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Tony O'Kane | Jul 17, 2010 | 5 Comments

The 2010 Hyundai i20 isn
The 2010 Hyundai i20 isn
HYUNDAI i20 REVIEW

Despite the obvious comparisons to Hyundai’s segment-dominating Getz, its new light car entrant - the i20 - is not its replacement.

Instead, it deliberately takes the brand away from its traditional posture as a seller of bargain-basement cars.

With the stylish i20, Hyundai has priced the range against the ‘quality heart’ of the light car market - lining it up against the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Honda Jazz, and even VW Polo.

The Getz currently sells for $12,990 drive-away, and will continue to do so until it is phased out around the end of the March next year. The i20 range, on the other hand, starts at $14,990 and tops out at $23,490 - before on-road costs.

That puts it in the thick of what is already an incredibly crowded segment, and one that is typically the least profitable for carmakers.

As a value equation the i20 certainly fares very well – just take a look at our model info page to learn more – but is it as comfortable and as capable as its well-sorted competition?

Hyundai Australia invited TMR up to Sydney to experience the new i20 range. We put it through the urban grind as well as over some tight, winding roads.

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Starting from Dawes Point just beneath the Harbour Bridge, we hopped in the mid-spec i20 Elite automatic. In automatic form, the Elite retails for a not inconsiderable $20,490, but is impressively equipped for its price.

Power windows (with auto up/down for the driver) and electrically-folding mirrors are standard (the latter only on five-door models), as are steering wheel-mounted audio controls for the six-speaker stereo.

Both a USB and conventional 3.5mm auxillary jack are standard-issue, allowing devices such as iPods to be integrated into the stereo system.

Bluetooth phone connectivity will be added later this year, further improving the i20’s value. However, cruise control is conspicuously absent - although it's not a common feature in the light car segment, the VW Polo Comfortline and upper-grade Ford Fiestas get it as standard.

Stability control and dual front airbags are standard across the range, while Elite and Premium models also benefit from standard-fit side and curtain airbags.

Australians living in regional areas will be pleased to note that all i20 models come equipped with a full-size spare.

Driver comfort is good, and although the seat squab is a little high there’s a reasonable amount of headroom.

The tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel also allows the driving position to be tailored to any preference, and there's plenty of room in the footwells.

2010 hyundai i20 update overseas 01
The dashboard is intelligently designed too. The high-mounted LCD display for the trip computer and stereo system means the driver’s eyes don't need to deviate as much from the view ahead to check what radio station is playing, and the instrument cluster is clear and easy to read.

However, the interior ambience isn’t quite as cosseting as, say, the Volkswagen Polo. The headliner and carpet feel cheap, and so do some cabin plastics. Build quality, though, appears excellent.

Out on the road, the i20 Elite is fairly zippy. With 91kW and 156Nm of torque from its naturally-aspirated 1.6 litre petrol four, it outguns most of its competitors by a healthy margin.

Thankfully, the four-speed automatic doesn’t blunt performance much either and is a well-sorted unit that works well with the engine. It doesn’t hunt between ratios when going up hills, and does a good job of picking the right gear.

The 1.6 is an enthusiastic performer and although it lacks puff below 3000rpm, it’s got enough ‘oomph’ when operating higher in the rev range. Acceleration isn’t terribly swift, but it’s certainly not glacial either.

For the Australian market Hyundai revised the suspension system to better suit local roads. The front springs were made stiffer and front dampers softer, taking much of the edge off the European-specification suspension tune.

The changes can be appreciated when out on the road. The ride is smooth and reasonable supple, and without excessive body-roll in tight corners.

2010 hyundai i20 australia active elite premium 11
Road holding is good, certainly a match for most in the sector; the i20 feels similar to the sweetly balanced Mazda2 in the way it handles.

Potholes and speedbumps aren’t soaked as softly as, say, a Barina, but, on the whole, we found the i20’s ride quality more than capable of handling Sydney’s more pockmarked streets.

Power steering assistance is electric rather than hydraulic, and although it doesn’t communicate much to the driver’s hands, it’s both light at parking speeds and pleasingly weighted at high speeds.

Ford’s Fiesta and Volkswagen’s Polo are still the most dynamically-competent in the light car segment, but the i20 isn’t too far behind. Compared to the Getz, it’s a significant step up.

After getting out of the i20 Elite, we spent a brief stint behind the wheel of the base-model Active manual.

The transmissions, suspension and steering hardware are the same, but the biggest difference is under the bonnet. With 200cc less displacement than the Elite and Premium models, the Active’s 1.4 litre petrol four has a lot less power and torque to work with.

It needs to be worked harder to keep up with traffic as a result, and although its 73kW output isn’t too far behind the Polo 77TSI and Barina, its modest 136Nm torque output makes it less sprightly off the line than those too.

2010 hyundai i20 australia active elite premium 05
Still, it’s more powerful and torquier than the entry-level Toyota Yaris YR 1.3 (63kW/121Nm) and auto-equipped Ford Fiesta models (71kW/125Nm), and about par with the more expensive Mazda2 (76kW/137Nm).

The gearshift and clutch action of the manual transmission is smooth, although the gate into first and second could be better defined. The engine also seems slow to close the throttle during gearchanges, although this is easily compensated for by lifting off the accelerator a fraction earlier than normal.

As with any light car, road noise is more noticeable due to less sound insulation. Coarse-chip surfaces can be rather noisy, but wind noise isn’t especially intrusive. Both engines however - the 1.4 and 1.6 - sound harsh and buzzy at higher rpm.

 

Our First Drive Verdict

On the whole, the i20 is a massive step forward – and upwards – for Hyundai. The design is fresh and modern, and the 1.6 litre engine’s performance puts it near the top of the segment.

It also comes loaded with standard equipment.

Even the entry-level Active models are far from stripper-spec, and, although it’s priced at a level above the Getz, the i20 still represents strong value within its segment. From September, standard side and curtain airbags will be added to the Active's spec sheet (along with a modest price rise), making the i20 one of the class leaders for safety equipment.

2010 hyundai i20 australia active elite premium 02
Its on-road manners are the icing on the cake. We were pleasantly surprised that in either auto or manual guise the i20 offers a decent drive.

That the auto is not a let-down (as it is with some in the light car segment) is especially important given Hyundai expects automatics to make up the majority of i20 sales.

Although initial sales volumes for the i20 are forecast to be modest in comparison to the Getz (Hyundai Australia expects to sell 5000 i20s by the end of the year), the car is bound to become one of the cornerstones of Hyundai’s local product line-up.

It is too early to predict whether the i20 will have the barn-storming success of the i30, but its nice style and on-road feel suggest it is going to win a lot of friends.

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