First drive: 2021 Hyundai Ioniq 5 prototype review

Who among the established car makers has in recent times changed the way the world perceived their marque with but one brilliantly conceived product?

There certainly aren’t many. Audi and the mid-engined R8 supercar; maybe Fiat and the fine job it did reinventing the 500. Bentley’s Continental GT? Well, here’s the latest member of that club. And one glance at the Hyundai Ioniq 5 will have you wondering whether this all-new electric crossover – an avant-garde but also staunchly traditional two-box hatchback with, of all things, Lancia Delta Integrale overtones – isn’t the most potent episode of perception-bending of them all.

We’ll come back to the design shortly, not least because all is not quite as it seems, but when was the last time a mass-market Hyundai stopped you dead in your tracks?

Design isn’t the only ambush that Hyundai has laid here: there’s also the timing. It was only on 23 February that the Ioniq 5 was revealed to the world, yet here we are in April with a pre-production example to become acquainted with on Warwickshire roads.

Get up very close and on this one you can even pick out patches where the disguise cladding fitted for public testing in Germany has worn through the shimmering metallic paint – although cars in mint condition should reach customers as early as late June.

The Ioniq 5 has effectively been Hyundai’s lockdown project, and the short timeline means that some dynamic elements are still to be signed off before the first ‘proper’ cars go down the line at Ulsan, the South Korean plant so colossal that you need a helicopter to appreciate its scale. So no star rating today.

As for the idea itself, there’s an awful lot to digest. Ioniq has since 2016 been the name of Hyundai’s Volkswagen Golf-sized liftback, famous for being the first car ever to be offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric formats. As it stands, that car won’t be replaced when its life cycle ends and Ioniq will become an EV sub-brand that’s more premium in nature and pricing than anything we’ve yet seen from Hyundai. Already an Ioniq 6 mid-size saloon is slated to launch in 2022, and an Ioniq 7 large SUV will follow in 2024.

All three of those will be built on Hyundai’s new E-GMP electric car platform, which brings super-fast 800V charging capability and is claimed to have the mass-market’s first integrated drive axle – meaning the driveshafts and wheel bearings are combined, to the benefit of ride comfort and handling stability.

As for competition, the Ioniq 5 is aimed squarely at Volkswagen’s ID 4, although Hyundai executives say the EV field is currently so incipient and dispersed that their car could end up stealing sales from everything from the Nissan Leaf to the Tesla Model S.

Back to the look of the thing. It’s misleading, because the Ioniq 5 is proportioned much like your typical hatch (the Giugiaro-style forward-leading C-pillar and angry clamshell snout hark back to the birth of the class) but is actually a much bigger beast than the Golf. At 4735mm, it’s closer to the BMW X3 SUV in length, and its three-metre wheelbase surpasses that of even the X5.

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Ninety minutes in an incomplete version of what could prove one of the most significant cars of the decade was never going to be enough.

What’s nevertheless clear is that thoughtful ergonomics, good range and performance, and an easy drivability will stand the Ioniq 5 in good stead. What should worry rivals is that this car also possesses in abundance the one quality so many other electric cars lack: personality.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 Long Range AWD (prototype) specifications

Price £44,000 (estimated) | Engine Two permanent magnet synchronous motors | Power 302bhp | Torque 446lb ft | Gearbox 1-spd automatic | Kerb weight 2150kg (estimated) | 0-62mph 5.2sec | Top speed 115mph | Battery 72.6kWh (usable), lithium ion | Range 255 miles (estimated) | CO2, tax band 0g/km, 1% | Rivals Ford Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen ID 4