On Autos: Eco-minded Hyundai offers three thrifty flavors

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The new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq hatchback will soon be available as a hybrid, pure electric vehicle (shown) and plug-in hybrid. (Brady Holt/The Current)

It’s hard to break into a market where an established competitor has such strong name recognition. Among gas-electric hybrids — vehicles whose gasoline engines are assisted by an electric motor — everyone knows the Toyota Prius. Similarly, the Nissan Leaf all-electric car and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid have spent years establishing themselves.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid has a conventional grille — as opposed to the electric model, which doesn’t have an engine to keep cool. (Brady Holt/The Current)

So when Hyundai developed the new Ioniq — the first single model to compete in all three of those segments — it sought to create a true standout. The company boasts that it beats the competition in several key ways: fuel efficiency, driving dynamics and price. Based on quick drives of its hybrid and electric versions at a recent media event, the Ioniq does indeed lead all three categories.

Compared to the Prius, the Ioniq feels like a more solid, substantial car. The engine doesn’t groan in protest when you drive it hard, and the steering and handling are agreeably responsive.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq has a user-friendly interior that’s more conventionally styled than in a Toyota Prius. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Fuel economy ratings trump the Prius’ — up to 58 mpg in EPA testing compared to the Toyota’s 56 mpg. And the  Ioniq hybrid has a base price of $23,085 while the Prius starts at $25,570. There’s one caveat, however — it’s especially easy to beat EPA ratings in the Prius. It will take a longer test of the Ioniq to see if the Hyundai can do likewise.

Another advantage for either the Prius or the Ioniq’s Kia Niro cousin is interior room. While the Hyundai isn’t cramped, it’s definitely a compact car. The Prius has the more open, airier feel of a midsize car, while the less fuel-efficient Niro fits more cargo.

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq offers best-in-class fuel-efficiency in both its hybrid and electric versions. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Meanwhile, the all-electric Ioniq — so far only sold in California — also stands out for fuel-efficiency and value. Its EPA rating of 136 miles per gallon equivalent is the best of any vehicle sold in the U.S., and once you factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles, it costs even less than the hybrid model. Its estimated 124 miles of range is roughly half that of the impressive new Chevrolet Bolt, but the Bolt costs quite a bit more. Both the Ioniq Electric’s price and range compare favorably to the Nissan Leaf, though a redesigned Leaf is expected soon.

Further details on the Ioniq plug-in hybrid will emerge before it hits dealerships this fall. That model will also likely cost less than its Chevrolet competitor — the Volt, in this case — but offer less electric range.