2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric: first drive review of 124-mile electric car

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For the first six years of electric cars, from 2011 to 2016, we've had a variety of mass-priced cars with ranges of 62 to 107 miles.

This year, in 2017, we got the Chevy Bolt EV, at 238 miles.

But there's a new competitor as well. This is the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid video drive review

It's one of three models in the Ioniq lineup—it also has a plug-in hybrid, and a regular hybrid—and the Ioniq Electric offers a range of 124 miles.

That's the highest of any battery-electric car that isn't a Tesla, or a Bolt EV.

And the Ioniq Electric may offer an answer to the question of how much range is enough, if ranges under 100 miles aren't.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

EDITOR'S NOTE: After this segment was recorded, the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf range was revealed to be 125 miles, rather than the projected 124 miles. That's close enough that we left in the now-inaccurate statement about the Ioniq Electric's range being the highest of any electric car that isn't a Tesla or a Bolt EV.

All Ioniqs are low, conventionally styled, high-tailed hatchbacks. But the battery-powered Ioniq differs from the hybrids in several ways.

Roomy but low

The hybrids' grille is replaced by a blanking panel, to distinguish the electric car visually from Ioniqs with combustion engines.

READ FOR FULL DETAILS: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq: full review

Inside, Hyundai replaced the conventional shift and parking-brake levers on the tunnel with a set of buttons and a controller for the dashboard display.

The battery pack, however, sits under the rear seat, between the rear wheels, and under the load bay, rather than under the cabin floor as in a Nissan Leaf.

That's a design decision that lowers the car, but cuts into cargo volume AND rear-seat headroom—which suits only shorter adults.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

On the books, the Ioniq Electric has more passenger and cargo volume than the Chevy Bolt EV or the Nissan Leaf.

But those two cars are tall, with more upright seating and more headroom front and rear.

On the road

Not surprisingly, the electric is the nicest of the three Ioniq models to drive.

CHECK OUT: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq prices: hybrid starts at $23,035, electric at $30,335

It's smoothest and quietest, and has no direct-clutch transmission whose quick shifts need to be buffered by the electric motor.

The all-electric version's 28-kwh battery pack powers an 88-kilowatt (118-horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels.

The blending between regenerative and friction brakes is excellent, and it has standard paddles to increase or decrease the degree of regeneration.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric (European spec), 2016 Geneva Motor Show

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric (European spec), 2016 Geneva Motor Show

The onboard charger is rated at 6.6 kw, for a full Level 2 recharging time of about 4 hours.

The electric Ioniq also comes with standard DC fast-charging capability using the CCS standard.

And, it can fast-charge at up to 100 kw, higher than any non-Tesla electric car—including the Bolt EV.

That gives it a certain amount of future-proofing, to be able to use higher-speed fast-charging stations to come.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric - frame from video road test

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric - frame from video road test

Efficiency vs range

So, about that 124 miles of range.

Hyundai has repeatedly suggested that the energy efficiency of electric cars is just as important as their rated range in miles.

Indeed, the electric Ioniq's rating of 136 MPGe is higher than that of any other car in the U.S. this year, including every other car with a plug.

Over less than 50 miles of mixed driving, we got 4.0 to 5.0 miles of range per kilowatt-hour. That's efficient indeed.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric (European spec), 2016 Geneva Motor Show

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric (European spec), 2016 Geneva Motor Show

The challenge is that even the least efficient plug-in electric car uses energy more efficiently than any non-plug-in vehicle with a gasoline or diesel engine.

It's unclear if electric-car shoppers care about how efficiently their electrons are used. We'll find out.

All 50 states, sort of

Two trim levels and five exterior colors are offered, but the Electric's interior comes only in black—the optional tan interior on the hybrid Ioniq isn't available.

Electric models will arrive at dealers in California starting in April 2017, with a handful of other states to follow.

Hyundai stresses, however, that the electric Ioniq will be available as a special order in every state.

Overall, we enjoyed our limited time in the all-electric Ioniq.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

It adds a strong and efficient new competitor to the field of electric cars under 200 miles of range.

How much electric range will prove to be "enough" to boost sales remains to be determined.

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