Software-defined cars seem to be the way of the future, but what happens when that software doesn’t go quite right? I experienced that with the 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 I borrowed from the automaker’s press fleet. Driven normally, the car is excellent; in Eco mode, it becomes unacceptably slow. Research shows that numerous Ioniq 5 owners have complained on social media and enthusiast forums, claiming a recent dealer-installed software update has turned Eco mode into an unusable, borderline dangerous drive setting.
My observations started about a day after I received the 2023 Ioniq 5 for a one-week loan. With Eco mode engaged, and one-pedal driving turned on, I went for a drive where I eventually had to make an unprotected left turn across traffic. I pressed the throttle to the floor and the car crawled forward, right as I started to cross the flow of oncoming traffic. Suddenly, this 320-horsepower crossover was inching through the intersection, barely gaining any speed. I continued on my journey, mindful of the vehicle’s limited performance. Every other drive mode was normal, but in Eco mode, the Ioniq 5 felt more than slow — it felt broken.
Typically, in an EV, Eco mode may reduce power, dampen throttle response, and limit the output of the HVAC system, all in an effort to conserve battery. In Eco, the dual-motor all-wheel drive Ioniq 5 appears to rely mostly on its rear motor, only engaging the front motor for a little acceleration help or regenerative braking. But in most cars, Eco mode still gives full acceleration power when the throttle pedal is fully depressed. Even my 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is still peppy off the line in its own Eco mode, and if I need to go faster, matting the throttle will give me all 67 of its electric horsepower.
Throughout my week with the car, the Ioniq 5 didn’t do that. Every other mode worked as expected, but in Eco, I’d press the throttle and it could take nearly a full second to get going, a dangerous eternity on public roads. When it finally did get moving, it would crawl from a stop to 15 mph; only above 20 mph did the Ioniq 5 have a semblance of safe and predictable power delivery. Matting the throttle did nothing to change the car’s dull response.
Seeking clarity, I turned to the internet. Owners on Reddit, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 forums, and YouTube all concurred — the Ioniq 5’s Eco mode is scary slow. To make matters worse, owners insisted the performance in Eco mode wasn’t always like this.
In late 2022, a number of Ioniq 5s got a dealer-installed software update. The update improved the car’s battery preconditioning feature, making DC fast charging faster. But it appears Hyundai may have altered power and throttle response programming with the update.
“I have a 2023 SEL AWD and I stopped using Eco mode because it is turtle speed,” one owner complained on the Ioniq 5 forum. “One of the joys of EVs is the ability to jump off the line and that joy is gone.”
YouTuber Wrenching Fool tested a 2022 Ioniq 5 without the preconditioning software update versus an updated car. The one with the software update took nearly double the amount of time to reach 40 mph.
I contacted Hyundai to ask about the issues I had experienced firsthand, and that owners have been reporting. A Hyundai representative confirmed that the Eco-mode issue has been identified in model-year 2022 cars that received the software update at the dealership; additionally, the representative confirmed that the issue was found in model-year 2023 vehicles that had the battery-conditioning software update installed at the factory.
“Hyundai has completed validation of a Vehicle Control Unit (VCU) software update that addresses certain complaints of sluggish Eco mode driving performance following completion of service campaign T9Q,” the representative told me over email. “Beginning February 27, 2023, Hyundai dealers will be able to perform this VCU software update on affected 22MY IONIQ 5 AWD vehicles with an Eco mode complaint.”
Eco mode’s sketchy performance is a soft spot in what is otherwise a charming and pleasant EV. In Normal or Sport mode, the all-wheel drive Ioniq 5’s 320 hp and instant electric torque move the car with quiet authority. It’s an easy-to-use EV with eye-catching retro 1980s styling, and it does lots of things really well.
For drivers who may not be paying close attention, the Ioniq 5’s sluggish performance in Eco mode could lead to some frightening moments. Until Hyundai rolls out the software update to fix it, maybe it’s best to use Normal or Sport mode until everything is sorted.