Hyundai, you’ve let me down! You’ve let us all down! The problem with companies like Hyundai is that they advance at such a rapid rate from generation to generation, that when they eventually plateau and can’t keep up the massive improvements, we feel let down. It’s the inevitable anti-climax of the developing brand, and the new i20 is Hyundai’s.
Right now you’re probably thinking I’ve lost the plot as the new i20 looks fantastic. I haven’t, and it does. The new styling has taken a huge leap forward – under design chief, Peter Schreyer’s guidance – with blacked out C-pillars, Alfa Romeo-esque taillight design, and redesigned front fascia that, truth told, looks like a great piece of car. It’s not exactly striking, and it blends into a crowd, but it does so whilst looking impressive – a design that should age relatively well.
But the interior design, that’s where the i20 has let everyone down the most. Hyundai, and sister brand Kia, have produced a reputation for themselves in recent years of engineering interiors that are tagged ‘quality’ at worst, and bordering on German premium brand quality at best. So the new i20, devoid of soft touch materials and decked with harsh grey plastics, is more than just a little bit of a disappointment. It’s not particularly poor in quality, but it’s harsh to the touch, bland in its execution, and doesn’t shift the game forward from the previous i20 at all. Of particular annoyance was the lack of padding on the doors.
But quality of materials and bland design aside, the i20’s cabin is spacious and provides high levels of visibility, and the standard kit is fairly generous. Automatic climate control, a CD/Radio/Mp3 audio system with Bluetooth streaming and telephony, front fog lamps, electric mirrors and windows, and remote keyless entry are all standard fare. Safety equipment is also decently apportioned; the i20 boasting dual front airbags (well below the current segment average of 7), crumple zones, and ABS with EBD; although ESP and traction control are noticeably absent.
Powertrain wise, the i20 also fails to shift its game forward substantially either. It features the same naturally aspirated 1.4-litre engine as the previous generation, outputting 74kW at 6000rpm and a dainty 133Nm at 3500rpm. It’s not a bad engine – far from it actually, it’s light and revvy and delivers decent performance for a commuter – it’s just outdated and feels very much so, when the competition all boast low displacement turbocharged engines that are highly efficient and offer potent performance at the prod of a pedal.
All i20 variants are front wheel driven, but our 1.4 Fluid test unit was equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox as opposed to the optional 4-speed automatic. The manual is the one you want though – it’s far more modern compared to the archaic 4-speed which is not only slower and less responsive, but far heavier on fuel. The manual gearbox wasn’t without its flaws though – 6th gear being the standout issue. It’s a gear primarily engineered for efficiency at higher speeds, yet in 6th gear at the national speed limit of 120km/h the engine revs at over 3000rpm, droning noisily and using more fuel than it should. That said, the drivetrain on the whole is relatively impressive, with the medium length throws and lightly weighted clutch offering smooth shifts and ease of use in traffic scenarios. It’s a frugal package too, at 6.3l/100km over our 7 day test period – but again this isn’t much better than the more modern engines found in competitors products.
But the i20 is a newly engineered vehicle, and nowhere is this more evident than in the way it carries itself on the road. The new architecture is lighter than before, and the suspension is particularly effective in handling the light body over changing surfaces. The i20 feels light on its feet; keen to change direction and eager to absorb imperfections in a way that doesn’t impose on the inhabitants on the cabin. The suspension is also impressively resistant to body roll, although it is decidedly more comfort orientated.
Noise and vibration insulation has also been vastly improved compared to the models that have come before. Road noise is nigh on non existent, wind noise kept to a minimum, and the overall levels of comfort and refinement feel high. It’s a far more grown up i20, with fantastic road manners and a relaxed nature.
Despite this though, it isn’t devoid of character, apart from the steering feel; which despite being accurate and relatively direct, lacks feedback and has a smidgen of play just off centre. It’s decently weighted though, and responds as well at highway speeds as it does when navigating parking lots where the i20’s nimbleness and slight dimensions make it a pleasure to use.
On the whole, the i20 is a mature, comfortable hatchback that offers ample space in its segment and should be relatively easy to live with from a cost perspective, especially since Hyundai sells the i20 standard with a 5 year/150 000 warranty, a 3 year/60 000km service plan and 5 year/150 000km roadside assistance package. But despite its easy going nature, the i20 hardly feels new. The old engine begs to be replaced by a turbocharged powerplant, and the interior feels decidedly last decade.
At R207 900 for the 1.4 Fluid Manual, the i20 offers decent value for money, but the older Kia Rio still seems to offer a better quality build with the same features, spaciousness, and easy-going nature – only foregoing a smidgen of the comfort and light-footedness of the i20. As I said before, Hyundai have let us down this time around – only because we’ve been taught to expect so much more from the brand.
|No. of Cylinders:||
74kW @ 6000RPM
133Nm @ 3500RPM
6 Speed Manual
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|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
Front Wheel Drive
|Price (as tested):||