The meteoric rise of Uber minicabs means more and more of us are familiar with the passenger experience in the backseat of an (invariably slightly stained) Toyota Prius. Indeed, an investigation by Motoring Research found the Prius minicab to be more ubiquitous in London than even Addison Lee’s black Ford Galaxys.
But is it any wonder? The Toyota’s CO2 emissions are minuscule, fuel economy is decent, the petrol engine doesn’t clatter and the big electric motor gives it silent electric drive when stopped and at slow speeds. It’s the ideal carriage for endlessly roaming the streets of the capital.
Toyota invented the hybrid car and had such a head start that it’s taken years for rivals to get their acts together. They’re finally coming through now, as Brits begin to abandon dirty diesel (before London bans it) for alternative fuels. The latest petrol-electric player to enter the fray is Hyundai.
Because Hyundai is a massive company that’s blindingly profitable, it hasn’t taken a conventional approach and simply built a hybrid version of a regular car. It instead has created an entirely new range, called Ioniq, and given it a choice of not one, not two, but three different alternative-fuel engines. Choose from hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full-electric.
Two versions, the hybrid and EV, are on sale now: the plug-in comes next year. The firm invited us up to Liverpool to sample them, which is how I found myself in a remarkably grand hotel called the Titanic preparing for a day in an all-electric Ioniq.
This could have gone terribly wrong. Hyundai reckoned I’d be able to drive deep into north Wales, enjoy fast and deserted B-roads, and make it back into Liverpool with plenty of charge left. Despite starting with more than 130 miles of range showing, I simply had to put this to the test – and so drove like a lead-footed oaf.
Proving this cynic wrong, the Ioniq did make it back to the hotel without the batteries going flat. The Ioniq Electric is a quality car with a smart interior, supple ride, low noise levels and decent turn of pace.
It’s not exciting and hardly likely to rouse much envy, but it’s more appealing than a Nissan Leaf, more practical than a BMW i3 and thus a pretty safe choice for zero-emissions zealots.
Your Uber driver isn’t going to choose an EV, though. One return trip to Gatwick will leave them sat for hours charging the batteries. No, they’ll pick the hybrid, which, from £19,995, is £9k cheaper than the EV, and more than £3,500 cheaper than the weird-looking new Prius.
It also has a five-year warranty without a mileage limit. Doing 85,000 miles a year will not be a problem.
Be easy on the gas and it still does the silent electric car stuff, but press harder and you’ll hear the engine kick in. It’ll roar if you want to go full pelt, but no Uber driver will as this costs fuel – and besides, it roars less than a Prius because it has a normal automatic gearbox rather than one of those constantly varying single gear things.
The hybrid has a bigger boot than the EV for those early morning airport runs, and official economy is more than 70mpg, so the range is days rather than hours. Best-selling Premium models even have TomTom live traffic-dodge services, helping your driver get you there on time.
It’s hardly exciting, but there’s still a reason why the Ioniq could well be the best Uber car you’ve ever experienced: top-spec Premium SE models, the ones with leather seats, have heated chairs in the rear. Which, for 20-minute city hops for six months of the year, will make it the most fantastic car you’ve ever sat in the back of.