side-step is required. Even so, settle into the seat and it’s obvious that you’re sitting tall. Even in its lowest position, the driver’s chair is remarkably high-mounted.
Fiddle with the controls, and one of the Ioniq 5’s party tricks appears. The range of adjustment is massive, with 12 individual directions of adjustability, and when parked it’ll even recline all the way back at the press of a button, tilting the front seat base up to maintain a comfortable angle between your shins, thighs and spine. An ottoman also extends – a feature not commonly found on the driver’s side of a car – providing support to your calves and lifting your heels off the floormat. It’s rather like sitting in a dentist’s chair, but without the odour of mint mouthwash and the sound of a drill.
Handy for killing time in an EV charging bay, I guess, but adjusting the backrest to a less horizontal position allows you to sit semi-reclined with your feet in midair, yet still have good contact with the wheels and pedals and a good view of the road in front. Hyundai uses the phrase ‘zero-gravity’ to describe the Ionic 5’s seats, and I can understand why – with such an enveloping shape, they really do take a lot of weight off your thighs and bum, and give a lot more flexibility in how you sit behind the wheel.
There’s more internal innovation besides the front seats. The rear seats, for example, are also power-adjustable (though the backrests are manually reclining) and slide fore and aft, with backseaters enjoying good ventilation from B-pillar face vents, USB charging options, heaps of light through the side windows and that enormous glass roof, and enough sprawling room for three adults to sit abreast. The flat floor means no intrusive tunnels or other structures too, and the quality of the standard leather is hard to fault – the use of environmentally-friendly processing oils for the upholstery provides some feel-good factor, as do the myriad other recycled, sustainable or otherwise eco-friendly cabin materials.
The only major ergonomic missteps are a steering wheel rim that tends to obscure the top corners of the 12.3-inch instrument panel display, and a wireless phone charging pad that isn’t quite big enough for a modern ‘phablet’ phone. Balancing out some of those qualms is an impressive level of cabin storage, such as the handbag-ready centre console tray and the pull-out glovebox that’s more akin to a kitchen drawer than anything automotive.
The overwhelming impression is that this is a cut above the average Hyundai. It not only borders on premium in many respects, but goes beyond premium status to sit in its own special space. It’s not luxurious in the same way that a Genesis product is, but it certainly has a special quality. It feels like a visitor from the future, though thankfully one from the Jetsons universe and not the Terminator one.
And that’s before you even drive it.
Our tester was the $71,900 2WD Ioniq 5, with a modest 160kW and 350Nm from its single rear-mounted electric motor, with drive going to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission. Though it manages to deliver almost its entire peak torque output throughout its entire rpm range, performance is modest – the 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds is respectable, but certainly wouldn’t trouble a Tesla.
But while there are faster EVs, the Ioniq 5 in single-motor form is still a delight to drive. This is a car designed to crush commutes not dominate dragstrips, and that shows in how it takes the road. It’s incredibly quiet, for starters, with a barely-audible hum from the pedestrian alert noise at low speeds and the faintest motor whine when accelerating. It’s also incredibly smooth – like a lot of EVs are, but with a different kind of electronic enhancement to help the driver out.
That driveline smoothness is matched by a silky ride. Those big 20-inch wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, but the expected ride harshness usually found with that combo never appears. Instead, the Ioniq 5 delivers plenty of vertical suspension stroke and soft springrates to soak up big bumps, but with excellent damping to keep all of that movement in check. It’s incredibly soft for a modern car, but it feels contained and composed, not bouncy. Curiously, Hyundai’s local suspension tuning team – which is normally tasked with developing Aus-specific suspension settings – didn’t touch the Ioniq 5. When it came to a localised tune, HMCA says “none was required”.
Like all EVs and hybrids, the Ioniq 5 boasts regenerative braking. However, its regen system is possibly the most flexible system out there, and something that very much does its best to not just extend range, but benefit the driver. For starters, the pair of paddles behind the steering wheel can be used to change the regen strength depending on driver preference or the incline of the road – but then again, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been doing that since 2013. However, click the left paddle more and the system enters ‘iPedal’ mode, turning up the regen force so much that lifting off the accelerator pedal will bring the car to a smooth stop, making it possible to do the bulk of your commute without touching the brake pedal.
But while a Nissan Leaf can do the same stunt, the Ioniq 5 goes a step further and adds its own ‘auto’ regen mode, and this is where its fusion of technology becomes apparent. By using the forward-facing sensors of the car, the Ioniq 5 can automatically vary its regen force to slow down quicker if there’s traffic up ahead, or slacken off the system entirely if the road ahead is clear and flat. A small display on the instrument panel shows you in real-time how the auto regen system responds, and it’s remarkable how reactive it is to traffic.
As a driver, it translates into a vehicle that seems to predict your demands for acceleration and braking, and in a lot of instances it almost drives itself. It’s an electronic ‘helping hand’ that lessens the load on the driver, and thus makes the act of driving simpler without taking over entirely.
Another helping hand is its steering assist. The same principle that’s applied to the regen is also applied to the Ioniq 5’s self-steering capability, and it’s fundamentally an evolution of the lane-keeping technology that’s already been with us for a while. Again, it leans on the car’s sensor suite, using cameras to monitor the position of vehicles in front and using their lane position to inform where it should place itself within the lane markings, and gently applying steering torque to keep that position. Meanwhile a gentle lane-keeping force helps you stay within the lines even when cruise control is off, and you’re driving on suburban roads. For the most part it’s unintrusive, but every so often you can feel the car assisting you in a gentle manner.
And, if you want the car to take over more tasks, the active cruise control is exceptionally hard to fault. With lane keep functioning and the car’s radar monitoring frontal traffic, it’s smooth and serene, allowing hands to come off the wheel for a surprisingly generous length of time before it deactivates. There’s also a machine learning mode, which can analyse the driver’s driving behaviour and adjust the cruise control experience to suit. Again: it’s existing technology, but evolved to a higher level. That’s the Ioniq 5’s calling card.
There are times where ‘ghosts in the machine’ appear, such as the boot’s self-opening function always lifting the tailgate even if I was just walking around the back of the car briefly. The boot itself also seems quite small for a vehicle of this size, though at 527L it’s far from stingy. There’s a frunk under the bonnet too, but it’s rather small and really only good for storing your charge cable and adapters.
Speaking of which, one other intriguing feature of the Ioniq 5 is its ability to share its battery power with household devices, with a plug-in adaptor allowing almost any regular three-pin appliance to take power from the car in a system Hyundai dubs, “Vehicle To Load” (V2L). Though there’s no Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capability for now, V2L seems more useful to the average consumer, and can even help charge up a fellow EV that’s run out of charge.
And on the subject of running out of charge, how does the Ioniq 5 fare? The 2WD variant has the longest legs, able to travel for a claimed 451km before the 72.6kWh battery runs out. In our testing, which took in just under 100km of urban and highway driving in a 70/30 split, the Ioniq 5 consumed an average of 16.5 kWh per 100km, giving an expected real-world range of 440km. With an 80/20 urban/highway split, we’d expect Hyundai’s claim to be bang on the actual result, so the numbers do appear honest.
But while the Ioniq 5 is revolutionary for the Hyundai brand, it’s not an especially revolutionary electric car. There are faster, cheaper and longer-ranged options out there, after all. However, where it excels is by showing what’s possible when some truly clean-slate thinking is applied to the EV format. The result is a car that innovates in understated ways, but offers a driving experience that’s remarkably distinct from what existing vehicles offer. It’s not often that a new species appears out of the blue, but this feels like one of those moments.
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