So here was the Toyota Prius, minding its own business as the world’s best-selling gas-electric car, and wouldn’t you know someone had to come up with a direct competitor.
That competitor would be the Hyundai Ioniq which when launched in the U.S. later this year will not only vie against the plain hybrid Prius, but its plug-in hybrid version will also go against Toyota’s more-recently revealed “Prime” plug-in hybrid.
The Ioniq is also the world’s first dedicated electrified car that will be available in a third powertrain – battery electric – but speaking of the plug-in hybrid from Korea versus the one we all know from Japan, its competitiveness could be close.
Following is a rundown of a few pointers on how these respective vehicles compare and contrast.
The Prius Prime and the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid are both aerodynamic, front-wheel-drive, hatchbacks.
Hyundai’s car is a five-passenger model as was the former Prius plug-in and current Prius. Toyota in its wisdom decided to make the Prime a four seater to save weight, and because it says its target demographic will be fine with that.
Coefficient of drag is to be the same 0.24, interior space while varying a bit here and there will be close for both.
Toyota’s Prius follows the new design language of the base Prius which has been so polarizing for people, and the Ioniq looks more conventional, with some saying it’s easier on the eyes.
Both are plug-in hybrids with full hybrid system augmented by ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle four-cylinders. Hyundai’s GDi unit is a 1.6 liter, Toyota’s is a 1.8.
Both vehicles’ engines claim thermal efficiency of 40 percent – an accomplishment Toyota said three years ago it was reaching for, and which Hyundai up and did as well on its first time against the incumbent. Where they differ is Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive follows the electric continuously variable transmission formula, and Hyunda eschews that in favor of a six-speed dual clutch automatic.
Neither has specified EPA numbers yet, but Toyota says the Prius Prime could get around the same as the non-plug-in Prius, perhaps around 52 mpg, and the Hyundai could get more – as much as 56, likely no less than 51, and ultimately to be determined.
Hyundai also touts higher efficiency in electric drive – 125 MPGe versus the Toyota’s estimated 120.
Continuing the powertrain discussion is the traction battery. Toyota doubled what was in the 2012-2015 Prius Plug-in Hybrid with now an 8.8 kilowatt-hour assembly, and Hyundai offers 8.9 kWh.
Toyota is projecting 22 miles range at up to 84 mph prior to final EPA certifications. Hyundai is projecting 25-29, without thus far specifying more.
Assuming this comes to pass, it appears Hyundai holds an edge in EV range which is the single-most important reason for buying a plug-in version of a hybrid car.
Prior to road testing, the effective 0-60 mph time for either car with full gas-plus-electric power could be in the 10 second range, give or take a second.
Toyota said its New Global Architecture and rear independent suspension makes for a crisper handling vehicle in the twisties than Prius cars of yore. And, sure enough, Hyundai says its new dedicated platform and independent rear suspension also makes for an engaging experience in the corners.
If you’ve paid attention so far, you see Hyundai seeks to equal or one-up the Prius Prime in all meaningful stats, but it is the newcomer and the Prius Prime is based on a vehicle – the Prius hybrid – that’s been evolved since 1997.
The plug-in hybrid version of the Prius itself was only introduced in its first generation in 2012, but now the fully redesigned and thus evolved Prius plug-in is more of a known quantity, with solid reliability and resale scores.
Hyundai has been making hybrids for this market several years also.
Its well-regarded Sonata Hybrid began U.S. sales in 2011, and the carmaker has proven itself although it did run afoul with its mpg estimated in 2012 and had to pay hefty fines for overstating mpg which consumers now remember.
If consumers lost out there, Hyundai was stung itself to the tune of $755 million, you can be sure it does not wish to make that mistake again, and there is no indicator it has overpromised on its latest hybrids in question.
What’s more, Hyundai is seeking to introduce 26 electrified vehicles by 2020, its wants to be a global top-2 green car maker by then, and it is playing for keeps.
Of course of great concern to any car shopper is price, and this is to be determined.
Without specifying dollars requested, Toyota has positioned the Prime as atop the range of its Prius line which goes into the lower 30s, and Hyundai has said even less about what to expect price-wise.
Hyundai’s approach has been to undercut or be priced closely to perceived competitors and it would not be surprising to see it sticker for less, but how much less is an open question.
Since the tax credit is pegged to battery size, both may get close to the same amount. Neither manufacturer has issued statements, but by IRS rules the credit is $2,500 plus an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours.
This should equate to $4,502 for the Toyota, and about $42 more than that for the Hyundai.
State incentives may be available for these plug-in cars.
Road tests and greater details will be needed to fully assess the two, but the short answer is the Prius Prime is the yardstick Hyundai is measuring itself against and on paper it appears quite close.
As an aside, Hyundai is not the only company wanting to knock the Prius from its pedestal, and it’s rumored Ford also is preparing an anti-Prius that could be called Model E, much to Tesla’s chagrin.
As plug-in hybrids, both the Toyota and Hyundai are not setting new benchmarks in the all-important all-electric range department. The reigning champ has been the Chevy Volt which all the way back in in 2011 had a superior 35 miles, and in 2017 has 53 miles EPA-rated range.
Both the Korean and Japanese plug-in hybrid promise better mpg in charge-sustaining mode than the Volt’s 42, however, and in all they present a balance of attributes with relatively competitive e-range, mpg, utility, spaciousness, and driving enjoyment.
Or, so is the intent. We’ll know more closer to launch.