Refined Hyundai makes big impression
Hyundai's latest i20 is highly accomplished and joins the swots at the top of the small hatchback class, writes William Scholes
HYUNDAI'S determined charge to steal sales from Ford, Vauxhall and any number of other rivals continues with this highly impressive little car, the latest i20.
I say "little" because it sits in the supermini class, making it a direct rival to the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio, Mazda 2, Volkswagen Polo and so on, but thanks to some clever packaging it is rather more spacious than any of those.
The i20 is a veritable Tardis - when it comes to space for passengers and their chattels, it doesn't only comprehensively thump the Fiesta but its Focus big brother.
The Hyundai gets a boot with a volume of 326 litres, beating the stingy Focus by 10 litres and the Fiesta by 36 litres.
The back seat is also a genuine three-abreast affair, though like other cars in this class you'll not get three bulky child seats side by side. Still, being able to carry three bigger children or, if they are friendly, three small adults is a definite plus. They'll appreciate the generous legroom too. Access to the rear is good too, with a large door aperture.
Up front, it is as roomy and as comfortable as cars from a size-class above.
Nor does the i20 bestow its ample square footage through a crude box on wheels approach to design.
Instead, it's a rather stylish device. A blacked-out C-pillar at the back of the car is a distinctive feature, headlamp and taillamp treatments are classy and the trapezoidal grille gives the i20's 'face' a strong identity.
There is a studied, almost Volkswagenesque, restraint to the exterior design which suitably reflects Hyundai's push upmarket.
It is a similar story inside, where fit and finish is excellent, the dashboard a model of clarity and the seats comfortable. There is also a two-tone interior treatment, with contrasting shades - of blue, in the case of the test car - brightening things up.
Compared to rivals it is a classy place to sit, with more than enough quality to satisfy even Polo devotees.
Standard equipment is good too. The test car was in mid-range SE trim, likely to be the most popular choice, and came with all the toys most customers are likely to need - air conditioning, Bluetooth, a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control and safety kit like lane departure warning.
All of the above is enough to put the i20 towards the top of the class before it has even turned a wheel.
But the thing that really surprised me was just how quiet the i20 is on the move.
On a motorway cruise this is a genuinely refined car; wind and engine noise are extremely well suppressed.
Even the rougher sections of the M1 - the section past Sprucefield, heading west is a true test of a car's cruising refinement - failed to ruffle the i20's composure.
Notably tyre noise, the bête noire of many a larger and posher car on this sort of surface never mind smaller, cheaper ones, is all but absent.
Similarly, the i20's suspension seems to be tuned just right for the sort of relaxed driving that most customers are likely to appreciate, with a soft and comfortable ride.
It handles tidily too, with lots of grip and accurate, reasonably feelsome steering. It might not drive with quite the smile-a-mile verve of a Fiesta, Clio or Mazda 2 but it is by no means shamed, and feels more on a par with the Polo for safe, secure, no-surprises handling. It suits Hyundai's upmarket aspirations, in other words.
The five-speed manual gearbox is nice to use and Hyundai has managed to give the i20 evenly-weighted clutch, throttle and brake pedals.
If the i20 falls behind its rivals anywhere, it is in the engine department.
New three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol turbo engines are due soon, but until then the i20 makes do with four-cylinder 1.2-litre units as seen on the last i20.
The test car had the 83bhp version of the 1.2-litre - a 73bhp version is also available - and it felt slow and unresponsive, particularly in contrast to the sparkier turbo engines offered by other manufacturers.
A 1.4-litre petrol and two diesels, of 1.1-litre and 1.4-litre capacity, are also available.
The lacklustre engine is far from being a deal breaker though, especially when the rest of the i20 package is so impressive.
Stylish, well built, refined and very roomy, the i20 marks another step forward for Hyundai. The competition had better look out...