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

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Image: 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.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Image: Steph Willems

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]

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