By Jonathan Crouch
Hyundai's ix20 doesn't look like any kind of people carrier but it was designed to compete against Nissan Notes and Citroen C3 Picassos in the growing supermini-MPV segment. And compete in such a way as to offer the kind of design flair, sound engineering, build quality and value proposition that would leave rivals looking square, utilitarian and out of touch. On the used car market, there are plenty of people shopping for this small but very clever class of car. The ix20 aims to be the smartest and most sought after of them all.
Why don't people buy more supermini-MPVs? For those who've owned or tried one, it's a puzzle. Though a growing used car market niche, this is still a marginal one that's usually forgotten in people's stampede to buy Fiestas, Corsas and Clios. Yet if you took such a customer and set them inside something like this Hyundai ix20, they'd be pleasantly surprised. For the same kind of money, you get more space, flexibility, value - even arguably better looks. Supermini-MPVs like this make sense.
This ix20 was launched in 2010, then lightly facelifted in 2014. Under the skin, it was identical to a Kia Venga, an identically-targeted model that rolled down the same Czech Republic production line. Both cars were carefully tailored for European tastes, but it was the ix20 that claimed to offer better value. A great used car alternative then, to established players in this sector like Nissan's Note and Citroen's C3 Picasso. Have they much to fear? Let's find out.
What You Get
Early supermini-MPV designs look very boxy alongside this Hyundai. Come to think of it, so do some of the more recent ones. The German design team behind both this car and its Kia Venga cousin decided that such squareness was making supermini people squeamish, creating a boxy persona that made the jump from supermini to supermini-MPV motoring too great a one for mainstream customers to contemplate. So with the ix20, you get curvy looks that are part of a design language the stylists rather pretentiously referred to as 'fluidic sculpture'.
You'd expect a practical downside though wouldn't you? 'Fluidic' curves are never going to hold as much as a squared-off box. Or are they? Lift the tailgate and with 440-litres of space on offer, there's almost twice as much space as you'll find in, say, a rival MK1 model Nissan Note. Citroen's equally angular C3 Picasso can't match it either, nor can this French challenger offer significantly more than the 1486-litres of space provided when you fold the ix20's split-folding rear backrest forward, a motion that moves the cushion forward and down at the same time, resulting in a perfectly flat load space ideal for swallowing big boxes. Bigger, certainly, than could be accommodated by a comparably-priced Hyundai i30 Estate from this era and, perhaps more surprisingly, also a 10% improvement over the figure on offer from the supposedly identical Kia Venga - this ix20's sister design. A neat feature is the adjustable boot floor which can be set at sill-level to make it easier to slide luggage in, or you can lower the thing down to accommodate taller items. Oh and we rather like the 'secret' storage compartment under the boot floor for hiding valuables.
At the wheel, it's nicer than you might be expecting, bold in its design and well assembled from quality materials. There are leather coverings for the steering wheel rim and gearknob, a nice fold-up driver's armrest, smart gloss black and alloy-effect trim on the centre console and door inserts and a surprisingly convincing chrome-effect finish on the door handles. It all confounds the expectations prompted by the asking price and gives the interior a remarkably up-market ambience. OK, some of the plastics aren't quite as classy as those you'll find in some rival VW Group cars, but they certainly look and feel sturdy enough to take on a young family armed with the contents of a Happy Meal box. And as with the exterior, inside the cabin Hyundai's designers weren't afraid to express themselves artistically. The speaker grilles and the seat pattern on this model for example, echo the leaf-inspired design of the front grille.
Such attention to detail continues in the back seat, where the accommodation on offer is not only thoughtfully laid-out but also remarkably spacious and practical for a car measuring only just over 4-metres in length. Hyundai reckoned that, thanks to sliding rear seats, you'll find more rear cabin space in here than in the back of a Land Rover Discovery-sized Volvo XC90. All right, these seats might not be as comfortable as the Volvo's but head and legroom are ample and the completely flat floor frees up extra space for feet.
What to Look For
As owners have indicated, the ix20 is an extremely reliable car. That came out loud and clear from our ownership survey but inevitably in the course of compiling this, we came across buyers who'd had a number of niggling issues. Several times, we came across reports that the engine stop and start system would sometimes stop working. One owner experienced a loss of power when pulling away - this was traced to a software fault. Another found the Bluetooth 'phone connection was unreliable and had to be constantly re-set. One buyer complained of annoying trim rattles - one behind the dashboard. And another had to have a floppy noisy clutch pedal replaced. There were a few reports of electrical issues. And one owner pointed out that because the engine doesn't feature the usual plastic cover, water gets into the engine compartment during washing, with moisture then collecting on the battery and the fusebox. A number of buyers also complained that the fuel economy was nowhere near Hyundai's claims.
On the plus side, Hyundai's comprehensive five year warranty offered excellent peace of mind from new and any car you look at should have been serviced on the button. The only other significant things you'll need to look out for are parking knocks and scrapes and any damage to the interior caused by kids.
(approx prices, based on a 2013 ix20 1.4 CRDi) Hyundai spares prices have garnered a deserved reputation for value and replacement parts for the ix20 are no exception. An air filter sits in the £7 to £12 bracket, an oil filter costs around £4-£6 and a fuel filter costs around £13, though you could pay up to around £34 for a pricier brand. Brake pads sit in the £12 to £20 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £28 for a pricier brand. Brake discs sit in the £30 bracket (though you can pay up to around £50 to £75 for a pricier brand). You'll pay in the £18 to £20 bracket for a drive belt, around £185 for a starter motor, around £25 for a thermostat and around £46 for a water pump. Tyres sit in the £35 to £45 bracket. Wiper blades cost in the £3 to £6 bracket, though you could pay on the £11 to £13 bracket for pricier brands. The wing mirror glass costs around £10 to replace.
On the Road
One of the reasons people like MPVs, even if they're as compact as the ix20, is the high-set driving position that gives the driver a commanding view out through large windows that contribute to the bright and airy cabin ambience. The well proportioned seats are comfortable and supportive and we also like the logical and intuitive control layout, plus the way the instrument cluster's back-lit dials, sunk into stylish, reflection-killing cowlings, are clearly calibrated and easy to read.
This isn't a car that majors on driver appeal - the steering's light, the 6-speed gearbox a little notchy - but all the really important family-friendly roadgoing attributes are in place. Chassis tuning designed for UK roads means that it's a breeze to drive around town, more refined and smoother over urban undulations not only than its Kia Venga design stablemate but also other class rivals like Nissan's Note and Citroen's C3 Picasso. And if you should find yourself on a twisting backroad running late for the school play, well controlled bodyroll should ensure your offspring arrive without turning green in the gills.
Not that you'll be going anywhere in too much of a hurry in this car, with almost all variants offering a modest 89bhp from either petrol or diesel 1.4-litre engines that must haul around a reasonably substantial 1.3 tonnes of weight. The diesel CRDi version takes 14.5s to get from rest to sixty, a second and a half slower than its petrol counterpart, though in real world driving, a meaty 220Nm of torque makes it actually feel the faster of the two. A minority interest alternative to these two variants is the 123bhp 1.6-litre petrol model, offered only with an old-fashioned four-speed automatic transmission which puts an unsightly dent in its economy and emissions stats. A 115bhp 1.6-litre CRDi diesel variant was also offered.
In the ix20, Hyundai produced a compact family car offering stylish, economical motoring in a package that also provides impressive passenger space and luggage-loading ability for its diminutive size. Some rivals are a bit more engaging to drive, but the ix20 counters that with value pricing, high equipment levels and low running costs. It's a very attractive and well thought out package.
Were we to buy one of these, we'd love to loan it to someone who'd just paid the same kind of money for a far less practical Fiesta-sized supermini. Here's a more sensible choice - from a more sensible brand.