Review – Delightful Hyundai i20 hatchback wins surprise Hy score

This is one of the surprise cars of the year, a car that turned out to be far better than expected.

Actually, I hadn’t really expected anything from the new Hyundai i20.

A small hatchback that’s a rival to the well-established VW Polo and Ford Fiesta.

Well equipped for the money but not ­exactly a machine to get the ­enthusiast’s heart racing.

First of all, if you’re familiar with the outgoing i20 you’ll notice the difference in styling. The new car is a mass of creases and sharp edges that are all part of Hyundai’s bold new Sensuous Sportiness design language. Yes, car firms really do come up with vacuous statements like that.

But to be fair, the new i20 does look neat and sporty. The higher trim levels have the option of a two-tone roof but all versions get LED daytime running lights and LED tail lamps.

But the new i20 looks neat and sporty
(Image: newspressuk.com)

It’s also a bigger car – width grows 30mm and its wheelbase is 10mm longer. It was always a car that felt spacious inside but now it’s even better suited to tall adults in the back. The i20 is so roomy that it ­questions the point of looking at the larger i30 model.

There’s only one engine – a 1.0-litre direct-injection three-cylinder petrol unit that ­produces 99bhp.

As with most newcomers the i20 features a mild-hybrid system although this one is a grown-up 48 volt system originally introduced on big Audi SUVs.

New for this ­generation is a robotised ­automatic gearbox that replaces the previous torque converter unit.

Our car, however, is fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox that features a drive-by-wire ­electronically controlled clutch. The clutch feels natural to use but has the advantage of being able to disconnect the driveline automatically for fuel-saving coasting.

As with most newcomers the i20 features a mild-hybrid system
(Image: newspressuk.com)

We’re driving the SE Connect, the entry-level model that costs £18,595. In a straight-on-the-road price comparison against the Fiesta and Polo, the i20 doesn’t come out in the lead like it did. But if you’re looking at a leasing deal those strong residuals are likely to mean lower payments.

It comes with a lot of standard equipment including safety tech. Cruise control, lane-keep assist, a reversing camera and a 10.25in infotainment screen. Even Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

Always likely to get a thumbs up from me are old-fashioned knobs and switches to control heating, ventilation and audio. Simple and safe to use.

It comes with a lot of exciting equipment as standard
(Image: newspressuk.com)

Starting the small petrol engine proves to be a problem. It’s normal to have to press the clutch to start a manual car but not the brake as well.

Once I’d worked out this health and safety gotcha the three-cylinder motor sparked into life. It’s a thrummy engine as most three potters are, but it revs well and is smooth. Plenty of power, too.

The i20’s suspension is on the firm side, which when you run over ridges in town sends a judder through the body. But on quicker country roads it copes better.

And it has a surprising amount of power
(Image: newspressuk.com)

It reminds me of the Suzuki Swift, another modestly powered simple car that’s more fun to drive than you’d imagine. With a bit of extra work on springs and dampers, the i20 could retain its appeal and be more comfortable.

There’s a lot of hard plastic in the interior but where your hands will be – the wheel and gear lever– you’ll feel leather.

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The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and height too. The seat back adjusts via a lever that gives you a choice of positions rather than the infinite number a rotary adjuster offers.

The i20 proves that even 99bhp is enough for some fun. But if big power is your thing an i20 N is on the way with 201bhp to join the brilliant i30 N in Hyundai’s line up of hot hatches.

Building on this fine platform, that could be an epic little car.

THE FACTS

Hyundai i20 SE Connect five-door hatchback

Price: £18,595

Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder, 99bhp

0-62mph: 10.4sec

Fuel consumption: 54.3mpg

Co2: 118g/km

THE RIVALS

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI

The Polo will set you back £17,575
(Image: Handout)

Great build quality, but you get clean rather than inspiring style.

Renault Clio Play TCe 100

The Clio costs £18,495
(Image: Renault)

Classier interior. Seems cheaper but check standard equipment offered.

Ford Fiesta Titanium

The Fiesta will cost you £19,860
(Image: Daily Mirror)

Fun to drive, easy to own. Expect to nail a decent discount, too.

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