Ask any car company executive about Australia’s compact car market and they all immediately look tense. Massive (almost 140,000 sales in 2012) and populated with excellent cars from large and small brands sourced from assembly plants in just about every corner of the planet…well if your product is deficient in any aspect, the going will be tough.
And prices are pin-sharp, so room for negotiation is minimal.
Cue the Hyundai i20, the entry-level model from the Korean giant to fill the shoes of the huge-selling Getz. European design, lots of kit and handy price mean the i20 is a star performer in this tough competition.
In fact the Hyundai i20 ended 2012 as the third best-selling car in the segment. While Toyota Yaris and Mazda 2 filled the first two positions, consider some of the household names lagging behind the i20 and you get the picture.
Hyundai i20 Overview
The neatly-styled Hyundai i20 is available in two model grades – entry-level ‘Active’ in both three and five-door variants and the up-scale Elite which is sold exclusively as a five-door hatchback. Prices start from $15,590 and run to $19,590.
Powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine driving through either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, the Hyundai i20 ticks most technology boxes (including traction/stability control) and features a nicely-styled and practical interior.
Hyundai i20 Engine
The pace must be a cracker in Hyundai’s driveline department with engine and transmission development occurring with blinding speed (unlike others who source transmissions from companies like ZF, Hyundai actually develops its own transmissions).
A fine example is the ‘Gamma’ 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine fitted to the i20. It features an alloy block with a ladder frame design for optimized stiffness.
Maximum power iS 75kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 136Nm arrives at 4200rpm.
Fuel consumption is rated at 5.3l/100kms (manual) and exhaust C02 emissions score 126g/km.
Drive is to the front wheels via either a four-speed conventional automatic transmission or a new six-speed manual.
All models run Hyundai’s Vehicle Stability Management System (VSM) with stability and traction control. ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force and brake assist are also standard (good news for dads buying i20s for young first-time drivers).
Hyundai i20 The Interior
The i20 is certainly a step up for Hyundai in this league and the interior is undoubtedly a highlight. Recent updates delivered new seat fabrics and a revised centre fascia with classy gloss piano black highlights.
Behind the wheel, tilt and telescopic adjustment for the nicely sporty steering wheel provided a reasonable driving position although we would have liked seat height adjustment (we felt we were sitting a tad high). Instruments are conventional and crisp with Hyundai’s hallmark blue illumination and a trip computer was part of the most recent updates.
Audio is a single CD system with the usual connectivity. Active models have four speakers while Elite gains two extra speakers and remote adjustment on the steering wheel.
Rear seat space is on-par with others in this segment and luggage space is 295-litres with the rear seat in-place – and it’s pleasingly deep, simultaneously accounting for the Car Showroom juniors’ baseball and netball kits with room to spare.
Hyundai i20 Exterior & Styling
A creation of Hyundai’s Russelsheim, Germany styling department, the i20 is further proof of the Korean giant’s advances to create cars with world-wide appeal. Modern and cohesive in appearance, the Hyundai i20 is actually quite a slick design which more than holds its own for on-road presence when compared with others in this league.
Last year brought a model update which saw a new front end look with the grille adopting Hyundai’s latest hexagonal style as well as a more sculptured bonnet, new bumper and new front fenders. In the modern way, side indicator lights were shifted to the exterior mirrors.
At the rear, the Hyundai i20 gained a new bumper and tail-lights.
Hyundai i20 On The Road
We’ve now driven Hyundai i20s in different circumstances and the overriding impression from behind the wheel is Hyundai’s ‘Gamma’ 1.4-litre petrol engine. While the i20 is the entry-level model, the responsive and refined 1.4-litre highlights the capabilities of Hyundai’s engine department.
This time around our Hyundai i20 came with the new six-speed manual transmission (still rare in compact cars) and it combined well to deliver the engine’s 75kW/136Nm nicely with good acceleration throughout the range. And it’s light – even the Melbourne peak-hour crawl in first and second gear wasn’t arduous.
Same in our tight CBD carpark where the Hyundai i20’s nicely-weighted power steering, good all-round visibility and handy 10.4-metre turning circle enabled slick maneuvering.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test loop the Hyundai i20 didn’t quite match the segment’s best (Ford Fiesta) for sporty driving dynamics but it was the equal of everything else – aided by the new Vehicle Stability Management System. Compliant ride, reasonable noise isolation over bumps and nice steering response stamped the Hyundai i20 as a competent performer.
Hyundai i20 Challenges
All things considered there’s not a lot to criticize with the Hyundai i20. In terms of driving dynamics, we just think some suspension calibration work and R&D with different tyres could quickly and cheaply lift the driving dynamics to match the accomplished drivers in this segment.
Hyundai i20 Verdict
“Oh they’ll never replace the Getz,” was the cry when the i20 was announced as Hyundai’s entry-level compact car. Well guess what, those clever folk at Hyundai have delivered a compact which is not only at the sharp end of the field on price, but also looks good, is comprehensively equipped and drives nicely…strong sales reflect it’s ticking the boxes for buyers in this league.
Hyundai i20 The Competition
Mazda2 is setting the sales pace in this segment for good reason – it’s a great car. Pricing is sharp too, starting at $15,790. Interestingly the 2’s 1.5-litre engine with 76kW/137Nm only just edges the Hyundai i20’s 74kW/136Nm 1.4-litre and Hyundai is ahead on fuel consumption at 6.0l/100kms (manual) and 6.4l/100kms (automatic). Hard to separate them on driving dynamics but the Mazda’s five-speed manual is outpaced by Hyundai’s six-speed.
Ford’s European-origin Fiesta is a Car Showroom favourite and starts at $15,490 for the CL model (88kW/151Nm 1.6-litre engine). Automatic versions get a slick sequential six-speeder (conventional four-speed auto for the Hyundai i20). Fiesta is the one for driving dynamics but as always you do need to carefully cross-reference features across the various grades.
Honda Jazz, Nissan Micra and Toyota Yaris would also be on our shopping list.