Hyundai's i20-20 visionBy Frank Turner
May 15, 2009
If Hyundai had an end-of-term school report, it would probably read: “Much improved in all respects, this pupil shows great initiative, attention to detail and increasing flair”.
Would the latest offering from the South Korean manufacturer, the i20, merit such praise?
There was only one way to find out, so we took to the classroom of the road.
The i20, which replaces the cheap and cheerful but forgettable Getz, lines up in a lucrative and highly competitive area alongside the formidable Ford Fiesta and such long-term favourites as the Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Clio, which have either been updated or have new-model status.
It’s an important car for Hyundai, as it is staking its claim in the largest-selling sector of the market where buyers have rather big expectations from these small packages.
Image is one of the most important factors, and the Comfort model loaned to us for a week cut a dash in a bold and vibrant solid red, incorporating style cues that place it firmly in the ‘i’ family, coming as it does between the Ford Focus-sized i30 and the titchier city car, the i10.
Designed at Hyundai’s European headquarters in Germany, the car is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor and features some distinctive design motifs, including a bold chrome-topped front grille flanked by teardrop-shaped headlamps, while the rear end has stacked light clusters.
Colour-coded bumpers and door handles and 15in alloy wheels complete the thoroughly modern stylistic treatment.
At one time, South Korean cars had an almost-but-not-quite air about them design-wise, but the i20 is firmly on the money in the looks department.
Where the car really scores is in terms of kit, with the checklist of standard equipment including air conditioning, electric windows all round, electrically-folding and heated door mirrors, side and curtain airbags with passenger seat on/off switch, CD and MP3-combined six-speaker sound system, glovebox cooling and steering wheel audio controls.
This wealth of equipment, some usually seen only on more expensive cars, has long been an area where South Korean motors have been streets ahead of Western manufacturers.
They are stealing a march on their rivals in much the same way that Japanese car-makers did long before them.
The cabin is a pleasant enough place to be, with logical, unfussy dash layout and tasteful seat fabrics that look as though they would be hard-wearing, although the plastic trim still falls below the first rank of competitors.
On the road, the i20 ticks the right boxes, with confidence-inspiring handling, a positive five-speed manual gearchange and enough go from its new 1.2-litre engine.
Roadholding and cornering feel assured, while the steering gives good ‘feedback’ from the road. Minor controls fall readily to hand, especially the audio system, which is simplicity itself to use, while the driving position and visibility are good.
There’s pretty generous passenger space in the rear, the manufacturer pulling off that magic-wand trick of still having a decent-sized boot, despite overall compact dimensions.
Don’t expect to win the traffic lights grand prix, but there’s power enough to satisfy most drivers and the car is at home on the motorway.
This motor rates well on practicality and in the value stakes, thanks to keen pricing.
The i20 is the new supermini kid this term and it’s taking Hyundai nearer to the top of the class.
Make/model: Hyundai i20 Comfort, five-door.
Technical: 1250cc 16 valve 77bhp petrol engine with five-speed gearbox.
Performance: 0-62mph,12.9 secs; top speed, 103mph.
Fuel: 54mpg (combined).
Insurance: Group 3E.