It’s not perfect but Hyundai’s i20 will sell like hot cakes
What’s small, cute, cool, and is built in Chennai, India? Answer: The Hyundai i20.
Korean automotive juggernaut Hyundai, have just launched their third new car in Australia this year and like its big brother the Hyundai i30, they almost certainly have another winner on their hands.
Sales of the little hatch have gone gangbusters in Europe (over 209,000 produced as of June 2010), where it was launched in February 2008. So much so, they’ve had to open another factory in Izmet, Turkey, just to handle the demand for left hand drive five-door versions of the car.
That said Australia is a tough market and the light car segment, which the Hyundai i20 will compete in, has become the most competitive segment in the country with no less than 17 brands and way too many models and variants to list here.
There are some real winners in this bunch, volume mid-range sellers like the Toyota Yaris, Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz, Mazda 2, have all proven to be the popular choice of Aussie buyers looking for big car features in a small and affordable package.
The premium end of the segment is occupied by the likes of Volkswagen’s Polo and Ford’s stylish Fiesta model, and it’s these two cars as well as those mentioned above, that the i20 was benchmarked against.
It might be built in India (nothing wrong with that) but the i20 was conceived and styled in Hyundai’s design studio in Russellsheim, Germany.
While it preceded the company’s latest ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design philosophy, which gave us the ix35 compact SUV and i45 sedan, i20 is nonetheless decidedly Euro in its look, with strong character lines through the bonnet and down the side of the car, providing a dollop of contemporary ‘cool’.
The front grille and black air dam treatment also looks considerably fresher than the i30 styling, which is of course understandable, given its 2007 release.
There are three model specs on offer; Active, Elite and Premium, and all are packed to rafters with features.
Standard kit includes and air-conditioned glove box (cooling drinks or chocolates), keyless remote entry with central locking and alarm, Electric Folding side mirrors and windows, USB and full iPod compatibility (you just need to buy the special lead) and full size spare wheel.
There’s even speed sensing automatic door locking which Hyundai calls HALO (Hyundai Active Locking Operation) and the moment you remove the key fob from the ignition barrel, the doors automatically unlock. Not bad for a car with a recommended retail price of $14,990.
When it comes to safety, it’s the same story. Don’t think for one minute that because you’re buying a small car that safety has taken a back seat. Not as far as Hyundai is concerned, at least.
Standard specs include ABS brakes and EBD, ESC Stability Control with TCS (Traction Control System) across the range with Driver and Front passenger airbags on the entry level Active variant, while the Elite and Premium come fitted with additional Front side (thorax) and curtain airbags.
Hyundai were keen to have all six airbags as standard spec on the entire i20 model line-up, but a ‘factory constraint’ had made the job impossible to achieve by the launch date. However, ‘Active’ spec cars rolling off the ship from September will be fitted with all six albeit at a slightly higher price.
The interior trim and switchgear is nicely styled and well positioned. The part leather seats in the ‘Premium’ car are particularly well sculptured and complete with a driver’s side leather armrest. I can’t say the same about the fabric pews in entry level ‘Active’ variant, which don’t hold you quite so snugly.
While there is plenty to sing and dance about with the i20, I’m not a fan of the hard plastics that make up the dashboard and much of the door trim. Blame that on the cost of slush molding as opposed to the less expensive injection molding.
Features and looks might do it for many buyers, but how does the i20 perform as a driver’s car?
I posed that same question to Hyundai’s senior manager product planning, Roland Rivero, who I know to be a bit of a petrol head, and he explained to me, that the company went to great efforts to ensure that the car’s suspension was tuned specifically for Australian roads.
There are two powertrains on offer, a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 1.6-litre petrol engine. The 1.4-litre powers all ‘Active’ spec cars and with just 73.5 kW and 136Nm of torque, you’re not about to get anywhere in a hurry. That’s irrespective of whether you choose the four-speed auto or five-speed manual gearbox.
That said initial acceleration from a standing start is fine, but with so little mid-range torque to call upon (135Nm @ 4200rmp) you really need to stomp on the accelerator pedal and leave it there, if you wan to achieve even a moderate pace.
The upside to this rather lacklustre powertrain is its relatively low fuel consumption, just 6.0-litres/100km for the manual transmission, while the automatic sips slightly more, at 6.4-litres (combined).
The four-speed auto has well placed ratios and does the best it can, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want another gear for a more efficient use of the available power. The five-speed unit is certainly the better drive, but not by any great margin. You can take the revs up a little higher in the lower gears, and that at least gets things moving a tad more urgently.
Step up into an Elite or Premium i20 and engine displacement increases to 1.6-litres. Things are also decidedly better in the performance stakes, with power and torque rising to 91.1 kW and 156Nm respectively. The result is stronger in-gear acceleration and less need for ‘pedal to the metal’ style driving and the resulting harsh engine note, when doing so.
The transmissions don’t change though, still the same five-speed manual and four-speed auto boxes as in the lower spec ‘Active’ car, but you’re grateful for the extra grunt.
Hyundai Automotive Group do in fact build an i20 CRDi powered by a 1.4-litre diesel, producing 67kW and 224Nm of torque and I can’t help but think that it would be a great addition to the model range.
Where the i20 really shines is in the handling department. You can put the car into a corner at speed, and there’s absolutely no body roll to speak of. The car corners flat and is ‘hot hatch’ agile through the tight bendy sections.
It helps when the steering is accurate and there’s plenty of weight in the steering wheel from dead-centre. The i20 is one of the best examples of how it should all work and without looking at the specifications, I would have sworn it was an electro-hydraulic steering set up, so natural was the level of power assistance. I was wrong, it’s a fully electric power steering system and it works a treat.
As far as ride quality goes, I was hoping for a little more compliance in the suspension, as it’s quite firm, but never harsh.
On the other hand, the i30 has one of the best small car suspension set-ups in its class and frankly, I was expecting more of the same in i20. At 1147 kilograms, it’s a much lighter car than its larger sibling, but there’s no doubt that the i20’s exceptional handling has meant a degree of compromise in overall ride comfort.
With good looks, excellent handling and class leading levels of kit, the i20 will have no trouble finding plenty of willing buyers.
New i20 range – Manufacturer’s List Price:
i20 Active 1.4-litre petrol manual 3-door $14,990
i20 Active 1.4-litre petrol automatic 3-door $16,990
i20 Active 1.4-litre petrol manual 5-door $15,990
i20 Active 1.4-litre petrol automatic 3-door $17,990
i20 Elite 1.6-litre petrol manual 5-door $18,490
i20 Elite 1.6-litre petrol automatic 5-door $20,490
i20 Premium 1.6-litre petrol manual 5-door $21,490
i20 Premium 1.6-litre petrol automatic 5-door $23,490