By Steve Walker
If we put this in supermarket terms, Hyundai used to be very much at the ALDI and Lidl end of things. It sold simple cars at low prices, emphasising how much customers could get for their money. But Hyundai didn't see much of a future for itself in the bargain basement. It wanted to be battling it out with the Tescos and Sainsburys of the car world in the mainstream. There was only one way that this could be achieved and it began with higher quality products. The i20 supermini was amongst the first Hyundais to make the leap up market and it's now around in reasonable numbers as a used car.
The car that really signalled Hyundai's intent to claw its way into contention with the mainstream car brands in the European market was the i30 which emerged in 2007. That model was a family hatchback and it was followed by the i10, a compact citycar, in 2008. It was no surprise then that the car which arrived to replace the aging Getz in 2009 was a supermini called the i20.
The task of establishing Hyundai as a direct competitor for the likes of Ford, Renault and Volkswagen was never going to be straightforward and the people in charge at the Korean firm knew they were embarking on gradual process. That's why the i20 was designed in Europe specifically around European tastes and felt like a far higher quality product than the marque's previous supermini offerings but it also came with old Hyundai staples like decent equipment levels and a monster warranty package. Buyers needed time to get used to the idea of putting the i20 on their shopping lists alongside the Clio, Fiesta and Yaris on merit so Hyundai did what it had always done in the past and gave the car a value for money angle to fall back on.
The five-door cars arrived early in 2009 and were joined by the three-door versions in April of that year. Three engine options were offered which meant a choice of 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrols or a 1.4-litre CRDi diesel which came with either 74 or 89bhp. A special edition variant dubbed Edition arrived in 2010 to join the standard trim level hierarchy of Classic, Comfort and Style.
What You Get
Hyundai played it quite safe with the looks of the i20 and this may have been a deliberate move as buyers get used to the idea of a Hyundai that can stand toe to toe with the top supermini products with regards interior quality as this one can. The thick swage line that runs down the sides of the car just above the door handles does provide some interest but the general effect is of an identikit supermini that lacks the personality of the leading alternatives. The interior however, will cause many to revaluate Hyundai because the materials and build are far superior to those of the old Getz. Again, the design flair that rivals have worked so hard to instil is absent but the layout is neat and the controls couldn't really be any easier to operate.
The i20 is a good size compared to its supermini contemporaries. A kerb weight of 1,222kg means it's no featherweight but it makes good use of its bulk by delivering a respectably spacious cabin. Space in the back will be generous enough for adults to undertake short journeys and fine for kids, while the boot is impressively proportioned. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seats and a flat load floor is created with room for some seriously big cargos. There's also a massive glovebox and a number of other useful receptacles dotted around the interior.
Even the entry level Classic model comes with air-conditioning, an iPod connector for the stereo, electric front windows, electric door mirrors and a trip computer. Matched to the i20's attractive pricing, the generous equipment levels showed that despite its move upmarket, Hyundai could still play the value for money card that has served it so well in the past.
Safety equipment is similarly abundant on the i20 with every model getting ESP, six airbags and active head restraints. These helped the car achieve a commendable five-star rating for occupant protection in the Euro NCAP crash tests.
What to Look For
Hyundai's past reliability record should give no cause for concern and that generous warranty package adds extra piece of mind to the used i20s that are about. The cars are likely to have been used extensively as day to day runabouts so while the mileage may not be high, it's worth checking for clutch and gearbox wear as well as being on the look out for parking knocks and scrapes on the bodywork.
(approx prices based on i20 1.2) Nothing too terrifying here. Most i20 parts are relatively cheap. A replacement exhaust is £250, but if you need a catalyst you'll need to fork out another £500. Front brake pads are £60 a pair with rears retailing at £75. All about par for the course.
On the Road
Motoring journalists blather on about whether this car is a sharp to drive on the limit as a Fiesta, a complete irrelevance to most likely buyers who'll appreciate this Korean car's supple ride and undemanding driving dynamics. That said, it's quite enjoyable to drive quickly, the experience aided by nicely weighted steering, a lack of body roll and a compliant gearbox. The tyres could offer up a little more grip and the clutch is a bit light but that's about it on the debit side.
None of the engines on offer are especially fast but all will probably be adequate for their intended market. The 1.2-litre petrol unit offers 76bhp and the ability to launch the car to 60mph in 12.9s before proceeding to a 106mph top speed, just over half a second quicker than the fastest of the two rather noisy 1.4-litre diesels. The 1.2 is the best selling i20 in the UK and justifiably so seeing as the larger 88bhp 1.4 isn't much faster to sixty. It's worth pointing out though, that both petrol engines have above-average in-gear acceleration, the 50-70mph increment being dispatched a full 4 seconds quicker than a comparable Fiesta - good to know when you're about to overtake that swaying artic.
With a height-adjustable driver's seat and a steering column that adjusts for both rake and reach, the i20 should prove accommodating for drivers of most shapes and sizes. The wheel itself is highly reminiscent of a Honda item, even down to the big 'H' at its centre, and is as comfortable a thing to grasp as it is attractive on the eye.
The i20 supermini emerged as part of Hyundai's concerted attempt to compete head on with the big guns of the European car market and deserves to be considered by used buyers as an equal of the mainstream choices. Its strengths include a comfortable, user-friendly driving experience, a well though-out cabin and generous equipment levels which include particularly strong safety provision. On the downside, the i20's design might not be as appealing as some of its rivals and the trim materials inside the basic models leave a little to be desired. Overall, it's an uncomplicated but capable used supermini option that's good enough to make you reappraise your opinion of this Korean brand.