Hyundai Ioniq v. Toyota Prius Prime. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media and Hyundai Global Media.

Hyundai Ioniq v. Toyota Prius Prime, Part 1 of 3: Introducing the Competitors

New York City has been the site of many great fights: Marciano v. Louis, Ali v. Frazier,  Hulk Hogan v. The Iron Sheik, even the Avengers v. Loki & the Chitauri.

The 2016 New York International Auto Show adds to that lore with two announcements, each on the same day from an automaker with an eye on the future.  On Wednesday, March 23rd, Toyota announced the world premiere of the Prius Prime, a more stylish and peppy version evolution of the ubiquitous line of hybrids.

Later on, Hyundai revealed the Ioniq brand to the United States market.  The Ioniq marks a new series of hybrids and PHEVs coming to market, this time as a 3-in-1 combination of powertrains on frame.  The Ioniq hybrid and all-electric Ioniq will be in showrooms by the end of 2016, with the Ioniq plug-in to come in early 2017.

It is officially “on” between Hyundai and Toyota.

Hyundai’s goal is simple and time-worn.  Take green car market share from Prius.  The goal of the boys at Toyota City is just as simple and clear.  Defend the brand.

Toyota has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on this segment for decades.  The Prius name and shape is synonymous with green cars.  Toyota made a commitment to hybrid technology very early, betting on research that showed consumers had a deeper interest in high-mileage cars.  Market timing helped as well.  When gas prices peaked at $5+/gallon back in 2008, the reaction rocketed Prius and it’s iconic wedge shape to new sales highs.  The bet paid off, and Prius hybrid technology soon spread across portions of the Toyota and Lexus lineups.

Since 2008, hybrid technology has evolved and become less expensive, making the introduction of new hybrid vehicles much cheaper than before.  Consumers have shown a commitment to hybrids, and a desire to see these thrifty engines in more than small hatchbacks.  Hyundai has embraced this, and is placing a bet like Toyota did almost a decade ago.

No one has taken on the Prius in such a formal way.  In previous posts, we have talked about those who have triangulated the Prius.  We have also seen the launch of the new Kia Niro, a new compact hybrid SUV from Hyundai’s sister company.  The Niro is a Prius-killer.

Introducing the Prius Prime

The Toyota Prius Prime is the first of the next generation of Toyota hybrids.  According to Nathan Kokes, Toyota’s Brand Manager for Advanced Technology Vehicles, the Prius Prime is a triumph of listening to the owner base.  Owners complained about range, speed and how much gas the car used.  The result?  The Prius Prime runs farther and faster on electric power without a larger battery eating up storage space.  The gasoline engine kicks in at higher speeds than in previous model years.

The big number for Toyota is 120 mpg-e.  MPG-e is the electric equivalent of MPG. It is a number that is kind of difficult to quickly explain, given all the variables.  Basically, it will go a long time on a charge.  But if you really need to dial into costs, here are some guides.  In Summer 2014, the Northeast Group estimated the per gallon equivalent cost to charge an EV battery was $0.75.  Gas was more expensive in then as well.  Tesla owners say they pay an extra $25-50/month in utilities.



Introducing the Hyundai Ioniq Lineup

The Hyundai Ioniq, on the other hand, reflects an approach that’s more measured.  The Ioniq team has had the advantage of hindsight in the design and launch of the new brand.  Instead of quirky and futuristic, they went with giving customers a choice between electrified powertrains in a car whose shape you don’t have to explain.  The three models comprising Ioniq are they Ioniq Hybrid, the Ioniq Plug-in, and the Ioniq Electric.



The Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in feature a new hybrid-only 1.6 GDI engine that delivers 104 horsepower and 109 foot pounds of torque.  This is the same heart that beats in the 2017 Kia Niro hybrid compact SUV.  Combined with a 32 kw electric motor, total system output for the Ioniq Hybrid is 139 hp and 195 foot pounds of torque.  The electric motor in the Ioniq Plug-in is larger at 45kw, adding 60 bhp and 125 lb-ft of torque to it’s 1.6 GDI.

The Ioniq Electric has a larger electric motor, 88kw.  The result is 120 horsepower and 215 lb-ft of torque.

The Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in feature a 6-speed dual clutch transmission.  Say goodbye to the weird feel of continuously variable transmission, say hello to a regular drive.  A single-speed reduction gear moves power from the 28 kWh battery in the Ioniq Electric to it’s wheels.

 

Toyota Prius Prime Styling

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, passenger 3/4 view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, passenger 3/4 view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

 

The Prius name and shape are two of the 3 pedestals supporting the brand. I’ve never been a big fan of the shape of the regular Prius, but the marketer in me understands the value of physical branding. It is interesting that Toyota is really pushing this 3/4 look of the Prime.  Why?  Maybe because this is one of the best-looking Prius front ends ever.  But when you see the Prime at 3/4 from the rear, it’s back to the usual space-age angles.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, 3/4 rear driver view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, 3/4 rear driver view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

 

The tail end is where the Prime gets interesting.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, rear view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, rear view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

 

The ribbon taillight is memorable.  But it’s an affectation, something that might keep you from noticing that the rest of the tail looks a little wide. And I just don’t mean the curvature of the brake/turn signal/running lights.  The look is kind of like a high school flame that has kept most, but not all of their shape 20 years later.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, top-down view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, top-down view. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

 

But from a top-down view it is clear that the the tail effect is clearly a visual thing, as the car is pretty uniform.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, nose. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, nose. Image courtesy of Toyota Global Media.

 

The thing I like most about the Prime is the front end.  I love how Toyota uses lighting to draw attention to the sides of the simulated side-air scoop/fog light area. I think that when the car is all lit up in the front, with all lights blasting, it will create a strong, stable and intimidating shape cutting through the night.

 

Hyundai Ioniq Styling

The Hyundai Ioniq line draws design inspiration from a number of sources. Each angle reminds you of a different car. Not necessarily a bad thing, because selling something familiar is easier than peddling a ground-breaking new shape.  Here is what Car Design News says about the new line:

It sticks tightly to the accepted format defined by the Prius, Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, with a fastback bodystyle, a second, lower backlight and relatively soft transition between hood and windscreen, while avoiding a monovolume appearance.

 

But where Hyundai is hoping to score points with customers is that the Ioniq is unlikely to be labelled as ‘weird’. It still communicates its hybrid (or optional all-electric) power, but with calm, considered surface and graphic treatment.

 

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

 

At first glance I have to confess that I saw echoes of the Chevy Citation X.  That being said, had the Citation X looked more like the Ioniq, then GM’s time in the doghouse would have been much shorter.  Rest assured, the outline and chopped tail is the only thing the Ioniq has in common with the Citation.

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

 

From this angle some of you may say the IONIQ is reminiscent of the first generation Chevy Volt. Which isn’t a bad thing. The Volt is a proper looking car. But to me the IONIQ is more muscular than the Volt, and looks to hold more people and stuff than the Prius.

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

2017 Ioniq HEV. Image courtesy of Hyundai Global Media.

 

From this view, you see echoes of a Ford Fusion; especially from the cab to tail. Again, not a bad thing.

Which is better?  As far as platform, it’s a tie.  Hyundai is entering the market with one vehicle of reasonable size that has 3 powertrain options.  Toyota has two powertrains, but a range of body sizes from small-ish to small wagon-ish.

Looks-wise?  To me it’s the Ioniq.  As much as I’m smitten with the new front end on the Prime, the overall look of the Ioniq should mean more new Hyundai owners driving off the lot.

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Sebastian James

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