Mountain Wheels: Hyundai’s distinctive Ioniq 6 and Tucson XRT serve niche audiences

The Hyundai Ioniq 6 is the newest, car-shaped rendition of the company’s expanding EV family, with as much as 361 miles of all-electric range.
Courtesy photo

Perhaps the most telling quote in the Summit Dail News reporter Ryan Spencer’s recent story on the growth of violent local road rage — a phenomenon I’ve seen incrementally build during my years of driving in the county and on Interstate 70 — comes from Sheriff Jaime FitzSimmons: “When I moved here 19 years ago, I thought I was moving my family to the middle of nowhere. Now we’re just another suburb of Denver.”

I think about that each time I drive Colorado Highway 9 and deal with open hostility on the roundabouts, terribly-timed, high-speed passing or general angry and inept driving everywhere, all of the time. The High Country chill factor of the past seems gone, and that’s kind of disappointing and terrifying, as driving in Denver itself these days is more like driving in Baltimore about a decade ago.

Nonetheless, I opt to keep the wheels moving, and this week brings a couple of Hyundai products that emphasize very different directions for what is now the third-biggest carmaker in the world — and one that is currently not facing financially ruinous labor action.

I never got to drive the extremely boxy and Flintstones-styled Ioniq 5 electric crossover, but its sequel, the Ioniq 6, is an equally unusual and ultra-futuristic vehicle that appears kind of like an old Porsche 911 in a fun-house mirror. It’s very strange looking, which is part of its appeal. I thought I had the only one in the state, and then an identical, silver-colored one passed me in Jamestown Canyon while I was out on a drive.

I drove what was probably its most practical version, a long-range model with electronic all-wheel drive and 20-inch wheels, priced at $58,425 before the litany of EV credits, and found it to be a much more fun experience than the litany of other deep freeze-shaped family EVs out there.

That’s because you get a car-like driving position and visibility, more car-like handling and also a swift but not stupid-fast output: a total of 320 horsepower and 446 pound-feet of torque from 74- and 165-kilowatt electric motors. It also came with PZero summer tires, which I at first thought were a ridiculous nod to the almost 600-hp Kia EV6 GT, but served the Ioniq 6 quite well on a leisurely but responsive series of mountain outings.

Range is also right in the middle of the pack, with this bigger-wheeled version rated at 270 miles of charge, and up to 316 miles with the 18-inch-wheeled SE model. A rear-wheel-drive version with the extended-range battery pushed that range to a more admirable 361 miles.

Design makes it one of the most in-your-face EVs out there, with double-level aero treatment on the tail (one with what looks like, but is not a solar panel) and built-in lighting that looks like 35,000 Lego-sized LED lamps. Inside, equally unusual, with featureless door panels (the window controls are moved to the center console), curved tips on the dash and endless video and LED light shows inside, which will appeal to the kind of drivers who find that think appealing, I guess.

The trade-off for not being a bulky crossover is a Sonata-sized trunk, just 11 cubic feet, though the lack of transmission again means floor space in the rear big enough for pizza boxes. Hyundai is also incentivizing its EV customers with a free ChargePoint Level 2 home charger and $600 toward installation. 

Secondly, let us mention the virtues of the new Hyundai Tucson XRT, the marginally more rugged rendition of the reinvented compact crossover. The Tucson is now available as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and in a more performance-minded N Line model, with the traditional vehicles getting a 187-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and the hybrids getting 180-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo engines and up to 261 horsepower with their electric motors combined.

XRT adds 19-inch wheels, special side steps, body cladding, generally tougher-looking front and rear bits and blacked out mirrors, roof cross rails and trim, which Hyundai says “conveys a distinct go-anywhere attitude.” It’s best equipped with the HTRAC AWD system – which is not standard on the standard model. Perhaps its best feature is its price, which was just under $35,000 for the AWD 2022 model I drove earlier this year, with a 2023 now available and 2024s on the way. That’s a vastly different price point than the other true off-road machines I’ve written about recently, and while we again have to encourage everyone to remember that off-road driving is far more complex and challenging than it seems, the XRT does offer some additional versatility for light outings and simple trail work.

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