Living with a small car isn’t the same challenge it once was. Small hatchbacks now make better use of their space, have livelier drivetrains and are much more assured on road. While traditional strengths like fuel economy and value for money, remain. With high fuel prices and more congestion on NZ roads the relevance of sub compact vehicles is greater than ever and competition among carmakers is fierce. Hyundai, while once known for producing no frills product, has undergone a transition into a maker of good quality vehicles at an attractive price. Will the new entry-point i20 small hatch be able to continue Hyundai’s burgeoning good reputation? Car and SUV thought so when driving the i20 at its launch, but has just spent a week living with the small hatch to make sure.
On sale at $25,990 for the manual and $26,990 for the automatic, the i20 is priced at a premium over the Suzuki Swift. This lands it squarely in Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz territory and that’s a tough place to be. To arm itself, the i20’s focus is on being a solid all rounder and boasting key attributes ‘distilled’ down from Hyundai’s larger cars.
Doing a walk around, the i20 has a dynamic shape and while it’s not groundbreaking it shows more flair than its Getz predecessor. Design highlights include a raked-back profile, large front air dam and distinctive detailing around the front fog lamps. There’s also deep creases in the bonnet and a character line that runs the length of the doors, injecting some of Hyundai’s flowing design language into the i20. Door handles and side mirror caps are nicely colour-coded and the standard wheel fitment is a tidy 6-spoke 15-inch alloy. Overall the i20 aesthetic is modern and tidy, it won’t stop traffic but it shouldn’t put off potential buyers either.
The i20 cabin feels surprisingly accommodating, even for a taller gent. It makes good use of all available space, headroom is ample all round, there’s enough shoulder room between the front seats and the foot wells aren’t restrictive. It’s also simple to find a comfortable driving position with height adjustment on the front seat and a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake.
The i20 dashboard is elegantly presented with a curved design that features dark plastics and contrasting silver and chrome trim. There’s a recessed, high-mounted LCD display screen that displays audio and trip computer information and illuminates in a cool blue hue. The main instrumentation cluster is large and presented in a basic four-dial arrangement. Switchgear feels immediately familiar in a condensed series of buttons and dials with stereo controls repeated on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Build quality is very good and this continues to be a strength of Hyundai vehicles. Some of the plastics used do feel hard and of the non-premium type but at this price point that’s expected and the fit out is no worse than most competitors.
The i20 front seats are finished in a patterned fabric that feels hard wearing and there’s thick bolstering for good support. The back row can accommodate two adults comfortably for shorter journeys but the rear centre position is best suited for kids. The hatch area can take a decent 295-litres of cargo and is quite wide making it suitable for children’s strollers or golf clubs. The rear seat back can be split 60:40 and folded forward to reveal a much bigger loading space. There’s also a handy luggage net on the hatch floor and a hook for shopping bags.
Other useful equipment in the i20 includes electric windows all round, central locking with keyless entry, anti-theft alarm, CD stereo with iPod integration, cooled glove box, trip computer and filtered air-conditioning.
Under the bonnet is Hyundai’s latest Gamma series engine in 1.4-litre form, maximum output is rated at 73.5kW of power with 136Nm of torque. Power delivery is peppy and the i20 has no issues keeping up with suburban traffic. On motorways and open roads the hatch is competent and will cruise happily along at 100kmh but overtaking movements will require plenty of space. The i20 doesn’t have the performance to appeal to hot hatch fans but its power delivery is predictable and consistent through the rev range.
The single 1.4-litre engine option comes mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-stage automatic box – which our tested i20 used. Fuel usage figures are suitably low at 6.0l/100km combined for the manual and 6.4l/100km for the auto. We had a chance to test both transmissions and preferred the manual box for its ability to extract more performance from the small engine making the i20 a more engaging drive. The auto trans functions fine but with only four ratios and no sequential shift option, its set up is a touch dated. That said, if you were looking for a simple point-and-shoot daily runabout either gearbox would work well.
Dynamically the i20 is a fair balance between a compliant ride and sharp handling ability. It can’t be flung around corners like the Ford Fiesta or Suzuki Swift but it’s relatively composed and pushes on without significant body roll. The i20 isn’t a car to terrorise the open road with and feels best suited to suburban driving where its light electric steering and nimble nature are most useful. The ride quality is set on the firm side but absorbs larger bumps and dips easily. On rougher road surfaces the i20 loses some refinement through its rear suspension that struggles to keep things quiet in the cabin. Otherwise the i20 interior is a peaceful place to be with sufficient sound deadening keeping out wind and engine noise when cruising. The i20 isn’t the best handling supermini in the market, but it’s better than some and on regular suburban missions it will do the job nicely.
You can’t accuse Hyundai of skimping on safety features with the i20, there’s an electronic stability program and ABS brakes with brake force distribution. If that doesn’t get you out of trouble, front side and curtain airbags are standing guard and there are seatbelt pretensioners and active head restraints. All occupants get 3-point belts and there’s even a first aid kit and fire extinguisher for have a go heroes.
So is the i20 an easy small hatch to live with? It sure is, the cabin is fairly spacious and comfortable, there’s space in the hatch for gear and it gets around town nicely. It won’t send pulses racing, but it’s not expected to, and it executes the easy to drive/cheap to run/generous equipment formula very well. The packaging has contemporary charm but is not as funky as some and build quality is hard to fault. The i20 is simply a good all rounder and that’s what it will need to be in a very tough market segment. While more established models like the Swift and Fiesta won’t be running scared, the i20 definitely adds another credible option into the mix. And one that’s worth consideration.
Price: $25,990 manual, $26,990 auto (as tested)
What we like:
- Generous interior space
- Seat and steering wheel adjustment
- Safety credentials
- Equipment features
What we don’t like:
- Dynamics aren’t class leading
- Ride quality affected on rough roads
- No cruise control
- More expensive than the Suzuki Swift
Who will buy this car: B-segment cars used to be reserved for school girls and grandmas but that’s changed, the i20 has appeal for many walks of life – but mostly female.
Cool Factor: Average, the i20 styling isn’t adventurous enough to win kudos with the hipsters and its not fast enough to get respect from the boy racers. That said, Hyundai as a brand is ‘hot right now’ and that includes every model.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo