It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a driver in possession of a good car, must be in want of driving lessons.
While parodying Jane Austen is occasionally amusing, the fact that hardly anyone on the public highways is capable of driving with any degree of skill is far less amusing. Yet wherever we look within the OECD, this is what we find. When we look elsewhere, the situation is far worse. Most people simply have no real notion of how to drive. They scrape through a rudimentary test designed to enable most people to scrape through, and then they deteriorate thereafter.
Hardly any country offers advanced driver training (the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists being a much-needed exception to this rule) and hardly anyone imagines they even need advanced driver training. This is akin to a group of clumsy white belts in a karate class imagining themselves to be skilled to sandan level. Everyone thinks they are a better than average driver, while having no concept of pitch and yaw, polar moment, how to set up a car for a corner, where to position the vehicle in the road depending on what’s ahead, how to deal with an explosive decompression of a front tire, how to handle a skid, nor even having any basic situational awareness. Most people simply lurch and jerk from point A to point B in a self-contented mental fog where most of their attention is focused on texting or voice calling or some other non-driving task.
Not surprisingly, there are a great many accidents on the roads, and only the many safety features found in modern cars keep the death toll relatively modest. But without our safety belts and air bags and anti-lock brakes and stability control and crumple zones and lane departure warning systems and automatic braking systems and passenger cages, the toll would be far higher.
And people would still imagine themselves to be better than average drivers.
While some automobile manufacturers continue to use marketing techniques to appeal to a subset of self-proclaimed “better than average drivers” who actually just happen to have a better than average ability to spend a lot of money on a car, most companies quite sensibly focus on the great mass of people who most of all want reliability and value for money. Toyota and Honda have ably served this market for decades, but these days their vehicles are a bit pricy for a lot of people. Hyundai-Kia group has stepped in and provides very serviceable vehicles for the price-conscious consumer who nevertheless doesn’t want to miss out on the modern goodies offered by pricier Japanese models and far less reliable US models.
I recently spent a couple of days in a Hyundai Iqonic, a petrol-hybrid mid-sized hatchback aimed squarely at the budget-conscious but vaguely aspirational consumer. And I was impressed.
Even as recently as a decade ago, Hyundai cars were like a younger child playing baseball with an admired older sibling: you could see they were trying very hard to emulate Big Sister but no matter how energetically they swung at the ball, the bat didn’t quite connect as hoped. Today that’s all changed. From the moment you slide into a Hyundai the build quality and level of interior materials tells you that Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota no longer have the game to themselves.
Sitting in the Ioniq I felt perfectly satisfied. Even the infotainment system was up to par, no longer being a slightly embarrassing reminder that if one had just spent a little more, one could have bought a Toyota or a Honda. The steering wheel felt perfect, the seat adjustments were well calibrated, and everything felt right. And speaking of the infotainment system, it’s clear that only the German manufacturers think that making everything as difficult and obscure and inaccurate as possible is a great idea. US manufacturers, Japanese manufacturers, and now Korean manufacturers have all perfected intuitive systems that can be activated and used within seconds by someone who’s never been exposed to one before, without ever once opening the user’s manual. Everything just works. And that’s how it should be.
I rented an automatic transmission vehicle because there’s simply no reason these days for any manufacturer to continue offering manual transmissions despite Europeans’ absurd continued attachment to them. The days when a skilled driver (either of them) could heel-and-toe while downshifting to match engine rpm to gear selection and thereby out-perform an automatic transmission, are long gone. It’s been fifteen years since even the best driver could hope to do even vaguely as well as a generic 8-speed automatic transmission. And now that most cars use flappy paddles, if you really want to over-ride the programming then you can do so without dangerously taking one hand off the wheel. Furthermore, today’s flappy paddle systems shift far faster than any human is capable of — which is why even Formula One racing drivers have been using them for years.
That said, for 98% of the time and for 99.9% of drivers, flappy paddles are an amusing affectation. They are akin to an overweight mid-forties balding man having a pair of high-end $300 running shoes in his closet. In truth the paddles are only useful for holding a gear on a long descent, and at least 98% of drivers won’t have any idea what to do with them. But they look great and are made of real metal so the tactile feedback is very satisfying.
Aside from the flappy paddles, everything else in the car was eminently useful. The climate control system was intuitive and worked well, the all-LED display systems were informative without being silly, annoying, and distracting (yes, Audi, we’re certainly talking about you), and the throttle response was swift if not stirring due to the modest size of the engine. Yet this same modest engine returned an average of 65 mpg (as US gallons are smaller than UK gallons, this translates into 52 mpg for those inhabiting the 50 States). It could have done better but I spent considerable time cruising at over 80mph and zipping around country lanes rather than doing what the car is designed to do supremely well, which is taking trips to the supermarket and transporting the family to see granddad at weekends.
For generic transportation the Hyundai is a delight. The ride quality is comfortable, being neither too firm nor too soft. The seats are likewise perfectly supportable without being insupportably hard like those fitted to certain aspirational sporty cars. Ingress and exit are easy even for the elderly, and everything inside is bright and roomy. Wind and road noise is minimal. The wipers clear the windshield very capably. The Hyundai is like a well-made fresh sandwich: everything is just right.
Better still, the Hyundai comes with LED headlights so that driving after dark is easy. The spread of the beams is good and the color is a clean white that makes identifying objects up ahead effortless. There’s even an auto-dim function so no matter how distracted the driver may be with updating their InstaSnap account, they won’t blind oncoming drivers. Nor will the distracted driver cross over into their path while they stare at the latest upload by one of their 3,817 “friends” because the lane departure warning system will tug at the steering wheel to remind them that, in theory at least, they ought to be paying some fractional attention to their driving. It is absolutely inexcusable for companies like Ford and GM to still be offering halogen headlights on so many of their new vehicles. Good lighting is a safety feature, not a lame place for the corporate accountants to exercise a meaningless bit of cost-cutting.
The only complaint I have about the Ioniq is that the warning chimes and constant whines aren’t easily turned off. When driving in the UK outside of large cities and off the motorways, one finds one’s route comprises an endless series of garden paths masquerading as roads despite being wide enough only for two anorexic cats to pass each other without excessive rubbing (though some cats may rather like that sort of thing). Thus one spends a great deal of time reversing in search of a place wide enough for two vehicles to pass without removing all the side panels of both vehicles. As UK roads have high hedges and stone walls alongside, reversing — even with the backup camera and its helpful guidelines — is quite stressful. The stress is not in any way ameliorated by the fact one’s ears are constantly assailed by an assortment of very distracting noises just when concentration is most needed. And sadly the exterior design extracts a price in rear-facing visibility: the rear window is bisected by a metal body part, making it very difficult to see out.
The Hyundai also disappoints when the driver decides to attempt some measure of sportiness. The tires are admirably quiet, but less admirable when it comes to grip. At speed, a certain amount of slip is detectible. And at speed, the compliant Hyundai suspension makes it very clear that no amount of setting the car up for the corner will compensate for the lack of damping required for such endeavors. The Hyundai shines as a daily driver, competent and pleasant, but does not reward the driver pulling back the shirt in the hope of finding a Superman costume hidden underneath. It’s just a clean white cotton vest.
And that’s what it’s all about. Hyundai knows its market and its products perfectly fulfill the needs of its buyers. The Ioniq is a supremely competent car doing what it does without any cracks in the façade. And the car comes with a 100,000 mile / 10 year warranty, which is better than any other manufacturer’s warranty anywhere. So in the unlikely event that something does go wrong with this well-put-together car, it won’t hurt the driver’s wallet.
I confidently predict that we’ll all be seeing a lot more Hyundai vehicles in the years ahead, especially as some Japanese manufacturers like Nissan increasingly let the side down with poorly assembled and fault-prone offerings that betray the Japanese ethos of quality and reliability.
In short, if you’re hungry for an affordable and very good little car, the Hyundai is an excellent sandwich that will satisfy you from the first bite to the last.