In these recessionary times, the pressure is on to join the Joneses in a new right-sized world view. People are thinking small, going light. And the Koreans have been working hard at providing the wheels for that cosy suburban ideal.
Enter the i20, a clever box that does everything it claims to and a bit more. To gain a segment edge it arrives highly specced, and apparently very safe too because all sorts of strengthening steel combinations have been engineered in to beef up the monocoque, plus you get ABS, EBD, airbags, side impact beams and all the rest. It even aced a 5-star NCAP rating. Don’t expect sex appeal, passion, emotion and the romance of driving. Naa. It’s a functional appliance. Just as you would expect, because recklessly generating carbon dioxide is so last decade.
Get in and thwock the door closed and everything’s in place. Fire up and drive and you get an able chassis underpinned by standard issue McPhersons up front and a torsion beam rear. It goes very well, can be hustled safely through the bends too, and only gets unsettled on sharp crests followed by quick direction changes. No different to most basic cars then, and not bad at all for a small one. On track it’s pretty grippy and on sweeping bends it’s a blast. But owners are going to be more sensible than that. Predictably, and as the target market desires, the steering is very light and with that a bit lifeless. One of the test drivers aptly pinpointed an elastic quality around the straight ahead position, with a PlayStation-like self-centering. Hmm. Brakes are effective, being a vented disc/solid disc combo, and plenty sharp enough. Check the figures. One might take issue with the clutch which takes late and is a tad grabby, making urban cruising a stop-start affair until you get used to the action. Gearchanges are crunchy when engaging first and reverse, though the gate is close and the action positive and quick – all it could be, really. The 91kW, 1.6-litre Gamma engine is a sprightly little free revver which does not grumble at being pushed.
So is the i20 twice as good as the baby i10? In Hyundai evolution terms it’s simply a capable, reasonably priced addition to the lower-priced Getz range, which is still being ordered and sold until stocks last and no doubt until the i20 is bedded in and able to carry some of the financial clout the Getz did. Is it any good? The answer is it’s absolutely fine and perfectly capable. Park it next to a Corsa or Yaris or Mazda2 or Ford Fiesta and all the familiar B-segment styling elements are slavishly replicated – flush handles, body coloured bumpers, large, sharply raked windscreen and a rising window line. It makes no grand style statement, nor does it look dowdy. The sharpish shoulder crease links the front and rear wheel aches, the headlights are large, angular jewels, while the huge three-tier tail lamps cleverly wrap back into the C-pillar to reduce its visual weight. And so on and so forth. Steel wheels with natty plastic covers, are standard issue though. Alloys will cost an extra R2000.
The car’s essence? Think Euro styling to a strict budget. Ditto the inside. You get nice seat patterns on supportive foam, a user friendly centre stack and plenty of hidey holes for the clutter. Expect keyless remote, a USB/iPod connector for the head unit, pretty good six-speaker sound and a raft of electrically assisted goodies – front and rear windows, heated and folding wing mirrors, et al. The handsome steering wheel is shod with audio controls which work well. The fine controls fall nicely to hand, and the only substantial complaint is the quality and quantity of sombre plastic that shrouds everything. Darth Vader would feel at home. As Hyundai has so ably done with cars supplied to Europe, benefits accrue from adding some contra-coloured vinyl inserts on the door cards, for one, to lift the darkness and alter the range of cabin textures.
Read the spec sheet and the i20 is impressive. Apart from the brilliant engine, you get neat touches like a cooling glovebox, a rearview mirror that is switchable for night vision, steering that adjusts for rake and reach, and more. The claimed combined fuel index of 5.9 litres/100km and 140g/km CO2 emissions all make perfect sense to a downsizer. We drove the R160 000 1.6-litre derivative, which kills the competitors in terms of specification and power, but one could make a strong case for the 74kW 1.4-litre, which costs R10 000 less to purchase, has most of the interior kit and offers a claimed fuel index of 5.6 litres/100km and just 133g/km on the carbon trail. There’s also a three-year/60 000km service plan and that five-year/150 000km warranty that has served Hyundai so well on the confidence in product front. If segment buying habits are anything to go by, the 1.4 is going to be the bigger seller, even if the 1.6 offers more than most of the 1.4 rivals, and even if it does smack headlong into the lesser specced but very capable and desirable Fiesta Ambiente. The market will have to decide.
1591cc, 16v, 4cyl, 91kW @ 6300rpm, 156Nm @ 4200rpm
Five-speed manual, front wheel drive
0-100kph 9.5sec, 190kph, 5.9l/100, 140g/km
HOW BIG? (LENGH/WIDTH/HEIGHT)
0-60kph 4.35sec, 0-100kph 9.38sec
QUARTER MILE TIME/TERMINAL SPEED
60-100kph 9.06sec, 80-120kph 9.25sec