Hyundai Creta (2017) International First Drive


Hyundai Automotive SA will be the next major carmaker to join the compact family car/crossover fray when it launches the Creta in February 2017. What can local consumers expect? We have pre-launch details and our India-based correspondent Anubhav Sharma has driven it…

The compact crossover craze has graduated from being a phenomenon to becoming a pivotal segment in the global auto industry. It’s well documented that sedan sales are suffering because of the public’s growing predilection for SUVs and similarly-styled family vehicles… sales statistics certainly bear that out.

It’s hardly surprising, given that South African consumers are spoiled for choice in the compact family car segment: Ford’s EcoSport leads the charge, and, if you discount the premium manufacturers’ products and hatchbacks that have merely been cladded up for effect, Chery, Citroen, Fiat, Honda, Jeep, Kia, Mahindra, Mazda, Mini, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Subaru and Suzuki offer options too.   

The Creta looks purposeful and comes with the requisite black side cladding, 16-inch alloys and roof rails.

However, market leaders Toyota and Volkswagen don’t have contenders in that market – in the case of the former, not yet anyway. It is, therefore, significant that another volume-seller, Hyundai, is readying a strong contender – the Creta.

The Creta, as you may remember, was shown first at the Beijing Auto Show in 2014 and went on sale relatively soon thereafter. It shares its Hyundai-Kia platform with the current i30, Kia Soul and Kia Ce’ed among other cars in the family.

Most markets need compact cars that offer space, off-roader looks, higher ground clearance and an abundance of features. The Creta was Hyundai's answer. China and India were the first recipients and the newcomer has been very well received.

The standard LED running lights add a sense of urban sophistication.

Purposeful SUV-inspired looks

The biggest challenge insofar as compact family car design is concerned is that a car absolutely has to look the part; the last thing a manufacturer wants is for its product to be labelled a mere "hatchback on steroids". Hyundai, we feel, has got the SUV look spot on. The wide grille, tall stance, a rising shoulder line and the floating roof is a good mix of SUV styling and Hyundai’s fluidic design language.

The ground clearance (190 mm) is not class leading, but sufficient for traversing so-called "B-roads". The 16-inch alloys (standard across the range) add to the SUV look of the Creta. The rear aspect is a bit plain, even though Hyundai has tried to carry on with the SUV look with a widened bumper.

On the inside

Unlike the outside, where it is important to look like an SUV, most buyers want the inside execution to be as plush and comfortable as a car. Hyundai has certainly attempted to do that by packing the Creta with numerous bells and whistles.

The interior does not mark a major stylistic departure from previous Hyundais; a touchscreen infotainment system will be standard on SA-spec cars.

As with most modern Hyundais, the South African-spec Creta will come with leather upholstery, automatic single-zone climate control (which seems to be borrowed from the i20), dual front, side and curtain airbags, fog lamps, roof rails and a reverse-view camera, to name just a few features. 

The cabin is well-appointed, but the hard plastics don’t give it a very modern look. In South Africa, the Creta will sport a full touchscreen “infotainment” system that includes satellite navigation. Practicality was clearly a strong focus area for the Creta’s development team, with enough nooks and cubby holes provided for cups, bottles, mobile phones, coins etc. There are also nice touches like grab handles and leather door pads.

Five adults and 2 mid-size luggage pieces can fit inside the Creta, but the cabin will accommodate 4 adults more comfortably. The high seating position is welcome, but doesn’t work very well with the high window line.

Under the bonnet

South Africa is expected to get the 1.6-litre petrol (manual and AT) and 1.6-litre turbodiesel automatic; both 1.6 engines are definitely up for the job.

The 4-cylinder petrol makes peak power of 90 kW and 154 Nm of torque, whereas its turbodiesel sibling punches out 96 kW and a frisky 265 Nm.

190 mm of ground clearance is afforded; although the Creta is not a genuine SUV, it copes well with country roads.

The petrol is a smooth and relaxed motor, which is good to potter around the city. Stop-and- go traffic is not a problem at all and it reacts to frequent throttle inputs well. However, it does not like being pushed and, unfortunately, you have to give it the stick for the motor to wake up. It does so grudgingly and you can hear the engine "complaining" inside the cabin. The low torque and a weak mid-range don’t help its cause either.

The diesel is a comparatively brighter star with its refinement, wider torque spread and low noise levels. The familiar turbo lag (up to 1 800 rpm) exists, but the car isn’t a drag to drive until the turbo kicks in. The broad range torque, however, bails you out in cut and thrust driving conditions and the car picks up speed smoothly. In the city, its driving experience is on par with that of its petrol sibling, but overtaking requires less effort.

Both the engines are mated with a torque converter 6-speed auto 'box, which isn’t necessarily a downer as the transmission is well-suited to city driving. The gear shifts are neither fast nor furious, but are in tune with the engine’s capabilities.

Whereas the Creta offers workmanlike performance, its best on-road characteristic is its pliant ride quality.

Even on the diesel derivative, the 'box does not like a heavy right foot, but if you insist the gearbox will extract whatever it can out of the engine. There is the option to shift manually, although it upshifts automatically at the redline.

If you don’t mind using your left foot, opt for the 1.6 petrol manual. The gearing ratios are better spaced and the engine responds quite well. The 20-to-70 kph range is well handled in the 3rd gear only, making the Creta reasonably perky on the daily commute.

Absorbent ride, benign handling

The handling department hasn’t been one of Hyundai’s strong suits, but the Creta will surprise you. It feels tight, when compared to other Hyundais, and inspires confidence when going fast too. The steering is a delight: light and easy to drive, but weighs up nicely as you pick up speed.

Meanwhile, the Creta has a decidedly car-like suspension setup and absorbs most bumps and bad roads confidently. There will be an occasional thud, as the suspension travel is not really set up for an SUV, but that’s hardly a compromise for an "urban off-roader", is it?

Thanks to the pliant suspension and the longer wheelbase, the rear seat occupants will feel more like they're riding in a sedan than a tall SUV.

The Creta's luggage area is said to accommodate up to 400 litres in cargo.

How it stacks up against the competition

The compact family car segment is pretty packed, with strong contenders like the Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-3, Suzuki Vitara, Jeep Renegade, to name just a few.

All these cars have their pros and cons, and the Creta seems primed for the fight. The Creta has more legroom and headroom when compared with the EcoSport and the Vitara, for example. It looks more ruggedly SUV-ish than the decidedly crossover-flavoured Mazda CX-3 and its ride quality is more pliant compared with the Renegade. Does this mean the Creta is the one to buy in the segment?

The competition has strong points too, like the torquey turbodiesel option in the EcoSport, the excellent fit and finish of the CX-3 or the off-road capabilities of the flagship Renegade. We can’t decide until we know the price, can we?

The rear of the Creta is not that distinctive, but its rear bumper features a sporty apron.

Summary & price estimate

Size-wise, the Creta sits almost exactly in between the Ford EcoSport and the Nissan Qashqai and price-wise, expect the range to begin at just over R300 000 and end near the R400 000 mark. This does make things interesting. The Creta’s strongest points are its executive specification and a capacious interior, although its petrol derivatives deliver workmanlike, rather than exhilarating, performance.

As we suggested at the outset, there are there are good options from the competition, but the Hyundai badge on the Creta’s nose is not insignificant. Buoyed by the Korean manufacturer’s reputation for solid value, build quality and reliability (which allows Hyundai to offer a 7-year/200 000 km warranty), the Creta is likely to start its South Africa journey with a strong advantage. Being voted the Car of the Year in India certainly gives the newcomer star appeal...     

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