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Car group tests

Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in vs Toyota Prius PHV

Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius lock horns again, this time in plug-in form. Which is better?

It’s round two for the Hyundai Ioniq in its battle against the Toyota Prius. The Korean car lost out to its Japanese rival when the two regular hybrids met this time last year.

But now the Ioniq is returning with plug-in power to test the all-round ability of Toyota’s Prius Plug-in. Using a boost from a battery pack that can be charged from the grid and an electric motor, both these cars boast impressive efficiency in a similarly sized, styled and priced package.

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It means the margins between the two eco-focused hatchbacks are incredibly tight, so the winner of this head-to-head will of course have to offer strong real-world efficiency, as well as plenty of practicality as a family car.

Best plug-in hybrid cars available

The clever technology underneath will need to be matched by the level of connectivity and infotainment on offer, but all this has to come at an affordable price, too. With many manufacturers declaring the importance of plug-in powertrains in their future product strategies, these two are pioneers in the field and give an idea of what’s in store for the mainstream market. But which takes the honours?

Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in

Model: Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid Premium SE
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol/electric, 139bhp 
0-60mph: 9.1 seconds
Test economy:71.1mpg/15.6mpl 
Annual road tax: £130

This plug-in Hyundai Ioniq offers even greater efficiency than the standard hybrid version. A greater all-electric range thanks to a bigger battery pack promises impressive efficiency. Combined with the Ioniq PHEV’s attractive £26,795 list price in Premium SE trim tested here, is it a hybrid hero?

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But you’ll have to decide if that’s worth the compromise, because the Hyundai doesn’t drive as sweetly as the Toyota. Its ride is too firm, with the wheels springing back harshly over lumps and bumps; the Prius is smoother over the same surfaces.

Also, the Ioniq isn’t as comfortable as its Japanese rival because the chassis feels more unsettled and nervous compared with the more forgiving Toyota. There’s also more road noise in the Ioniq, but it did deliver decent performance at our test track.

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The Hyundai accelerated from 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds, helped by the electric motor’s torque boost off the line. This instant shove from the electric motor meant the Ioniq’s in-gear figures were also strong, accelerating between 50 and 70mph in top gear in 13.2 seconds, showing the extra oomph delivered by the battery and motor set-up.

These figures aren’t comparable with the CVT Prius. In the Ioniq you get the option to select a gear or use the kickdown mode, where the Hyundai was also quicker from 30 to 50mph and 50 to 70mph, taking 3.6 and 5.3 seconds respectively.

The gearbox’s six ratios mean the Ioniq feels more like a conventional car to drive, and although it’s a dual-clutch unit, it doesn’t shift with the snappiness you might expect from such a transmission. It’s mostly smooth enough, although we did experience a few jerks and shunts from the gearbox around town in EV mode. At least the punchy EV performance means quick getaways are okay.

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Hyundai Ioniq vs Toyota Prius

It’s relaxing to run around in EV mode, but the steering isn’t quite as nice as the Toyota’s because the weightier set-up feels more resistant to your inputs. The regenerative braking also isn’t quite as polished, with a little more jerkiness when stopping. Neither is perfect due to the lack of feel from the pedal. 

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Testers’ notes: “With more electric power from its motor, an affordable price tag and cost-effective home charging capability, the Ioniq makes more sense as a plug-in rather than a hybrid.” 

Toyota Prius PHV

Model: Toyota Prius PHV Business Edition Plus
Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol/electric, 120bhp 
0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
Test economy:67.4mpg/14.8mpl 
Annual road tax: £130

While Toyota’s standard Prius Hybrid is one of our favourite green cars, the Prius Plug-in has shown a few chinks in its armour by comparison. At £29,195, it’s more expensive than the Ioniq, but does it deliver more than the Hyundai can offer?

The Prius feels more like a hybrid on the move, and that’s down to the integration of the petrol engine, electric motors and gearbox. The Toyota uses a CVT automatic transmission, which doesn’t actually have any gears; instead, it keeps the petrol engine’s revs at the optimum point for power or efficiency, depending on your driving style.

Some CVTs impact refinement as they send revs soaring. It’s not so bad in the Prius, and no worse than the droning engine in the Hyundai, but press your right foot to the floor and it does get noisy.

Do so and there’s respectable performance on offer, even if the Toyota’s 10.5-second 0-60mph time was 1.4 seconds slower than the Hyundai’s, while its kickdown acceleration times also trailed the Ioniq’s.

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The CVT means progress in electric-only mode is actually smoother than in its rival here, but both cars make a decent fist of zipping out of junctions, with smooth electric-only acceleration.

The Prius’s brakes are slightly easier to modulate, but are still a little jerky when coming to a halt. Still, apart from this, it’s the comfier, more composed and more agile machine. The steering is sweeter, and while the chassis rolls a little more because of its softer set-up, there’s more grip available, combined with a more forgiving ride over rough surfaces.

Testers’ notes: “Prius gets a head-up display, which means you don’t have to look at the centre of the dash and confusing instrument layout. The Ioniq has a seven-inch digital dash display.”


First place: Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in

A plug-in hybrid has to offer efficiency and frugal running costs, and the Ioniq goes further than the Prius here. It’s not as comfy or as good to drive, but it’s faster, features a much bigger boot and has space for an extra passenger. Its infotainment system is easier to use and more sophisticated. You have to make some compromises, but it’s an efficient plug-in hybrid. 

Second place: Toyota Prius PHV

The Prius Plug-in is a decent eco family hatchback thanks to its refinement, surprisingly fun drive and good level of comfort. But it just lags behind the Ioniq for performance and running costs, while there’s an enormous gulf when it comes to practicality, which is what ultimately sees the Toyota take second place here.

Other options for similar money... 

New: MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4

MINI Countryman S E - front

Price: £31,575Engine: 1.5-litre hybrid, 221bhp

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It’s a little pricier than the Ioniq, but MINI’s plug-in hybrid Countryman offers more performance, respectable efficiency and good practicality thanks to its 405-litre boot. However, the SUV bodystyle means it’ll be more appealing to many.

Used: BMW i3 REx

A to Z guide to electric cars - BMW i3

Price: £27,495Engine: 647cc hybrid, 168bhp

The i3 is one of the best plug-in hybrids on the market, and this budget will buy you a lightly used updated 2017 model, boasting great acceleration and even more range thanks to a bigger battery. The 647cc petrol boosts range, too. 


 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid Premium SEToyota Prius Plug-in Business Edition Plus
On the road price/total as tested£26,795/£27,760£29,195/£29,195
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£11,913/44.5%£12,574/43.1%
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£526/£1,053£570/£1,139
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£907/£1,511£957/£1,594
Insurance group/quote/cost12/£512/£13021/£692/£130
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£499 (3yrs)£185/£335/£185
Engine4cyl in-line/1,580cc4cyl in-line/1,798cc
Peak power/revs 139/5,700 bhp/rpm120/N/A bhp/rpm
Electric motor/battery61kW/Li-ion68kW/Li-ion
Transmission 6-spd dual-clutch auto/fwdCVT auto/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel43 litres/repair kit43 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)341/1,401 litres191/1,204 litres
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.6 metres/0.24Cd10.2 metres/0.25Cd
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery5yrs (unlimited)/5yrs5yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers10,000 miles (1yr)/17310,000 miles (1yr)/208
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.10th/10th11th/7th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars91/80/70/82/5 (2016)92/82/77/85/5 (2016)
0-60/30-70mph9.1/8.7 secs10.5/10.5 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th4.2/6.2 secs4.1 secs*
50-70mph in 5th/6th9.7/13.2 secs6.4 secs*
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 110mph/N/A101mph/N/A
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 47.4/35.1/8.6m48.4/38.0/10.7m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph58/46/63/73dB57/46/64/70dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range71.1/15.6/673 miles67.4/14.8/638 miles
Govt combined/claimed elec range257mpg/39 miles282mpg/39 miles
Govt combined/claimed elec range57mpl/63km62mpl/63km
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket92/26g/km/9%97/22g/km/9%
Airbags/Isofix/park. sensors/cameraSeven/yes/yes/yesSeven/yes/£250/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEBYes/yes/adaptive/yesYes/yes/adaptive/yes
Clim ctrl/leather/heated/vented seatsYes/yes/yes/yesYes/no/yes/no
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£565/yes/yes£545/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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