I’ve had the new Hyundai Ioniq PHEV Plug-in hybrid electric car for just over a week now. So I can give a better account of what it is like to drive and own. As with most modern cars, it has a heap of complex software options in the inbuilt computer which is capable of doing more things that I care to learn about in the short-term. A bit like my phone or my laptop, it can do much more than I will ever ask it too. It will take me a little more time to work through all the options and internalise them to a point that they are at my finger tips and therefore useful to me. At the current time most of it is still opaque to me, so I don’t attempt to use stuff that I don’t see any need for. Especially if it distracts me from my driving, I don’t go there.
I am not a petrol head, so I don’t know anything about cars. I’ve always bought the cheapest, fuel-efficient car that I could afford. That was nearly always a 3 cylinder, 1 litre engine car. We had a Daihatsu Charade and then a Daihatsu Sirion. We had them for about 10 years each and about 250,000 kms. Being one of the cheapest cars on the road, they came with manual everything, totally no-frills driving. I really enjoyed driving a small manual car. That is what I’m used to. So the hardest thing to get used to in this new car is not the technology or the electric propulsion, but the fact that it is an automatic! I’ve never driven an automatic car before. I still feel the need to lift my left foot to de-clutch as I approach a stop sign!
The car has 3 modes of travel. Fully electric directly off the battery, Hybrid electric where it starts off in Electric mode and sometimes switches to petrol mode if you put your foot down. and then ‘Sports’ mode, which seems to engage both motors at once. This mode is pretty zippy – I’m impressed! Changing between these modes is done electronically with the press of a button.
I have spent the first week mostly driving in ‘eco’ mode in fully electric selection, because this is why I chose this car. I have lots of solar PV on my roof and a Tesla battery at home, so I’m completely ready for fully solar electric living and travel. I have found that I can do all my local driving on the battery in eco electric mode. Recharging is done using a bog standard 10 amp 3-pin household power point and takes 4 hrs if the battery is almost fully depleted.
Because I’m not a pushy or aggressive driver, driving as I normally do and am used to doing around here, the car stays in ‘eco’ fully electric mode 99% of the time. Just occasionally when I come to a steep hill and put my foot a little harder on the accelerator, the petrol engine cuts in when I’m in Hybrid mode and I can feel the surge of extra power propel the car forward. Because the car is electric (most of the time), there is no engine noise or vibration when you pull up at the lights. The car pulls away smoothly and silently from the lights. If it is in hybrid mode the engine cuts in after a hundred meters or so, or if/when you get up to 20 kms/hr or so. This is totally seamless and the only way that I know that it has happened is the little icon on the dash that changes from electric to hybrid.
Most of the time it is just steady as she goes, totally silent, comfortably plush and comfy driving. The most noise that I hear is the tyre noise on the bitumen, I’ve become quite aware of the differences in road surface and the various noises that they each create. Visibility is very good with the mirrors. I really dislike cars that have tiny back windows. The back hatch on this car has a metal bar across it as part of the design to strengthen the huge flowing lines of the sculptured, mostly glass hatch. but visibility is still very good. I’m used to driving with the 5 point visibility habit and this design works perfectly well for me. However, I can see that I will eventually start to loose this habit, as I become more accustomed to the reversing camera and the active side mirrors.
Even though this car is the base model it has a few bells and whistles. Like side mirrors that have an alarm built-in that beeps and flashes to let you know another car is very close on that side if you put your blinker on to change lanes. It makes a humming sound that is generated when driving slowly in pedestrian zones like shopping centre car parks, so that people car hear you approaching from behind. It has adaptive cruse control, so that if you are cruising along and another car pulls into your lane in front of you, this car automatically senses that car and slows down to the same speed as the car in front, keeping several car lengths distance. The car also beeps if you cross a marked lane without indication. When reversing, it beeps if there is a car coming from either side that you can’t see, as you attempt to reverse out of your parking spot. The media player/radio also cuts the volume to half when you put the car into reverse, so that you become more aware of your outside surroundings as you reverse. All these little gadgets are very common in all new cars these days I expect, But our last car purchase was 13 years ago and it was the very basic poverty model. So this is all new to me.
The car has an automatic, 6 speed, dual clutch, gear box, so that either motor can operate independently, but also at the same time in unison, when you choose to. It is powered by an Atkinson cycle 4 cylinder, 1.6 litre petrol engine, as well as the electric motor. Although it is still a small car hatch back, it is also the biggest car that I have owned. The Atkinson Cycle motor is a very interesting design and is particularly fuel-efficient. Try searching for it on the Wiki. To get the best fuel efficiency out of the car, many of the panels are made of aluminium and the rest of the body is made from super high strength, hot pressed, high tensile steel making it lighter, yet stronger. This saving in chassis weight is taken up by the battery. In stead of using the brakes, the car uses standard regenerative braking that is basic to all hybrid cars. An idea that has been around since the 50’s. Over-all there are a lot of little efficiencies all combined together to make this an impressive piece of engineering.
Of course, most of these ideas are not new. The Toyota Prius has been around for 20+ years, but it can’t drive on sunshine, it is strictly a petrol powered car. Many of the initial concepts of both electric and hybrid cars were introduced to me by Meredith Thring in 1980 when I read his book. Professor M W Thring pioneered many of these innovations in Yorkshire at the University of Sheffield and later at Queen Mary College, at the University of London in the post war period. See regenerative braking above. I bought the book that he wrote after he retired in 1980, called ‘The Engineers Conscience’. Interestingly, he was an Australian who moved to the UK to work, so maybe we can lay some marginal claim to the intellectual property invested in this car. I can safely claim to have been intellectually engaged in watching the long, slow development of these cars since the 80’s.
I have driven 500 km so far and the fuel tank is still completely full, the indicator hasn’t left the full mark yet. I must say that it is a very rewarding feeling to be able to drive totally on sunshine. I know that this will annoy some people, but the development of cars like this has been in the back of my mind since 1980 and has now become manifest in the availability of this car in Australia now. I have to say that it is so important to me and very rewarding to be able to drive for the rest of my life on the sunshine that I collect off my own roof.