Published on Sunday 9 March 2014 10:29
Ten Second Review
Economical, roomy, well-equipped, tightly priced and covered by an excellent warranty, there's nothing ambiguous about the Hyundai i20's appeal, especially in entry-level 1.2-litre petrol guise. The question is whether enough buyers will choose the car over less tightly priced rival supermini products that do most or all of this with a little more style.
Superminis were already the most popular category of car with UK buyers well before growing running costs and environmental concerns tipped us into this cycle of downsizing. Cars like the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Clio have proved immensely popular thanks to their blend of ability and affordability. Hyundai's effort at cashing in on the supermini's success was called the i20 but it never really managed to claw its way out of the bargain basement.
Now it's been improved and a key part of the range is the 1.2-litre petrol model we look at here. It's a car that can take on its toughest Fiesta-class rivals head to head with cutting edge design to match 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.
The i20 is available with 1.2-litre petrol engine we're looking at here or a 1.4-litre petrol unit. There are also 1.1 and 1.4-litre CRDi diesel units with power outputs of either 75 or 90PS. The 1.2-litre petrol unit now offers 84PS and the ability to launch the car to 60mph in 12.7s before proceeding to a 104mph top speed. In comparison, the range-topping diesel is a little slower despite its 88bhp and can achieve a 13.6s 0-60mph time with a 107mph top speed.
With a height-adjustable driver's seat and a steering column that adjusts for both rake and reach, the i20 should prove accommodating for drivers of most shapes and sizes. The wheel itself is highly reminiscent of a Honda item, even down to the big 'H' at its centre, and is as comfortable a thing to grasp as it is attractive on the eye.
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 my 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.
Design and Build
This improved i20 gets an attractive exterior makeover that features smarter wheel designs plus a hexagonal front grille in keeping with Hyundai's current fluidic sculpture design. Further design changes to the front end include sleeker rounded front wings, while the reshaped bonnet and headlights continue the theme along with neat fog light clusters and daytime running lights. Moving to the rear, this improved i20 gets a redesigned rear bumper and taillights.
There are minor changes inside too, with extra soft-touch plastics, a revised and classier centre console and updated seat trims. 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.
Market and Model
Hyundai is offering the 1.2-litre i20 with three trim levels, Classic, Comfort and Style. Even the entry level Classic model comes with air-conditioning, an iPod connector for the stereo, electric front windows, electric door mirrors and a trip computer. Matched to the i20's attractive pricing, the generous equipment levels show that despite its move upmarket, Hyundai can still play the value for money card that has served it so well in the past.
Safety equipment is similarly abundant on the i20 with every model getting ESP, VSA Vehicle Stability Management, six airbags and active head restraints. These helped the car achieve a commendable five-star rating for occupant protection in the Euro NCAP crash tests.
Cost of Ownership
Hyundai's exemplary five year Triple Care warranty package will be a major draw for buyers with their eyes on the bottom line and the engines don't let the side down when it comes to economy and emissions. The 1.2-litre petrol engine can average over 57mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of 114g/km. Higher mileage drivers will find the premium needed to get a diesel engine worthwhile thanks to the remarkable 88.3mpg and 84g/km CO2 output achieved in by the less powerful version. An Eco Drive indicator on the dash suggests the best point for drivers to change gear to save fuel.
Hyundai is a manufacturer on the rise. It's demonstrated what it can do with the i30 and i10: now all it needs to cement its status as an equal to the established players in the market's mainstream is that extra element of style and desirability. This improved i20 supermini will be a hugely important car for the marque in this regard.
Most UK customers choose it in the improved 1.2-litre petrol guise we've been looking at here. This variant certainly seems to have all the basics nailed down and as a small car with low running costs, it's bang on the buying priorities that are only going to become more prevalent in the marketplace. All it fails to do is excite in any meaningful way so Hyundai will continue to rely on the old stalwarts of attractive pricing, lots of equipment and a cast iron warranty to achieve sales. The way things are at present, that might just be enough....