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What's an SUV anyway?
Christian SeabaughWriterEvan KleinPhotographer
Oct 20, 2022
What is an SUV? No, seriously. Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen answers. To some, it's a body-on-frame vehicle with four-wheel drive, much like the original Jeeps that birthed the segment. To others it's a two-box shape with high ground clearance and room for a weekend getaway. Yet others define it as any hatchback larger than a typical car. We can all agree, generally, what an SUV should do but not on what it should look like. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said when struggling to define pornography, "I know it when I see it."
Well, we know a great SUV when we drive one. A great SUV must inspire confidence; it's capable of commuting comfortably, road-tripping for days, and tackling both snow and light off-road trails. An SUV must be spacious, with each row offering room for both passengers and the things they carry. It also must be safe and (relatively) efficient. Stylish looks don't hurt, either.
More 2023 SUVOTY: Finalists | Contenders | Behind the Scenes
We've spent countless hours arguing over the pure definition, but we've yet to come up with a more objective means of separating the mere cars from the true SUVs than our Of The Year testing and criteria. Regardless of how any individual defines the term, there's no denying our 2023 SUV of the Year handily meets the diverse needs of the compact SUV segment it competes in, and then some. It's stellar to look at, wonderful to drive, roomy, comfortable, efficient, and a killer value. You no doubt already know what it is: introducing our 2023 SUV of the Year, the Hyundai Ioniq 5.
The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5—the first fully electric vehicle to win our SUV of the Year award—is a game-changing rethink of what an SUV can be. The Ioniq 5 is approachably modern with a form factor and controls that are familiar to anyone trading in a conventionally powered SUV or crossover for their first electric one. Yet its packaging and performance are only possible thanks to its small, energy-dense motors. More important, the Ioniq 5 offers bleeding-edge 800-volt electric architecture, making it among the quickest-charging EVs on the market (with charge times rivaling road trip rest stops). At just more than $40,000 to start, it's also the cheapest vehicle with such technology on the market today. Simply put, no SUV in our incredibly diverse 33-vehicle field more faithfully lives up to our six key SUV of the Year criteria than does the new Hyundai Ioniq 5.
Advancement In Design
Admittedly, the Ioniq 5's styling is where you will most question its overall SUV-ness. With a raked tailgate, no D-pillar, and just 6.1 inches of ground clearance—barely more than a Subaru Legacy sedan—the Hyundai's appearance says "midsize hatchback" more than "compact SUV." Even so, the Ioniq 5 is one of the most exciting-looking mainstream vehicles to hit the road for a decade. Penned as an homage of sorts to the Giugiaro-designed Hyundai Pony concept from decades ago, the Ioniq 5's mix of 8-bit retrofuturism, sharp edges, and distinctive lighting graphics is an expert play on Gen X and Gen Y nostalgia.
"I absolutely love the interior and exterior styling," digital director Erik Johnson said. "It's like a Trapper Keeper with Max Headroom on its cover I might have carried to elementary school, but on wheels." Associate editor Duncan Brady agreed: "I want to call special attention to the hash marks along the wheel arches, and of course those super-rad wheels."
The interior design is just as successful as the exterior, even if some judges wished Hyundai designers had as much fun with the cabin as they did with the outside. The EV's cockpit is clean, simple, and intuitive, with twin 12.3-inch displays, a brandless two-spoke steering wheel, and a mix of physical buttons, knobs, and switches. "Hyundai really sweated the details and smoothed out the user experience," head of editorial Ed Loh said. "This is a great transitional EV, new yet familiar. There's a push-button start as most people understand and lots of physical knobs for putting it into gear and adjusting things with positive response by feel. There's no capacitive guessing or checking some screen with your eyes to confirm your input. It's simple and elegant, which is deceptively difficult to achieve."
Underpinning the stylish sheetmetal is Hyundai Motor Group's cutting-edge E-GMP (Electric Global Modular Platform) architecture. Also found beneath the Kia EV6 (an SUVOTY finalist) and Genesis GV60 (along with future Ioniq family vehicles), this exceptionally versatile platform allowed Hyundai Motor Group's three brands to engineer three radically different electric SUVs with different wheelbases and hardpoints while still sharing the same batteries and motors. This means customers have more choices and more advanced technologies at lower prices.
Speaking of choice, Hyundai offers two battery and motor configurations for the Ioniq 5. Base Ioniq 5 SE Standard Range models get a 58.0-kWh battery pack paired with a single rear-mounted electric motor, good for 168 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and an EPA-estimated 220 miles of range. Walking one step up the trim ladder unlocks the larger 77.4-kWh battery pack. Rear-drive, big-battery Ioniq 5s get an uprated motor good for 225 hp and 258 lb-ft of twist, while optional dual-motor all-wheel-drive variants produce a healthy 320 hp and 446 lb-ft. All-wheel-drive Ioniq 5s can travel 256 miles between charges (266 for 2023 models), while the single-motor variant can clear an impressive 303 miles between plug-ins.
Even more impressive is how quick the 5 charges. Thanks to its 800-volt architecture, this Ioniq is one of the few vehicles on the road that can take advantage of 350-kW Level 3 DC fast chargers. With a peak charge rate of 239 kW on large-battery models (base models are limited to 195 kW), the Ioniq 5 is capable of charging from 10 to 80 percent in as little as 18 minutes—about the same amount of time as an average fuel and bathroom/stretch/snack break on a road trip with a conventionally powered vehicle. Even better, Hyundai says it continues working on improving the charge speed via over-the-air updates, with the end goal of making DC fast charging comparable to a traditional fuel-only stop. The Ioniq 5 is also one of the few production EVs with vehicle-to-load capability, by which an adapter allows the charge port to serve as a 120-volt outlet for powering other devices.
Performance Of Intended Function
Despite its unconventional hatchback-esque styling, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 excels when we ask it to do things we expect SUVs to do. For starters, it's incredibly roomy. With a wheelbase longer than Hyundai's full-size Palisade SUV, its wheels pushed out to all four corners, and a perfectly flat floor, the Ioniq 5's cabin is open, airy, and welcoming. Adults and children alike will find each row spacious and comfortable, with an upright and commanding view of their surroundings. There's plenty of storage, too, both in the nifty center console (which slides 5.5 inches fore and aft) and in the cubbies stashed throughout the interior. "Enormous open space in the center console means you can easily fit a large bag there," buyer's guide director Zach Gale said. "Or at least two tubs of ice cream." And although the Ioniq lacks a frunk, it makes up for it with a spacious tiered cargo area. For, you know, more ice cream.
It drives great, as well. Our 2022 test vehicle (functionally identical to the 2023 model) is comfortable and relaxing when you want it to be yet engaging and plain fun when the mood strikes. Its motors are smooth and powerful, offering up V-8-like performance in a class filled mostly with loud, underpowered four-cylinder engines. Its brakes feel natural, with Hyundai offering five settings for regenerative braking, including fully off, one-pedal, and auto modes.
The Ioniq 5 also handles and rides wonderfully. Its steering is quick, precise, and light, while the torque-vectoring motors allow the driver to confidently get the SUV's nose pointed around bends—a boon in low-traction situations. Ride quality is particularly noteworthy. "The spring and damper tuning is outstanding in the way it controls the battery pack's weight and soaks up and absorbs bumps with nary a shudder or shimmy," Johnson said. "This is luxury-level chassis tuning in a mainstream EV. I love that it allows some body roll, too, yet still has outstanding body control—it provides some of the vehicle feedback you miss in 'sportier' cars."
The Ioniq didn't let us down in our brief forays off-road, either. Although its limited ground clearance and street-oriented tires made us wary about driving it on anything more extreme than a dirt or gravel road, the Hyundai was sure-footed and confidence-inspiring in our sand tests, our closest Southern California analog to snow. "Some might argue it's no SUV, but a little imagination and an off-road course will truly change their minds," senior editor Justin Westbrook said. "This is somewhere between a crossover and a rally car, and I'm not complaining."
The Ioniq 5 is even a decently capable tow rig; 2023 models can tug up to 2,300 pounds. That's better than most of its compact crossover cohorts.
We do have some minor quibbles with the Ioniq's functionality. Aside from wishing for a touch more ground clearance, we were disappointed to find it doesn't offer a built-in trip planner, as is common in many of its EV competitors. The Ioniq 5 knows where charging stations exist, but it won't smartly route you to them while on a road trip like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, and Cadillac Lyriq do, as examples. Some drivers also said the steering wheel's rim blocked most of the instrument cluster from view, and they found the central display screen difficult to reach. A reconfigurable instrument cluster and a curved infotainment screen (as seen in the related Kia EV6) would likely make a big difference to owners.
The Ioniq 5 doesn't just have long legs—it's among the most efficient SUVs on the road today. Single-motor Standard Range Ioniq 5s are EPA-rated at 127/94/110 mpg-e city/highway/combined, figures that climb to 132/98/114 mpg-e for large-battery, single-motor variants. Dual-motor versions are unsurprisingly the least efficient Ioniq 5s. Incremental changes for 2023 made the volume-selling dual-motor version more efficient; it now gets 113/90/101 mpg-e and 266 miles on a charge, up from 110/87/98 and 256 for 2022.
With motor vehicle fatality rates stubbornly ticking up in recent years, we were pleased to see the Ioniq 5 receive the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's coveted 2022 Top Safety Pick+ ranking. (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't crash tested the Hyundai yet.) Part of the reason for the high scores is Hyundai's decision to make its latest advanced driving assist systems standard. We found the Ioniq 5's radar cruise control and lane keep assist systems predictable and easy to use, and we were quite taken by its ability to change lanes automatically, a feature included on top-trim models. "Highway lane change assist is impressive," Brady said. "The first time I tried it, halfway through the lane change it said, 'Conditions not met,' and moved back to the lane where I began." Although we're far away from any true "self-driving" car, the extra set of digital eyes the Ioniq 5 offers certainly provides reassurance.
Starting at just $42,745 for a 2023 Standard Range model and $46,795 for models with the larger battery pack, the Ioniq 5 isn't only the cheapest vehicle with 800-volt architecture on the market: The trim walk is reasonable, too, with Limiteds topping out at $57,795. Furthermore, the Ioniq 5 comes with a generous warranty—5 years/60,000 miles as basic, and then a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty for the powertrain and battery pack. Also included as standard are five years of roadside assistance with unlimited miles, three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary maintenance, and two years of unlimited 30-minute charging sessions at Electrify America stations. IntelliChoice also recognizes the Ioniq 5 as an "excellent" value for its low "fuel" and insurance costs and its high resale value.
The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq Is Our SUV Of The Year
Regardless of whether you call the Ioniq 5 a hatchback, crossover, or SUV, the fact is, in this year's incredibly competitive crop of SUV of the Year contenders, this Hyundai was well ahead of the pack. The Ioniq 5 might be a somewhat unconventional pick for our 2023 SUV of the Year award, but we're confident it will be more than capable of handling the diverse tasks Americans expect SUVs to perform without complaint, no matter if they live in the Aleutians or the Keys. The Ioniq 5 is an outstanding vehicle, and that's why it's our winner.
|2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 HTRAC (Limited) Specifications|
|Base Price/As Tested||$56,295/$56,490|
|Power (SAE net)||99 hp (front), 221 hp (rear); 320 hp (comb)|
|Torque (SAE net)||188 lb-ft (front), 258 lb-ft (rear); 446 lb-ft (comb)|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||4.4 sec|
|Quarter-Mile||13.2 sec @ 102.7 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||123 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.88 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||25.7 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||110/87/98 mpg-e|
|EPA Range, Comb||256 miles|
|Vehicle Layout||Front- and rear-motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Motor, Transmission||Permanent-magnet electric, 1-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight (f/r dist)||4,697 lb (50/50%)|
|Length x Width x Height||182.5 x 74.4 x 63.0 in|