Hyundai has never been here before. The Korean company’s previous supermini models were likeable enough but sold mainly on price.
This i20 can take on its toughest Fiesta-class rivals head to head and substitutes cutting edge style for cutting edge value and pricing. Economical, roomy, well-equipped, tightly built and covered by an excellent warranty, there’s nothing ambiguous about this little car’s appeal.
Small cars are becoming ever more cosmopolitan. Take this one, Hyundai’s i20. A clean sheet of paper design that’s built in India, designed and engineered in Germany and brought to us by a Korean car company, it’s a sign in more ways than one of how the motor industry is changing. This supermini sells at the budget end of the sector but even so, offers a standard of quality unheard of until quite recently. Plus it’s as good as a Vauxhall, a Ford or a Peugeot, something else you’d have got long odds on a few years back. As its name suggests, the i20 slots neatly in between Hyundai’s i10 citycar and i30 family hatchback, both impressive but rather forgotten cars in their respective sectors. This one deserves to do better and will certainly be the brand’s best selling UK model.
Motoring journalists blather on about whether this car is a sharp to drive on the limit as a Fiesta, a complete irrelevance to most likely buyers who’ll appreciate this Korean car’s supple ride and undemanding driving dynamics but otherwise simply turn up Radio 2. That said, we’ve quite enjoyed driving it quickly, the experience aided by nicely weighted steering, a lack of body roll and a compliant gearbox. The tyres could offer up a little more grip and the clutch is a bit light but that’s about it on the debit side.
None of the engines on offer are especially fast but all will probably be adequate for their intended market. The 1.2-litre petrol unit offers 76bhp and the ability to launch the car to 60mph in 12.9s before proceeding to a 106mph top speed, just over half a second quicker than the fastest of the two rather noisy 1.4-litre diesels. The 1.2 is the best selling i20 in the UK and justifiably so seeing as the larger 88bhp 1.4 isn’t much faster to sixty. It’s worth pointing out though, that both petrol engines have above-average in-gear acceleration, the 50-70mph increment being dispatched a full 4 seconds quicker than a comparable Fiesta – good to know when you’re about to put out from behind that swaying artic.
"There’s no doubt that Hyundai is a manufacturer on the rise, the sensible thinking person’s brand when it comes to compact cars"
What we like most about this car’s driving dynamics however, is the standard fitment across its range of something that many owners may never actually experience - the ESP stability control system. This uses brake and throttle inputs to automatically steady the car if you’re about to lose control, ensuring that you should never get to see the six airbags (front, side and curtain) or use the anti-whiplash head restraints that are also standard on every model. Only when you’ve experienced the difference ESP can make between having and avoiding an accident will you share our conviction that car makers have no business in offering it as an extra cost option on most sub-£12,000 small cars. Hyundai have taken a lead here which should be rewarded.
Hyundai has played it pretty safe with the looks of the i20. From the front and rear three-quarter views, it looks very similar to a five-door Vauxhall Corsa - which is no bad thing I suppose. Otherwise, the shape is pretty forgettable. The interior though isn’t what you’d expect of an affordable supermini – it’s far better. There are quality materials and soft-touch surfaces that wouldn’t be out of place in a car costing twice this much. The dashboard instruments illuminate in blue which is a classy touch and the design feels pretty solid as well.
With a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a steering column that adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out), the i20 should prove accommodating for drivers of most shapes and sizes. Space in the back will be generous enough for adults to undertake short journeys and fine for kids, while the 295-litre boot is the same size as a Fiesta’s. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seats and a flat load floor is created with room for much bigger cargos. There’s also a massive glovebox and a number of other useful receptacles dotted around the interior.
Hyundai i20 prices lie mainly in the £9,500 to £13,000 bracket, making it more affordable than obvious rivals like Ford’s Fiesta, Vauxhall’s Corsa, Peugeot’s 207 or Renault’s Clio.
So let’s try and get some perspective here when it comes to value for money. All i20 models are around £1,000 less, car for car, than a comparable Fiesta. But it goes deeper than that when you compare specification for specification. An entry-level 1.2-litre i20 is not only cheaper than a Fiesta but also includes things like air conditioning, ESP and electric windows. A Bluetooth phone connection system with voice control is also offered as standard on all models except the entry-level Classic.
Hyundai’s exemplary five-year unlimited-mileage warranty package will be a major draw for buyers with their eyes on the bottom line – and is one reason why this car should hold its value so well. Used car market and motor industry analysts CAP say that an entry-level i20 will still be worth 47% of what you paid for it after three years and 30,000 miles.
Nor do the engines let the side down when it comes to economy and emissions. On CO2, you’ll get 110g/km emissions from the lesser of the two 1.4-litre diesels along with around 67mpg on the combined cycle. The Co2 figures are either 119 or 129g/km if you go for either the 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrols, with the 1.2 able to return around 63mpg on the combined cycle. To achieve this kind of efficiency, Hyundai fitted a small spoiler underneath the car to improve aerodynamics, added an alternator management system and employed special low friction engine oil. All models also feature the Eco Drive indicator which suggests the best point at which to change gear for optimum fuel economy
There’s no doubt that Hyundai is a manufacturer on the rise, the sensible thinking person’s brand when it comes to compact cars. Though you can’t help wishing that the designers had clothed their product more strikingly and given it an extra edge in driving dynamics, the car itself has no serious drawbacks, nicely built, brilliantly equipped and carefully priced. Put aside any badge prejudices and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Koreans really have achieved their objective to compete on equal terms with Europe’s best.