The MK2 model Hyundai i20 is bigger, slicker and a good deal better equipped to take the fight to the top contenders in the supermini sector. Its predecessor won sales by playing the value card. This time round, Hyundai's counting on quality carrying it through. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Hyundai i20 has evolved in second generation guise. No longer merely a budget choice, it now has the quality, the efficiency, the technology and the looks to square up against the supermini class leaders. Plus it's still got one of the best after-sales packages anywhere in the car industry - and pricing hasn't got too ambitious. In other words, if you're shopping in this segment, here's a car you shouldn't leave off your shortlist.
Can you name one other mainstream car company with such a modern line up as Hyundai? At the time of this second generation i2 model's launch, not one design in its range was on sale as recently as five years ago. The i10, i20, i30, i40, ix20, ix35, Veloster and Santa Fe weren't around 60 months ago and the older designs amongst these have already been fast-tracked for replacement. Cars just don't hang around getting old and tired in the Hyundai range. They either shape up or are shipped out, quick smart.
The i20 first appeared in 2008 and had a tough start to life, few buyers prepared to countenance that this was a credible Fiesta rival. After all, its predecessor, the Getz, wasn't really up to that challenge. We gradually got with the program though and sales across Europe for this European-designed car have grown, with 400,000 registrations since 2008. That's around 65,000 cars per calendar year and the Koreans are targeting 100,000 sales per annum for the new car. It needs to be made of some seriously good stuff to vault to those heights.
The great thing about the i20 is that it's a car designed by Europeans, in Europe for European conditions, so it's no surprise that we liked the way the last car drove. This MK2 model continues that formline, the team in Russelsheim tuning the fully-independent MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-independent coupled torsion beam axle at the rear for our roads. This i20 is a bigger car, so the suspension has been tuned to cope with the bigger footprint, the stiffer superstructure and the optimised weight distribution. The steering system is now a brushless a/c electric motor-driven steering system that requires 2.7 turns lock-to-lock for a tiny 5.1-metre turning radius - making the car easy to navigate in town.
Under the bonnet, Hyundai's main efforts have been centred upon developing a three cylinder petrol turbo engine to rival the Ford EcoBoost and Vauxhall 1.0 turbo direct inection units. The powerplant they've come up with is badged '1.0 T-GDI' and is a very competitive proposition, offering 100PS with lots of efficiency. It's this unit you have to have if you're interested in the 'i20 Active' model that Hyundai is targeting at the Nissan Juke-style small Crossover segment. The old 100PS 1.4-litre petrol unit this base 1.0 T-GDI powerplant replaces continues on in the range for customers who want an automatic. And if you like the idea of the 1.0 T-GDI petrol unit but want a bit more power, this new engine is also available in pokier 120PS guise.
Budget-orientated folk though, won't be able to stretch to any of these derivatives. They'll be looking at the older 1.2-litre petrol engine used in lower-order models and offered with either 75 or 84PS. These 'Kappa' petrol powerplants are fine for shopping trips, but if you plan to venture further afield, then you'll probably want a little more pulling power - in which case, you probably need to opt for one of the diesels. There are two - a 75PS 1.1-litre unit and a 90PS 1.4-litre variant. Better to go for the 1.4: its lower-powered stablemate offers distinctly leisurely progress, the rest to sixty two sprint occupying 16s.
Design and Build
Of all the cars in its line-up, the i20 has traditionally been Hyundai's most conservatively-styled thing. Early design renderings for this second generation car looked a good deal more adventurous, but in the metal, it's been very toned down. It's still a handsome piece of penmanship though, carried out under the auspices of ex-Audi design boss Peter Schreyer. The front end looks cleaner and wider, while the area around the C-pillar and rear wheel arch has elements of Golf Mk5 about it, which is no bad thing.
Go for the three-door Coupe model and you get a more rakish appearance. The grille is different as well, with a reverse hexagonal shape inset into a more aggressive front bumper assembly. It's those bulging rear wheel arches that are the key design flourish though.
The interior is really smart, with the design maturity of a much bigger car. Interior space has improved, with combined front and rear legroom of 1892mm, a class-leading figure and comparable with the space of some cars from the class above. The wheelbase is 45mm longer and additional legroom was created in the front by raising the height of the dashboard and moving the glovebox and surrounding components forward. Cargo capacity has also been enhanced, making the vehicle one of the most accommodating in the segment. The boot volume in the five-door variant has increased by from 295-litres to a class-leading 326-litres. The rear bench folds flat, meaning capacity is boosted to 1042-litres with the rear seats folded. Go for the three-door Coupe and you get 326-litres.
Market and Model
You might expect a much improved product to command a much higher price - and true enough, the second generation version of this car isn't quite the bargain its predecessor was. It still sits very much at the value end of the supermini spectrum though. Yes, you could pay £17,000 or more for one, but sticker figures for the mainstream five-door range actually start at around £11,000 for petrol power - or from around £13,000 if you want a diesel. Sounds affordable doesn't it? This time round, Hyundai has separately positioned the three-door bodystyle as a model in its own right, giving it a sportier look and calling it a 'Coupe'.
There are lots of trim choices - entry-level 'S' with its 'S Air' and 'S Blue' options, then 'SE', 'Premium' and 'Premium SE', plus 'Nav' options too. The company is also offering an i20 'Active' variant with the 1.0 T-GDI 100PS petrol engine that has Crossover-type styling cues. All derivatives get electric front windows, remote central locking, tinted windows and RDS radio with USB. And beyond that? Well at first glance, the i20 looks to have some features that aren't common in the supermini sector. A full-length panoramic sunroof that can both tilt and fully open is an interesting feature, as are two comfort-orientated technologies first fitted to the Hyundai i40: automatic windscreen defog and a heated steering wheel. A dashboard-integrated seven-inch satellite navigation system, automatic folding door mirrors, front and rear parking assist and smartphone docking integration are offered. USB and auxiliary connectivity is fitted as standard and can be specified with an integrated My Music function, along with Bluetooth hands free, where up to 1GB of music can be stored and played.
Safety equipment includes six airbags on all models, a Lane Departure Warning System, standard stability control tuned to be as unobtrusive as possible and a Hill Start Assist Control standard to prevent roll back.
Cost of Ownership
None of the other attributes of this car would matter much if day-to-day running costs weren't to be up to scratch. Fortunately, Hyundai seems to have done just enough here to keep up, primarily in developing its own three cylinder turbo petrol unit, badged as the '1.0 T-GDI', to rival those engines of similar configuration provided by key rivals like the Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Corsa and the Peugeot 208. In the 100PS guise that most will choose, this unit delivers 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2.
The i20's older mainstream petrol units can't match that of course. 1.2-litre petrol-powered i20 motoring gives you the choice of either a lower-powered 75PS model that manages a 58.9mpg combined cycle showing along with emissions of 112g/km. Or an 84PS version which delivers 55.4mpg and 119g/km.
On to diesel power which, you won't be surprised to learn, is the cleanest and most economic way to run an i20. Go for the eco-orientated 75PS 1.1-litre CRDi Blue variant and, thanks to low rolling resistance tyres and a stop/start system, this car's right up there with the class leaders, delivering 88.3mpg and 84g/km of CO2. The standard 1.1-litre CRDi i20 model can't quite match this of course, but it still delivers 70.6mpg and 103g/km. If you need a little more punch, there's a 90PS 1.4-litre CRDi variant that manages 68.9mpg and 106g/km.
One statistic tells you a lot about this i20: 88% of existing owners buy another, a figure almost double that of typical rivals in this segment. Evidently then, people like it once they've tried it. You can see why.
Certainly it's hard to think of a supermini that would be easier to live with than this one. Few others are more practical or better built and though pricing's crept up a little, this car remains affordable to buy. To these sensible virtues, this second generation model adds a sleeker shape, a more willing set of driving dynamics and most of the hi-tech features you'd now expect from a modern contender in this class.
Of course, it isn't perfect. Not all the mainstream engines are as efficient as they could be, a point emphasised by some trendier, more avant garde rivals, some of which are better to drive. Overall though, if you can find a car in this class that makes more sense when you add together all the really important attributes that families look for in a supermini in this segment, then you'll be doing very well.