The South Korean giant, which is the fifth largest automaker in the world when taken together with its affiliate Kia Motors, has taken Europe by storm in the past few years, imposing its attitude of affordable comfort and functionality.
Hyundai and Kia models have been renowned since they reached Europe and the Americas (though smaller models in the latter are not available) for delivering almost the same level of reliability as Japanese makes for much less in terms of pricing. And to make the package even more attractive, they always adopted a sensible attitude – delivering comfort, features and the right powertrains. They did lack one key element to become even more comprehensive – style – which has not been a forte of their models. Until now that is. Just look at the latest crop of Kia and Hyundai models compared to just one generation ago – be it the small i10 or the massive Grand Santa Fe – and the jump in styling and character is easily visible. So long dull and uninteresting exteriors, Hyundai has finally found a design language that now encompasses the entire range – with the Tucson sport utility vehicle being the latest expression. They also kept the same affordability, comfort, feature rich trim levels and technologically advanced powertrains. Sure, they still lack a bigger SUV lineup to tap the booming demand across the segment in Europe, the US or China, but this is not the point of discussion for today.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Our main point of discussion is actually the second smallest representative of the Hyundai family, the i20 model. From the i10 to the i40 – speaking only about passenger cars – the Hyundai family of cars is one of the newest in Europe and the benefits will be tremendous especially in terms of image, since exterior design is anyway the first thing you notice about a new vehicle. The second generation i20 employs Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” styling philosophy and is the work of the company’s design center in Russelsheim, Germany.
While many makes choose to retain the overall design language even when jumping to a new generation to seek brand recognition for that particular model, Hyundai is actually now developing an entire styling so the i20 made a clean cut from the previous model. We have a more aggressive front end, with trapezoidal lamps and a pronounced radiator grille, a black C pillar and sporty wrap around tail lamps – all in all, the past i20 (even the facelifted version announced in 2012) seems to come from a different century altogether. Thanks to the stylistic jump, the i20 is no longer that affordable alternative to the established subcompact rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, Renault Clio or Peugeot 208. It has become a fully fledged competitor, with an aggressive but still serious image that is more akin to German brands than its Latin rivals.
In my opinion, the i20 primarily targets the Fiesta and Polo as being the representative competition – equaling them in terms of a retained aggressive stance, with styling that is clean and modern and with no flamboyant ideas that might seem puerile to serious consumers. Particular praise in my opinion could be delivered to the back half of the car, with the blacked-out C pillar and neat-clean hatch door design that incorporates the stylish lamps. In terms of overall dimensions, the i20 is slightly larger than its German competition represented by the Fiesta and Polo, with a length of 4035 mm to 3969 and 3972 respectively and a wheelbase of 2570 to 2489 and 2470 mm respectively.
Moving on to the interior, the i20 also adopts a more mature stance when it comes to the dashboard, with a more massive styling, dual-tone plastics and generally cleaner placement of buttons , knobs and displays. It now features just three areas of view for less road distractions for the driver: the steering wheel area, with the instrument cluster organized around two main dials and an inner display of large dimensions and the infotainment and climate zones. All of them are neatly organized, following the same principles as they did in the previous generation, meaning customers looking to jump from the previous i20 will have no problems adjusting. The i20 is sold in just a few trims and with very few available optional – which means the clients won’t have to haggle with endless options lists and equipments that jump from one package to another. Depending on the trim, you get the basics – such as USB and AUX-in, board computer and manual air conditioning or you jump directly to more advanced features, such as automatic climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, lights and rain sensors and Bluetooth connectivity or even a start/stop function for the engine. Fortunately even the basic trim offers all the modern safety equipments – including ESP and the full complement of airbags.
Because it stretches the limits on the subcompact dimensions, the i20 boasts ample space for its inhabitants, both front and back. The front row seats are particularly well designed and wrap around the driver and front passenger better than in many other rivals, while also being comfortable when longer rides are the norm. This is a great feat to have in a mostly urban car and the fact that the back seat has room for three is even better. Naturally, the middle occupant will be a little crammed but the five-passenger setup is not an utopia for the i20. Also, the luggage compartment is of 326 to 1042 liters, above what the Polo (280/952) or the Fiesta (290/974) can offer. Additionally, even the base trim features a split 60/40 back rest.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The i20 comes with only a few choices in terms of engines, dependant on the market: either a 1.2 or 1.4 liter gasoline engine that delivers 84 or 100 horsepower or the very small 1.1 CRDi and larger 1.4 CRDi engines that deliver 75 or 90 horsepower on the diesel side. We took the base diesel engine for a spin and the little power house delivered according to expectations, assisted by the six speed manual gearbox – another element that is not so common among the competitors. Very light on the front end and with a total curb weight of 1143 kilograms, the i20 is nimble and swift in urban environments, with quick accelerations off the mark and a gearbox that features short enough gears thanks to the six options setup. Conversely, the i20 exhibits the same issue I have seen in previous models equipped with six-speed manual gearboxes – the final gear ratio is not long enough and highway speeds will be handled at higher than expected revs. This will impact significantly the fuel efficiency – jumping from frugal at around 110 km/h to a negative “whoa” at around 130 km/h. This shows the automakers have been mostly keen to deliver six speed gearboxes as a marketing and psychological advantage rather than practical opportunity.
While a three cylinder diesel engine is a potentially “disastrous” combination in terms of sound and vibrations, the i20 handles both like a champ – you can almost always forget you’re in a diesel car, with excellent sound deadening and practically no vibrations whatsoever. While the 1.1 CRDi engine can be equipped with the company’s ISG (intelligent stop and go – their moniker for start/stop), you’ll need to shell out extra cash for it. In principle, if the owner will never leave the city on longer trips the ISG is a must, but if the driver will mix short commutes with longer ones the system is not that important. Still, even without ISG the i20 proved frugal – the automaker says average fuel consumption is at 3.8 liters per 100 km, which is a little more than what the Polo (3.4 liters) or the Fiesta (3.7 liters) will return. In practice, the fuel consumption will also depend on the motorist’s own driving style and road conditions.
The i20 is not a performance car – even though its modified versions compete in the world rally championship – it’s a great city dweller that knows how to handle urban traffic and can occasionally embark on longer journeys. In city traffic, the 1.1 CRDi will have the upper hand on the gasoline brethren because of the higher torque and will only show its limits once it’s fully stocked with passengers and luggage and taking long trips at highway speeds. Overall, the 1.1 CRDi should be the main choice for anyone considering the i20 thanks to the balanced compromise it offers when tackling both cities and longer trips. Comfort is the main argument when talking about the model’s handling, with the steering wheel responsive but not very communicative and the suspension travel handling bumps and potholes. You can drive it aggressively, but it won’t be to the car’s liking, also because the diesel engine’s weight has an influence on the front that delivers predictable results: a tendency to go wider than expected when pushing its limits. As I said before, the i20 is not going to make you feel unsafe because I has the necessary protection – including the standard ESP on all trims.
Pro: design, stylish and mature with a hint of seriousness; interior space good for five persons and luggage; front seats that are comfortable and feature good restraint abilities; silent and vibration free diesel engine, good fuel efficiency.
Against: stop/start system offered as optional, six speed gearbox that sounds great in theory for longer rides but has rather short final ratio.
Starting price – Hyundai i20 1.25 84 hp Comfort – 10,730 EUR
Tested Car – Hyundai i20 1.1CRDi 75 hp Comfort – 12,366 EUR
Engine: 1.1L three cylinder, diesel, direct injection, turbo VGT, intercooler (1120 cc)
Power: 75 HP (55 kW) at 4000 rpm
Torque: 180 Nm at 1,750 – 2,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,035 mm, width – 1,734 mm, height – 1,474 mm, wheelbase – 2,570 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50L
Trunk Capacity: 326 / 1042 liters
Weight: 1143 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 16 s
Top Speed: 159 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 4,5L/100 km, highway – 3,4L/100 km, average – 3,8L/100 km
Rating: 3.6 / 5