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Hyundai i20 2010 review

It's arrived a week late, but the Hyundai i20 is ready to go on the Carsguide treadmill.

The baby Hyundai comes with the sort of 'all-new' promises you get with a major model change, from the engine and suspension right through to the safety pack and cabin equipment. There is also a bunch of 'surprise-and-delight' features which are new for a Korean car with a $14,990 starting price, including automatic door looking and auto-off headlamps. These sort of things were a very big deal when they first came on a Lexus LS, just over 20 years ago, and set a target for Hyundai's price-first rivals.

But the i20 is not what it seems. It is not a replacement for the top selling Getz. Instead, Hyundai Automotive is using the Euro-focussed i20 to spread its reach in the small-car class, most likely using a baby i10 - with a $13,000-ish pricetag - once the Getz dies next year.

Value

The $14,990 starting point for the i20 is up and above the Getz, partly because it is newer and costs more to make and partly because it will be part of a two-car attack in 2011. There's also a good chance the $14,990 three-door hatch will be the subject of Hyundai's long-running 'driveaway' pricing policy once the early demand slows a little.

There are eight models in the lineup but only the 1.4-litre Active manual makes the bottom line, with an automatic gearbox adding another $2000 and the top-line 1.6-litre Premium auto taking the price all the way to $23,490 - with $320 extra for metallic paint.

The value story is still strong as the basic car comes with air-con, power steering and remote central locking among its features. The electric mirrors also fold flat for tight parking spots. Moving up to the Elite brings a trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel and alloy wheels, while the Premium gets automatic airconditioning, bigger alloys and combination leather/cloth trim.

Compared with its rivals, the value deal on the i20 is impressive even if the bottom line is not as sharp as some contenders.

Technology

The mechanical platform for the i20 is completely new and that means lots of good things, including the latest Gamma-series four-cylinder engine. Outputs are 73.5kW/136Nm as a 1.4 and 91.1kW/156Nm in the larger 1.6, with claimed economy from 6.0L/100km and emissions from 142g/km of CO2.

But it only has a simple torsion-beam rear axle, standard for the class, which limits suspension development, although there are four-wheel disc brakes. The five-speed manual gearbox is what you expect, but there is still only a four-speed auto across the range.

Hyundai claims a lot of work went into cutting noise and improving the driving dynamics of the car, although there is no Australian input on the suspension settings.

Design

The i20 is a good looker with big headlamps alongside the family grille, a cute back end and reasonable cabin space. The interior steps up a long way from the Getz, particularly in the finishing of the plastics - and even the layout and operation of the dials and readouts - as it is aimed at people who could be spending more than $20,000.

The seats are well shaped and have space for four adults, visibility is good in all directions and the final finishing is as good as anything in the class.

Safety

The i20 comes with everything you need and expect these days, from six airbags to anti-skid brakes, but there is a catch. The first shipment of basic Active cars only has a pair of front airbags and there will be a price increase in September when it, too, moves to a six-airbag interior.

So Hyundai currently claims a four-star rating for the $14,990 car and a full five-star result for the rest of the range, with five-star across the board soon.

The car has ABS braking and ESP stability control, with traction control included, as well as electronic brakeforce distribution. But there is no chance to compare the operation of the electronics with its rivals, or the sort of cars - let's say a BMW 5 Series - which set the benchmark for calibration of active safety systems to avoid a crash.

Driving

The i20 is nice enough for the size and price, although it does not rival the sporty feel of a Ford Fiesta or the all-round quality of the pricier (much) Volkswagen Passat. The best comparison is against the Getz and the i20 is roomier, quieter, more comfortable and compliant than Hyundai's current baby-class contender.

The engine is quite spritely up to around 4000 revs, but is not keen to push to the redline, while the gearbox is slick and easy to use. The suspension is alright for the job but I find the steering has the same sort of 'binding' feel which mars the bigger i45, without the wobbly front suspension of the Sonata replacement. So it's fine for the price and everyday commuter work, but not remotely sporty.

She says - Alison Ward

The i20 is what it is - a cheap small car, mostly for first-car buyers. It fits four people fine, and it actually has a bigger boot than I expect. It doesn't have much guts, which I kind of expect. It's a bit tragic, but I've probably been spoiled by driving cars like last week's Maserati.

I would definitely wait to get the six-airbag model, even if it cost an extra $500, because I care about safety. But I just couldn't buy one, for a single simple reason. The air vents in the centre of the dash blow straight onto my hands, all the time when I'm driving. You cannot get away from it and it freezes my hands and makes driving a pain. So that's game over for me.

Verdict

A big step up from the Getz, and solid for the size and price. But not a standout.

Pricing Guides

$6,990
Based on 33 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$3,999
Highest Price
$9,989

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ACTIVE 1.4L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,999 – 8,980 2010 Hyundai I20 2010 ACTIVE Pricing and Specs
ELITE 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,200 – 9,880 2010 Hyundai I20 2010 ELITE Pricing and Specs
PREMIUM 1.6L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,510 – 6,600 2010 Hyundai I20 2010 PREMIUM Pricing and Specs