Hyundai is the fastest growing car brand in the world for plenty of good reasons, Steve Vermeulen sees if the latest i20 supermini is one of them.
Love ‘em or not, there’s good reason to be impressed with Hyundai and in particular our own 100 percent locally-owned New Zealand distributorship. Obviously, the quality has lifted (I can speak from experience on this, having worked for one of Hyundai’s earliest dealerships and patching up Stellars, Ponys and Atoz’) and aside from the vehicles, at 30 years young, Hyundai New Zealand is the brand’s oldest distributor outside of Korea.
Whatever promise was seen in the vomit-brown interior of an old Pony three decades ago is finally paying off for Hyundai and few would argue the new generation of cars are finally world class. The new i20 supermini is the latest to be held in such esteem.
Hyundai’s marketers will tell you the i20 takes all the best bits of other Hyundai models and distils them into this attractive, Indian assembled Getz replacement. All the best bits Hyundai has to offer? Well, if that was true, I’d be reviewing a Santa Fe.
Instead the i20 small, only growing a fraction in size over the Getz and not really improving tangible occupant space inside. But the quality gains are sizable.
The more obvious enhancements are a cutesier and more up to date look with much nicer interior trimmings and goodies – over and above Hyundai’s excellent i-pod integration and steering wheel audio controls – include a chilled glove box and finally a tilt and telescopically adjusting steering wheel. The obvious quality upgrade will help lift Hyundai’s dwindling market share in the light segment with increased private sales but when so many alternatives are now vying for the consumer buck; these merely bring the brand’s offering up to speed with its competitors.
The glam is backed up beneath the skin with some substance however; there’s added confidence for mum and bubs with a fully fledged five star NCAP safety rating over the Getz’ three and four star score (A Getz midlife facelift addresses some safety issues) with six airbags, stability control standard items. Vast power train and suspension improvements also deliver commendable road manners certainly over Hyundai’s past superminis.
There’s refinement you don’t see in a lot of compact cars here, let alone a pint-sized shopping trolley, for the most part its ride is suitably sympathetic for our conditions and the cabin remains free of excessive road or wind noise. I drove the i20 in torrential rain and you hardly heard a drop on the bodywork which is not something you can say of a Mazda2.
When prodded the latest Gamma series 1.4 litre engine proves eager to rev and delivers 73kW and 136Nm of torque smoothly and generously across the rpm range so performance is energetic, it’s easily best in 5-speed manual form and given Hyundai’s usually quick on upping the ratios on offer in their autos, the four-speed auto variant is a bit of a let down. A torque-laden diesel version would probably be the go and they may join the fray later in the year.
Truly engaging handling still evades Hyundai, although to be fair they don’t prioritise this, and should it matter? I made reference to mum and bubs earlier, but let’s face it, the primary audience is more likely Nanna. Still, I’d like to think the Swift’s expert handling credentials have a little something to do with its reign at the top of the sales charts. The i20 isn’t clumsy, but you do lack a sense of what’s happening up front and in the wet conditions, some improved rubber on the 185/60/15 wheels wouldn’t have gone astray.
If it didn’t face such stiff competition the i20 would be brilliant, but I’m not convinced it brings enough to the table to win the conquest business. Especially not at the $25,990 (manual) and $26,990 (auto) price point. Besides, with a sharp new Elantra, Accent and the stunning Veloster models all arriving hopefully by years’ end, there are more small(ish) Hyundais to get properly excited about.