Not so long ago in the dark and murky past of 2009, South Africa was stuck in a recession. Banks weren’t giving anyone money and car salesmen spent most of their day not selling customers on how efficient the latest showroom offering was, but instead working out the most efficient way to commit suicide if the month-end sales quotas weren’t met. I’d go with shoelaces myself if you’re asking. Two birds, one stone and all that.
During that recession period, something which Europe is now experiencing for itself in a big way, Hyundai Motors American President and CEO, John Krafcik, came up with a genius quote that perfectly embodied the difficulty of the time. Mr. Krafcik said, “For Hyundai to succeed, flat has to be the new up”. He was absolutely correct. As much as it and the rest of the automotive industry was taking a pounding, they had to take the chance to aggressively expand into markets that were down-turning. Don’t think this was just a fluke, Hyundai gave massive incentives to their distributors to get their foot in the door during these periods. Where others were losing, Hyundai was staying level if not gaining on their opposition three years ago.
Thankfully, Hyundai, both locally and in most major markets, gritted its teeth and we can all laugh about the recession, like it happened a million-billion years ago. As if forged in the fire of their own steel manufacturing plants, Hyundai came out the other side stronger. For example, in Europe so far this year, where Citroen and Peugeot are on a massive downer, Hyundai can boast a 24% gain against the market.
This idea of ‘flat being the new up’, still remains in some Hyundai products. It isn’t all a product portfolio of Volkswagen rivaling build quality and i30 premium hatchbacks. The Hyundai i20 is a car built in India and is a child of the difficult generation that not so long ago brushed-past us with spikey elbows. My first impressions when I drove it back in the black days of 2009 was that Hyundai’s Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo (35% market share) and Toyota Yaris (18% market share) competitor was a little conservative, a little mediocre, or dare I say it, a little flat.
That doesn’t mean to say that a whole lot of care, effort, production optimistation and research & development didn’t go into making the Hyundai i20; one of the straightest of straight B-segment shooters. This new facelift is much the same mediocrity as before, but it has improved in certain respects. The engineering in the consolidated, little Hyundai i20 package feels fair-to-good, but nothing more, and fair-to-good isn’t much to take into battle against the Polo and Fiesta, especially not nowadays. Thankfully the i20 is quite aggressively priced as a counterpoint.
The Hyundai i20 will never be the sort of car that will wow your mates at the pub now will it? Styling wise is probably where it is most non-descript. Even in this facelifted model, which is a little more distinctive than before, the i20 seems to have tried to copy at least one thing from each of its main competitors. With a bit of Toyota Yaris at the back, some Opel Corsa at the front and Ford Fiesta on the sides, it predictably comes away not really looking like anything but a few metres of Korean car.
It does at least have an identity of sorts now, with its new bumper, headlamps, interior front fascia and rearend that tie in with other Hyundai offerings like the Elantra and i30. Those looks will fade was we get used to it, and it isn’t quite as striking or lovable a thing as its sister, the Kia Rio, but I guess still unassuming and inoffensive none the less. Whoever bought a Korean car for its styling anyway, right?
Underneath that styling is sturdy stuff however. The Hyundai i20 has an extra high strength uni-body safety cell to give it a 5-star Euro NCap safety rating. It has ABS, EBD, disc brakes all around and an array of four or six airbags depending on the model. It has a clever removable, single piece front bumper arrangement to reduce repair costs in the event of a fender bender. Its reinforced dashboard is stretched further into the cabin to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) by isolating passengers from the extremities of the car. Driving the car on a wet and windy day in Cape Town, I have to say that I did find it quite difficult to hold a conversation at highway speeds. The cabin is quite noisy from a wind intrusion point of view. The ride too could be a little less bounding over road imperfections. I guess I just didn’t come away from the facelifted i20 thinking it was a refined product.
What might indeed impress you and your mates at the pub, however, are the heated and remote folding side mirrors; the USB, MP3 and iPod connective stereo with steering wheel controls; a trip computer and joy of joys a height and reach adjustable steering wheel. The 1.4-litre engine is fairly poky for its size, coming out as class leading in power versus other cars with 1.4-litre engines.
Hyundai have decided to drop the i20 1.6-litre because it would intrude into the Accent 1.6-litre territory, which is a shame. This means you are only left with the 74 kW and 136 Nm 1.4-litre as a means of propulsion. I found it a little flat, as I mentioned before, but my car had only done 500 km, so it probably needed a few more km to come into its own. The old 1.6-litre gave you 91 kW and 156 Nm. Try find one of those on the second hand market and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the performance.
The 5-speed manual has been replaced by a 6-speed item, which means it is a little more economical and green than before, at 5.4 L/100km and 132 g/km CO2, but it also needs a little more work through the notchy gearbox to keep it in the power band. The clutch pedal feel is average and the sticky gearbox isn’t much fun to use in a hurry. The GL and GLS models are replaced by ‘Fluid’ and ‘Glide’ specification derivatives.
I’m convinced that the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta are better cars than the Hyundai i20, but for most, what they get for their money in the B-segment is all they’ll really worry about. The Hyundai i20 is a good offering that keeps the Volkswagen Polo on its toes from that point of view.
|Pricing (incl. VAT and CO2 Tax)|
|Hyundai i20 1.4 Fluid M/T||R164 900|
|Hyundai i20 1.4 Fluid A/T||R174 900|
|Hyundai i20 1.4 Glide M/T||R176 900|
Prices include a 5-year/150 000 km warranty and 3-year/60 000 km service plan.