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The 2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

It was no surprise to learn that Hyundai gave the Ioniq Electric a bigger battery as part of its 2020 refresh. The original range of 200 kilometres may have been competitive when the Ioniq was new in 2017, but most low-end EVs, including Hyundai’s own Kona Electric, now rate closer to 400 km.

No, the puzzler is why Hyundai didn’t boost the Ioniq’s range by even more. Why did it settle for a 38-kilowatt-hour battery pack – good for a 274-km range – rather than the 64-kWh battery of its further-roaming corporate siblings?

The short answer, Hyundai says, is that the Ioniq simply doesn’t have space for the bigger battery.

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The upside is that a smaller (therefore, cheaper) battery lets Hyundai cover the market more broadly, says Steve Flamand, director of product and corporate strategy for Hyundai Canada. Range costs money, and the Ioniq Electric’s $41,499 suggested base price is significantly below the range-richer rivals that all nibble at $45,000 (coincidentally, the upper price threshold for the federal $5,000 zero-emission-vehicle rebate).

And the Ioniq is more car for less money, a size class above the subcompact-crossover Kona Electric, which starts at $44,999.

Many EVs are second cars used exclusively for local driving, and with the option of recharging at home overnight, 274 kilometres – as little as 200 km or even less in the dead of winter – is range aplenty. Many EV drivers have other vehicles – or can rent one – for longer trips.

Apart from the bigger battery, all 2020 Ioniqs received a mid-cycle cosmetic touch-up for 2020, including LED exterior lighting. Inside, there’s a resculpted dashboard with a free-standing 10.25-inch display screen and a new Harmon Kardon (previously Infinity) audio system with HD Radio. New Assisted-Drive (AD) technology includes lane-following assist and highway-driving assist.

At its most basic level, the Ioniq is a compact hatchback, similar in size to many others, electrified or not. Its most direct battery-electric rivals outside its own family are the Nissan Leaf – which starts at $44,298 with slightly less range, or $47,898 with the optional larger battery and 374 kilometres of range – plus the outgoing Volkswagen e-Golf.

The Ioniq’s $41,499 entry price gets you the already-well-equipped Preferred trim, while for $45,899, the Ultimate adds, among other things, a sunroof, leather upholstery and other amenities.

Our test sample was an Ultimate, and by any measure, it’s a nice car – mature and well-sorted. It drives home how far Hyundai has come from when I described a 2013 Elantra’s ride as “a tantrum of thump, shudder and hop.” Even though the Electric has a simpler rear suspension than its hybrid siblings (to make space for the larger battery pack), its ride motions are supple and soothing.

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And yet it also handles well, at least within the limits of tires optimized for low rolling resistance. The steering is nicely weighted, lucid and frictionless; the car turns in alertly and stays flat and balanced. Its road moves are engaging and could be outright fun with more-aggressive rubber.

And as an electric car? We tested the Ioniq during Ontario’s hot 2020 summer, and the air conditioning was in constant use. But it’s a heat-pump system, so the effect on range wasn’t dramatic – typically about a 30-kilometre reduction, according to the trip computer.

The Ioniq was showing a 93-per-cent state of charge when we picked it up, and we did 264 km of local running around before a “Charge Soon” warning lit up. At that point, the meter was still showing 43 km of range remaining.

The in-dash display keeps tabs on the battery's remaining range.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

At 277 km, and 29 km of remaining range, a new message warned “Charge Immediately. Power Limited," and the range display went blank. A few kilometres later, with the state of charge showing 6 per cent, I ran out of nerve and into a nearby charging station. I had driven 280 km on a less-than-100-per-cent charge.

The fast charger restored the battery to 80 per cent in 46 minutes and to 87 per cent at the one-hour mark. Then I unplugged, made the short drive home, and topped up to 100 per cent overnight on the wall outlet outside my garage.

For its next challenge, we took the fully charged Ioniq EV on a 245-kmround trip – more than half of it at 115 to 120 km/h on the highway – to visit family on the north shore of Lake Erie. While there, we plugged into our hosts' wall outlet for about four hours, which restored 27 kilometres of range. Back home that evening, the range display showed 81 km (or 84 km with the HVAC off).

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Bottom line, the claimed 274-km range looks easily doable on a full charge in summer – even 300-plus if you dare to go down to the wire. Using Eco mode helps, of course, as does using the regenerative-braking paddles instead of the foot brake whenever possible. Other range-extending options include doing without HVAC in mild weather and preconditioning the cabin while it’s charging.

Winter? That’ll be another story. Perhaps Hyundai will let me borrow it again in January. The weather will be frightful, but I know the Ioniq will be an amiable companion for continuing to climb the electric-vehicle learning curve.

Tech specs

2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

The Ioniq Electric is powered by a 100-kW motor.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price/as tested: $41,499/$45,899
  • Powertrain: 100-kilowatt motor/38 kilowatt-hour battery pack
  • Transmission/drive: one-speed automatic/front-wheel-drive
  • Fuel economy (Le/100 kilometres): 1.6 city/1.9 highway
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV, Kia Soul EV, Mini Cooper SE, Nissan Leaf, VW e-Golf

Looks

The Ioniq is a relatively conventional looking vehicle.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The subtle 2020 refresh included LED lighting and a new version of the EV’s closed grille. Despite its relatively conventional styling, Ioniq still claims the same slick 0.24 coefficient of drag as the Toyota Prius.

Interior

The dashboard avoids any weirdness typical of many EVs.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The Ioniq is competitively roomy with other compacts, electrified or otherwise. The driver is also well taken care of, though eight-way power adjustment of the seat is limited to the Ultimate package, and even then I could have used more thigh support. Visibility is fair, and the dashboard largely avoids any EV weirdness.

A push-button 'gear' selector frees up space on the centre console.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Unique to the Electric is a push-button “gear” selector that frees up extra stash space on the centre console. The D-cut steering wheel is an unexpected touch of class, and there is Hyundai’s usual user-friendly compromise between touch-screen controls and conventional knobs and buttons.

Performance

Hyundai upgraded the motor from 88 to 100 kW for 2020, but that’s still less than the 150 kW of several sub-$45,000 alternatives. But if the Ioniq doesn’t lunge off the starting line like many EVs, it can still deliver a swift quick in the back for passing manoeuvres on the open road.

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Technology

HD Radio and SiriusXM come standard.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Even the base Ioniq includes an exceptional level of assisted-drive features – although, for engaged drivers, lane-follow assist may be more annoyance than assistance. Highway-driving assist is a new feature that automatically adjusts your set cruising speed to changing speed limits. Also standard is a 10.25-inch touch-screen navigation system with HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. The only additional drive-assist feature on the Ultimate is blind-spot collision warning; all the other add-ons are for comfort (for instance, rear-seat heaters), convenience (wireless charging) or self-indulgence (power sunroof).

Cargo

The Ioniq Electric's cargo capacity measures up to the competition, electrified or otherwise.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The Ioniq is a hatchback, and although the EV (and plug-in hybrid) have less cargo volume than the regular Ioniq Hybrid, the resulting 23.8 cubic feet still compares well with the competition – electrified or not.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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