You could say the little Hyundai i20 has big shoes to fill.
The city car now solely occupies a spot that was once the domain of the Getz that sold by the bucket load every month.
After a relatively slow sales start following its 2010 arrival – two years after its global release - the South Korean brand’s Indian-built Hyundai i20 is starting to assert itself in a segment currently dominated by the Toyota Yaris and Mazda2, but keenly contested by the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Holden Barina and Suzuki Swift.
In mid 2012 the i20 was given a visual, mechanical and specification makeover, though while the designed-in-Germany sheetmetal looks tidy - and has a maturer-looking front end with downsized headlights - it’s still clearly lacking the more extrovert styling of Hyundai’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ family styling language.
A three-door version of the Hyundai i20 keeps the starting price below $16,000 – important in this segment – with the $15,590 Active manual (before on-road costs are added).
The more practical five-door i20 asks a minimum of $16,590, however, and that makes it more expensive than almost all of its key rivals: Mazda2 (from $15,790), Fiesta (from $15,490), Honda Jazz (from $14,990), Swift ($15,990), Barina (from $15,990), and Yaris (from $15,690).
The Active trim is available again on the five-door i20, with an Elite model costing from $17,590.
If you want an automatic gearbox instead of the standard six-speed manual, you’ll need to find another $2000 for each variant.
Key Active features comprise 14-inch steel wheels (with full-size spare), stability control, six airbags, Bluetooth with streaming, USB input and iPod connectivity, electrically adjustable and folding side mirrors, electric windows and trip computer.
The Hyundai i20 Elite five-door adds 15-inch alloy wheels, foglights, higher-grade steering wheel with controls, six rather than four audio speakers, digital clock and an elastic luggage net in the boot.
Every i20 features a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with Hyundai reserving its bigger 1.6 for the Accent hatch and sedan that competes in the same category.
A 1.4 is smaller than the norm though its outputs of 74kW and 136Nm are average.
It’s short of the 89kW/151Nm figures of the Fiesta’s 1.6, though, and the i20’s engine is no match for the Ford’s relatively torquey unit nor the Mazda2’s sprightly 1.5-litre.
The 1.4 needs to be worked hard to gain significant momentum, and downshifts (if you’re driving the manual) will be a must whenever hills are encountered or overtaking is required.
It’s a trier, though; the 1.4 is endearingly eager and initial throttle response has the kind of perkiness that’s welcome in the city.
The six-speed manual has a light and easy action even if it’s rather rubbery.
Official combined fuel consumption is lowest with this gearbox, at 5.3 litres per 100km, with the four-speed auto’s figure rated at 5.9L/100km.
Hyundai worked on the i20’s local suspension tuning as part of its update. It’s a little easier to live with now, though the ride is still overly firm for a city car and the i20 thumps over prominent surface joins.
That stiffness doesn’t translate into exciting dynamics, either. The i20 hangs on in corners when pushed, but it simply lacks the fun-to-drive capabilities of the Mazda2, Volkswagen Polo and especially the benchmark Fiesta that also ride more comfortably.
Excellent steering also continues to elude South Korean engineers. The i20’s tiller is vague and numb, and it also adds electric assistance when you don’t expect it.
If you’ve sat in any other current Hyundais, you’ll notice the interior also pre-dates the company’s latest design approach.
So the i20 is barely any more inspiring to look at than the plain-Jane Getz. The instrument dials are a touch bland and the centre stack is just a big slab of silver plastic.
On the plus side, the controls are all simply to find and use, and the front seats are very comfortable. And a convenient driving position is helped by the steering wheel that adjusts both up/down and out/in.
Up back, the Hyundai i20 doesn’t provide the most rear legroom in the class but it’s not cramped, either.
The rear seats split fold, too, to expand the cargo space of a boot that is one of the biggest in the class at 295 litres (even with that full-size spare wheel under the boot floor).
With running costs a major consideration for city car buyers, the Hyundai i20 also comes with a five-year warranty that’s two years longer than those offered by most rivals (not sister brand Kia with the Rio) as well as capped-price servicing.
The latter means i20 owners know up front that it will cost them just $567 for three services staggered at 15,000km intervals.
A five-star independent crash rating brings further peace of mind.
The Hyundai i20, then, is not short of tempting points, but overall it remains well down the league table of city cars, sitting below the sister Rio even and a fair gap behind the front-running Mazda2, Fiesta and Polo.
Hyundai i20 range
Hyundai i20 Active 3dr manual $15,590
Hyundai i20 Active 3dr auto $17,590
Hyundai i20 Active 5dr manual $16,590
Hyundai i20 Active 5dr auto $18,590
Hyundai i20 Elite 5dr manual $17,590
Hyundai i20 Elite 5dr auto $19,590