The Country's Cheapest Normal* Electric Breaks Out of California

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

That asterisk exists in the headline because the Smart EQ Fortwo is not a vehicle many families would consider useful as a lone driveway denizen. With two seats and a range of — wait for it — 58 miles, the Smart brand’s city runabout manages to be more impractical that the late, unloved Mitsubishi i-MiEV. A difficult feat!

Moving up the practicality ladder, EV buyers looking for better range and a backseat now have a new option for low-priced motoring. Assuming, that is, that they live in one of the 13 states that signed on to California’s emissions laws.

We’ve tested the Hyundai Ioniq Electric not once, but twice. The model first appeared on North American shores in late 2016, offering a driving range that placed it on par with Volkswagen’s e-Golf and just ahead of the soon-to-be-defunct first-gen Nissan Leaf.

Hyundai relegated American Ioniq Electrics to the green-happy state of California, and maintained that there was no news to share on a possible expansion of availability when I contacted the company a number of months back. Well, things changed. According to CarsDirect, Ioniq Electrics are now appearing on lots in Massachusetts and Maryland.

Derek Joyce, Hyundai’s senior manager of product and advanced powertrain PR, Senior Manager Product and Advanced Powertrain PR, said the automaker is now shipping plug-in and electric Ioniqs to all CARB states. “2018 retail sales were mostly CARB states for both and we plan to continue that trend as we seek more supply to meet demand beyond,” he said.

Life moves fast in the EV realm, and the Ioniq Electric’s 124-mile range was soon eclipsed by the 151-mile, second-gen Leaf, which appeared for the 2018 model year. Hyundai execs are no doubt pissed to see Nissan keep the price of its base Leaf static for 2019, as it means there’s just a $195 difference between the entry-level models.

Before a federal tax credit of $7,500 that applies to both cars, the 2019 Ioniq Electric starts at $30,700 after destination, though a customer rebate now shows it sitting at $29,815. A 2019 Leaf S, meanwhile, stickers for $30,885 after destination, and offers the buyer 27 extra miles of range. Every mile counts in the EV realm, especially at the low end.

Still, Hyundai’s offering can claim to be the cheapest EV with a backseat in the states of California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Washington, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Mexico.

In day to day driving, this writer found the spartan little hatchback surprisingly liveable, though it lost points for its fairly hard and shapeless driver’s seat. While the comparatively limited range was also a knock, it’s fine for commuting and exurban jaunts. The 3,164-pound car’s 215 lb-ft of torque also elicits a symphony of squeals from the low-drag front rubber. Not necessarily a bad thing.

For lessees, CarsDirect warns of a different range issue: mileage allowance. The base 2019 Ioniq Electric leases at $239 per month for 36 months with $2,500 due at signing, but dealers can restrict your annual mileage to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 miles.

It took a while for Hyundai to allow the little EV to spread its legs, and new competition now threatens its appeal. And not just Nissan, either. The automaker’s Kona Electric crossover goes on sale in California this month, offering 258 miles of driving range for a starting price of $37,495 (after destination, but before the federal tax credit), with sales then migrating to states that follow California’s ZEV laws.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Oberkanone Oberkanone on Jan 17, 2019

    Can electric vehicles be successful without government regulations or government incentives involved? CARB states are an artificial market.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Jan 17, 2019

    You're right: CARB states are an artificial market. But cars themselves exist within and because of an artificial market. Think about the huge amount of "government incentives" in terms of road building, traffic enforcement, parking, public health costs from pollution, and so on. Nothing was natural or inevitable about the car as we know it taking over from trolleys and trains; government policy made that possible, and government policy can make the car as we'll know it next possible too. Think too about all the externalities that are *not* accounted for in the price of gas: the increased rates of disease and destruction that inevitably accompany mining, refining, transporting, dispensing, and burning gasoline. I suppose instead of tax refunds for EVs, we could increase the gas tax high enough to recover the cost of mitigating all those externalities. I'm sure $10 a gallon gas would do more to push people into EVs than any amount of tax refunds or carpool lane access, but it would also be a disaster for politicians, since people like to pretend their behavior has no consequences: my doctor can waste all the breath he wants telling me that cheese will kill me, but when I see it all I can think is "delicious, must eat." Given all that, the CARB solution -- requiring manufacturers to offer EVs, and bribing drivers to try them -- seems much more pleasant. It serves the environment in a way that increases vehicle choice and lowers costs, instead of in a way that restricts driving and increases costs. We could certainly do worse.

    • See 2 previous
    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jan 18, 2019

      @hotpotato, You aren't wrong on your points like gasoline refining being a dirty business, however you gloss over some of the dirtyness of battery production. First off, We are currently a net exporter of oil. Most of what we now consume comes from first world economies close to home. The metals involved in making batteries are mined in countries typically that are not known for human rights or stout environmental regulations. Building more batteries will make it worse unless we can source the materials from more developed nations. Its a step above diamonds in Africa right now though. ICE engines could make the switch to natural gas as well which would clean them up significantly all the way from supplier to tailpipe. Then there is the obligatory how is your electricity generated. Mine is clean, safe nuclear by in large so not bad. Anyway, you aren't wrong on your assertions, but electric as we sit isn't a free ride. I think it will be the future, but the future is still the future, not the now. But they are usable for an increasingly large subset of drivers, and the future is not so distant in this regard as it has been. I think the next gen cars will be good enough with respect to capacity, charge times, and purchase price for 90 percent of drivers (we are pretty much there on the first 2).

  • Ted Lulis Head gaskets and Toyota putting my kids through college👍️
  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.