Toyota Prius vs. Hyundai Ioniq: Should Toyota Be Afraid?

IONIQ image
Source: Hyundai

In the world of hybrids, the vast majority fall into one camp: vehicles based on gas-powered models. Like the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Toyota Highlander, and BMW 5 Series. Dedicated hybrid nameplates are rarer, but are getting increasingly common: the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Chevrolet Volt, and so on. For the sake of a fair discussion, we’ll discount the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari, and Porsche 918, as those probably don’t get cross-shopped all that often.

Hyundai has a stellar hybrid offering already – the Sonata we drove and really, really enjoyed – but the automaker hasn’t yet gone whole-hog and committed a standalone model with the sole intent of being a trojan horse for a hybrid powertrain. At least not yet.

The advantages of doing so are fairly obvious. Toyota could simply have developed a hybrid Corolla and called it a day — but it didn’t. It made the Prius its own model, and the name itself now carries more cachet than almost any nameplate in the green car market. The power of the Prius name has become the stuff automotive marketing dreams are made of. The name alone invokes a reaction. A hybrid Corolla? Not so much. Now, Hyundai is hoping to capture some of that magic with the Ioniq — its first standalone hybrid model.

Source: Hyundai

Sadly, the brand didn’t let on a whole lot with the release of its teaser image, but the company did note that the Ioniq would actually be available in three different flavors: Plug-in electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid. It’s a one-up on both the Prius (which doesn’t have an electric-only model) and the Volt (only available as a plug-in hybrid), and should — if the company plays its cards right — be the first EV/hybrid car that’s marketable to just about everyone’s driving needs. As for cargo and space needs, well, that’s another issue.

Source: Hyundai

Provided that you’re not carting three hockey teams or have a penchant for track performance, the Ioniq should — going by the teaser and some spy shots — be able to cater to the needs of most Civic/Corolla/Elantra/Golf drivers with ease, with none – or at least less – of the dinosaur juice involved. City dwellers who don’t need to commute far can easily opt for the EV, suburban residents can grab the plug-in hybrid and conduct most of their business (we’re guessing) in electric mode, and those who call the middle of nowhere home can nab a regular hybrid and not worry about the post office 45 minutes away not having a car charger.

But let’s get back to that teaser image.

The Ioniq appears to boast a familiar lift-back style shape, akin to the recognizable profile of the Prius. The rear quarters look a little first-gen Volt-like, but overall, it looks similar to the 2017 Elantra, which after seeing it in person at the Los Angeles Auto Show, certainly isn’t a bad thing. The Ioniq looks to have a sleek and cohesive design that — hopefully — won’t trade ultimate aerodynamics for total blandness. From what we can see, it looks good, but in this segment, vehicles are based on their real-world fuel economy, not their looks. Still, looking good has never hurt anyone. If it retains that low-slung sporty profile, than the Prius might be looking at its first real adversary in the sales department.

Source: Hyundai
Source: Hyundai

But like every hybrid on the market, the Ioniq will live or die based on its real-world economy. With Toyota’s mighty Prius entering its 15th year on the U.S. market, Ioniq may seem like a me-too car. But with a 2016 launch date, it’s still got Ford, FCA, Nissan, Mazda, and most of Europe beat. And if Hyundai’s EV and Hybrid powertrains are up to snuff, Toyota’s days as the heavyweight hybrid company may be numbered. As Elon Musk delights in pointing out: When green cars are battling each other for sales, they crowd out gas guzzlers. For a lot of reasons, that’s a very good thing.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.

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