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Bold, cleverly configured hatchback-cum-SUV was a trailblazer in 2021 but where does it stand today?

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The Hyundai Ioniq 5 made a powerful statement, when it first appeared on the UK car market in 2021, for a car maker looking to really capitalise on a competitive advantage in electric cars that it had already spent close to a decade building.

From its chiselled styling, to its 1980s retro body proportions, to its eye-catching ‘parametric’ lighting features, this family-sized ‘CUV’ hatchback was made to stand out. So many years later, it still does.

However, while this car has been through incremental changes since that market launch, including the addition of the red-hot drift-enabled Hyundai Ioniq 5 N, the rest of the mid-sized EV market has been seeking to aggressively rein in Hyundai’s established lead when it comes to fully electric family cars. So life now isn’t quite as straightforward for a car that went straight to the top of its class three years ago. 

From Polestar to BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, there are now plenty of premium brands targeting the Ioniq 5’s positioning from the top down, while the ranks of Europe’s bigger-volume players, among them Skoda, Cupra, Peugeot, Renault and others, look to move in from the bottom up - and so many emergent Chinese brands like BYD and MG Motor effectively seek to pull the rug out clean from underneath it.

Under such competitive pressure, how is Hyundai’s all-electric poster child ageing in the market - and exactly where does it sit next to so many fresher rivals? We ran the ruler - and the road test timing gear - over a mid-range, single-motor, 77kWh Ultimate model to find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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hyundai ioniq 5 review 2023 03 panning rear

'Skateboard' EV platforms like the one that the Ioniq 5 first blooded back in 2021 give manufacturers the opportunity to approach car design in a wholly different way. This has led some to fantasise about reviving classic car silhouettes – such as, say, the Lancia Delta’s – riding on modern electric car platforms.

Still, who would have expected Hyundai to launch the ‘new Delta’? The Ioniq 5, it claims, is actually a homage to the original Hyundai Pony of 1975, but it undoubtedly draws classic European hatchback styling cues from so many different directions, only to run them through some automotive equivalent of a photocopier enlarger. (This car is actually a 4.6m long, but its unusually long 3.0m wheelbase somehow makes it look much smaller in photographs.)

It’s a car of plenty of visual interest: sharp creases, hidden door handles, pixel-style parametric lighting and a front LED running-light bar that appears after dark from behind a panel that’s very much opaque in daylight. It’s a clever trick.

Mechanically, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Hyundai has come up with such a thoroughly engineered EV as this, since it managed to coax impressive efficiency and range out of cars like the old-gen Kona Electric, which was still based on an adapted internal-combustion-engine platform. The Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) used here places the Ioniq 5’s battery pack under the floor and the car’s main motor at the rear, with the option of a second smaller one on the front axle. 

Two lithium ion battery packs of differing sizes are offered. The bigger of the two grew from just under 73kWh to 77.4kWh of total installed capacity as part of the car’s 2022 facelift and, at the same time, peak claimed power output for that bigger-batteried, single-motor model increased from 214bhp to 225bhp. Go for a top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive, twin-motor model, however, and you now get 321bhp (instead of the 301bhp you used to have) and 0-62mph in a claimed 5.1sec.

DC charging for the car should be rapid in the truest sense, thanks to an 800V electric architecture of the sort first seen on the Porsche Taycan. It allows for peak rapid charging at 225kW, for 10%-80% charging in less than 20 minutes.

The car’s chassis is all-steel, suspended via MacPherson struts at the front axle and multiple links at the rear, and by steel coil springs. ‘Smart frequency’ dampers, intended to improve body control and ride comfort, were added as part of the car’s 2022 facelift.

INTERIOR

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‘Designer’ family cars like this one sometimes have key practicality compromises when you explore what usable space and convenience they offer - but the Ioniq 5 opens up to reveal really surprising passenger space, and very few noticeable penalties for its outward good looks. 

The one you might just have missed is that, like the related Kia EV6, the Ioniq 5 doesn’t have a rear wiper - which, in bad weather, can be a persistent bugbear. It also has a cabin heater that seems to struggle to consistently keep its glasshouse from misting up in chillier, damper conditions - so you constantly seem to be reactivating the rear demister and cranking up the blower to maintain decent visibility in bad weather.

I still find it so odd that Hyundai doesn't put its brand logo on the steering boss of its Ioniq models – and odder still in the case of the cheaper models that don't have ambient lighting 'dots' in place of it. It's the only part of the Ioniq 5's interior that really lets the car down, because it makes it look like an extra from some car insurance commercial.

You sit high up in the car, with the steering wheel slightly too far away than is ideal for tall drivers, though it’s adjustable. The cabin feels airy, and it gives you a great view out in most directions, but you’re left in no doubt that you’re sitting atop of the car’s skateboard-style drive battery, rather than with that battery wrapped and packaged at least partly around you, as other manufacturers do, in order to lower the overall height of electric cars. 

The airiness is no illusion either because the Ioniq 5 is extremely spacious, with plenty of head room and space across the shoulders, while rear passengers can actually use the adjustable rear seats and stretch out. Sliding second-row seats make for up to 780mm of rear leg room - as much as a BMW i5 offers - while a flat floor (very much like the one offered by the Nissan Ariya, and the Renault Megane and Scenic E-Tech) opens up potential for some neat storage solutions. Our test car’s centre console, for instance, slid fore and aft by about 200mm, to allow occupants to step between the front seats easily or to move the position of the cupholders, storage area and armrest it conveys. Elsewhere, Hyundai fits a sliding drawer-style glovebox rather than the more typical hinged one, which is particularly spacious.

The downside of having batteries and motors under the floor, though, is that the Ioniq 5’s boot is quite shallow, although no more so than in a Volkswagen ID 4. The 'frunk' under the bonnet isn’t huge, but it’s bigger than some we’ve seen and you could certainly carry a couple of charging cables within it or a soft bag or two. If the likes of Hyundai really intend for charging cables to be kept in places like this, though, it really ought to provide a remote bonnet release for the bonnet on the car’s keyfob for more convenient access.

Overall, you’d say the Ioniq 5 remains an appealing place to travel, with an original cabin design and a standard for material quality that wavers in places but is generally quite high. The very comfy (but optional) 'premium' seats have a laid-back lounge mode, with a leg rest that pops up to make waiting for your car to charge at least a more pleasant experience than spending your time in a nearby McDonalds. The car’s standard front seats however, while decently adjustable (and both heated and ventilated), weren’t found ideally comfortable by our testers. Their lack of lumbar support and head restraint positioning in particular caused slight complaints over distance.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 multimedia - 3.5 stars

The Ioniq 5 infotainment touchscreen works logically enough, but while it impressed us reasonably well in 2021, the development of touchscreen tech over the past few years now makes it look a little unresponsive - and has also presented some usability issues.

As regards navigability, it can be controlled via a row of physical shortcut buttons (with separate climate controls also included, laudably). Annoyingly, though, there’s no physical ‘home’ button for it and the one on the margin of the touchscreen is positioned in the far top right corner, rather than more conveniently for right-hand drive users.

As the system’s booting up, it can take a few seconds to switch to ‘home’ when you first need to use it and things like the heated seats and heated steering wheel require a couple of taps and swipes on the screen when really they should be more accessible. 

Otherwise, while we’d prefer a more customisable home screen and quicker access to regularly used functions, the system is decent. But it’s notable now that, while it offers wireless device charging on all trim levels, wireless smartphone mirroring is omitted (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are via a USB-C cable).

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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The Ioniq 5 might either be described as pretty unremarkable in this section, or surprisingly fast, depending on which version you buy. In spite of its modest power hike, our mid-range single-motor model is now markedly less powerful than an equivalent Polestar 2, and less powerful still than a single-motor Tesla Model Y - so it starts at a bit of a competitive disadvantage. But you’d never really guess as much from the way it goes about its business.

On a chilly day at the test track, our test car got away from rest under full power smoothly but urgently enough, and without troubling its traction control. It hit 60mph in 7.5sec, only a couple of tenths behind Hyundai’s official 0-62mph claim. A single-motor Polestar 2 is now a sub-6.0sec prospect over the same trip, though, and over the 30-70mph ‘motorway slip road’ acceleration test, it’s fully a second and a half quicker than this Hyundai.

While there are times at faster cruising speeds when the Ioniq 5 begins to feel like it could use just a little more power, most of the time it picks up speed with plenty of authority. Most testers agreed, however, that they’d expect the less powerful, entry-level 58kWh model to feel a little exposed at higher speeds and would be likely to avoid it with regular motorway driving in mind.

You can choose from Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes for the car and it has usefully clear graphical instrumentation on its all-digital binnacle screen to tell you when you’re drawing power from the battery, when you’re coasting, and exactly when you’re regenerating energy. 

You can adjust ‘trailing throttle’ energy regen settings - from maximum regen to maximum coasting - using shift-style paddles behind the steering wheel; or select an automatic setting in which the car will decide for itself, using its forwards radar sensors, when and how much to engine brake to harvest energy; or, as a third option, you can choose an i-Pedal driving mode, in which the car adopts a one-pedal mode of operation that means you don’t need the brake pedal much at all. 

This results in quite a marked difference in the car’s drivability depending on how it’s configured. Depending on your chosen mode, and also the condition of the drive battery, you’ll find that, at times, the car will coast along on a lifted throttle and it won’t regenerate under lighter braking either. Brake feel is quite cleverly managed, though, so that the pedal response is consistent - and reasonably progressive, albeit a little soft and synthesised in its feel - whether it’s actuating the friction brakes, blending in motor regen, or doing both.

It is to Hyundai’s credit, then, that this is an EV that you can drive exactly as you would choose to - with either lots of battery regen or almost none at all - and with linear responses from both motor and brakes, and a decently authoritative if not overly spritely performance level overall. Few rivals give the driver so many options to tailor the driving experience to their preference.

For assisted driving technology, meanwhile, Hyundai fits an autonomous emergency braking system with both pedestrian and cyclist detection as standard; a Highway Drive Assist active cruise control system, with active lane keeping assist as well, on all trim levels; and a reversing collision avoidance system and blindspot monitoring on upper trim levels.

The lane keeping systems are easy to turn on and off via a button on the steering wheel, and while there’s a speed limit detection system with speeding buzzer, it’s an unusually unintrusive one. Similarly, the  driver monitoring system is quite unintrusive (there are no in-cabin cameras here checking which way the driver’s looking) - and the stability and traction controls can be fully (rather than only partly) deactivated via a physical button on the fascia, rather than by diving into the touchscreen menus.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Hyundai opted for quite soft, comfort-first suspension tuning for the Ioniq 5 when it first appeared in 2021. This gave the car a particular selling point when compared with so many electric rivals (which so typically aim for a more sporting dynamic character as a complement to their responsive powertrains) - and Autocar wasn’t alone in responding to it very positively.

But Hyundai’s customers, it seems, have given different feedback. Plenty of owners’ forums contain remarks about soft handling and poor body control. So Hyundai opted to fit firmer-rated ‘smart frequency’ dampers to the car for its 2022 facelift, which have changed the dynamic character of the car somewhat. The supple-riding, low-speed plushness that made this car feel especially luxurious at launch has now at least in part been sacrificed, for the sake of tauter, closer body control at speed, and greater security of handling. 

Around town, where the pre-facelift model would soak up the worst of a craggy road surface, the revised Ioniq 5 is more given to fidget on its springs. Out of town, where the original model had a limo-like air over longer-wave A- and B-road bumps, the new one feels firmer and less gentle. 

The transformation isn’t stark and the ride hasn’t been shorn of all of its compliance or even made irritatingly reactive as a result. Ride isolation, meanwhile, is respectable - although, on 20in wheels, our test car wasn’t the quietest EV in its class in this regard.

It’s simply that what made this car stand out originally, from a dynamic point of view at least, has been cast aside, and a new compromise - one that’s not as sporty as a Polestar or Tesla, but that wants to be middle-of-the-road rather than especially gentle-feeling - has been struck.

Hyundai’s medium-weighted steering has been retained. Meanwhile, what has been gained is more consistent and settled handling through faster corners, where the Ioniq 5 does roll a little, but not so quickly as it used to - and never by enough to undermine either its chassis balance or its stability. Our rear-motor model maintained good cornering balance, with a little handling adjustability accessible with the electronics active, and more still available with them off.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The mid-sized EV market is becoming an increasingly competitive battleground - on both value and range. When this car came along in 2021, it wasn’t so. But after Tesla’s well-publicised price cuts and the arrival into the market of cars like the Fisker Ocean and Smart #3, there is a clear sense now that brands like Hyundai will have to do more to maintain their early momentum.

The Ioniq 5 offers a lot of usable cabin space, good equipment levels, and design appeal to boot, of course. However, it’s no longer among the market’s highest-prized prospects for residual value, which has an impact on monthly finance affordability and, even for our test car’s near-£50,000 asking price, it doesn’t come with a heat pump as standard. In winter driving especially, that means real-world range isn’t the good advert for the car you might expect it to be.

We saw a test average of 2.5mpkWh, giving a real-world range of a little under 200 miles from our 77kWh test car. In moderate motorway cruising, our touring test result suggests this might rise to a little over 200 miles, and in mixed urban and inter-urban driving, we saw 3.2mpkWh, with potential for about 250 miles of usable range. 

In all of these respects, however, the recently revised 79kWh Polestar 2 did quite a bit better when we tested it earlier in 2023. Winter test conditions won’t have helped the Hyundai, it should be noted, but even allowing for them, the car looks increasingly off the pace for efficiency and usable range.

In DC rapid charge testing, the Ioniq 5 also under-performed on expectations. The 10%-80% 800V charge that Hyundai claims is possible in less than 20 minutes actually took about 35. Again, cold ambient temperatures (1deg C) will have played a part here, but a weighted average charge rate of 121kW isn’t the result a buyer might expect to see.

VERDICT

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If its maker's transformation from mid-market value brand to aspirational zero-emissions market leader continues as it has begun, the fate of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 - the car that started it all - is surely secure.

In 2021, this was precisely the statement of mission and ambition that its maker needed, and it was made more emphatically than rivals and many consumers could have expected. It looked great; it was innovatively and generously practical; it had the plush sense of luxury so many had hoped for in a purpose-built EV; and it had all the range and charging speed that anyone, at the time, could reasonably expect.

At the time, however, this was one of the market’s very first mid-sized, purpose–built, electric family cars - and the standards by which we now judge its ilk have rapidly developed. And so now, while the Ioniq 5’s stylish exterior and spacious cabin remain notable draws, there are fewer clear ones to be found elsewhere. For performance, efficiency, range and value, Hyundai now has work to do to return this car to the head of its field – not to mention in restoring, if possible, the sense of plushness to its rolling refinement since traded off for the sake of neater handling.

An update for some of the car’s digital cabin technology also now seems in order, as part of a wider effort to ensure that car represents the new Hyundai Ioniq sub-brand in middle age as well as it did as a chiselled debutant.

Additional reporting by Matt Saunders

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.