Hyundai i20 1,6 GLS (2009) Driving Impression

Hyundai I20 2009

Although Hyundai’s Getz can’t really be described as being exceptional in any particular area, this hasn't stopped it from being a big sales success (and brand builder) for Hyundai in South Africa. The key to its popularity lies in its value offering and consistency. It may not be a class leader in anything, but it’s more than good enough in most areas and appears to be very solidly built and reliable – owners rate these traits highly, just ask Toyota. And now there’s the Hyundai i20, a compact hatchback that attempts to move up the price ladder and take on the class leaders directly. Does it stand a chance?

European Looks for Hyundai i20

Whereas the stocky Getz appeared to be a quasi compact MPV, much like a Honda Jazz, the Hyundai i20 is a more traditional-looking B-segment hatchback that has been styled to appeal to European tastes. This dictates a curvy body with a somewhat generic face, but at least there are some interesting curves around the flanks to add some character. Importantly, the lack of flashiness means that the Hyundai i20 is unlikely to date fast. Usually a GLS badge would indicate high specification, but note that the i20 features 15-inch steel wheels, albeit ones that look very much like alloys. Fog lamps front and rear are standard, and the exterior boasts comprehensive colour-coding.

The interior represents a significant step up from the Getz. Benefitting from not only a longer and wider body than its sibling, the Hyundai i20 also has a longer wheelbase (2 525 mm). This has allowed Hyundai’s designers to package the i20 in such a way that it can compete with all its rivals in terms of passenger space (rear legroom included) as well as boot space (295 L). The boot, by the way, features a full-size spare wheel, which many South Africans still regard as a must-have – with good reason. The facia design is clean and modern, and makes a good quality impression even though the plastics are obviously hard (they don’t “look” hard though). Metallic-look trim inserts lift the ambience, and especially the neatly integrated audio system looks upmarket. There is also a comprehensive digital screen in the middle on top of the facia that displays road-trip information and even audio settings. While we’re on the subject of the sound system, it also boasts auxiliary and USB plug-in support and there are remote audio controls on the neat steering wheel.

Other standard features on the Hyundai i20 include air-conditioning, electric mirrors, power steering, electric windows all-round, two airbags and ABS with EBD. The cloth-upholstered seats offer good all-round comfort and the driver’s chair is height adjustable, which is not always a given at this price level. Together with the rake/reach-adjustable steering wheel, this ensures that most drivers will find a comfortable position.

Willing, economical engine for Hyundai i20

The Hyundai i20 GLS boasts one of the more powerful engines at its price level, with the 1,6-litre powerplant developing 91 kW and 156 Nm of torque. The engine boasts continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) and offers good responsiveness and flexibility, even out on the open road at higher speeds. Around town it endows the relatively lightweight (1 119 kg) i20 with nippy performance, including a sub-10 second 0-100 km/h sprint time.

More importantly, it is also very economical when driven with restraint, with a consumption figure of under 7 L/100 km being quite easily achievable. In this cut-throat segment a number of vehicles offer exceptionally well-balanced ride and handling characteristics. It is in this area where Hyundai’s lack of expertise starts to show somewhat. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the suspension set-up – a torsion beam configuration is used at the rear – and around town the compliancy is good. It is at higher speeds and on poorer surfaces where the Hyundai i20 struggles. Big bumps are felt in the cabin and can unsettle the car’s composure, and rippled or coarse road surfaces can make the car feel somewhat skittish. On these kinds of roads it is also very noticeable that the Hyundai i20 lags the class-best when it comes to NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) refinement. Road and tyre noise filter into the cabin and make the car feel less solid than its appearance inside and out suggest.

Dynamic prowess is unlikely to be high on the agenda for a typical Hyundai i20 buyer, but for what it’s worth, the Hyundai exhibits relatively benign handling characteristics. Grip levels aren’t very high, but the wide track helps the car to maintain a sense of stability during cornering. The steering, which offers little in the way of feedback or feel, is nonetheless light and accurate, making the Hyundai i20 pleasant to manoeuvre around town.

Hyundai i20 - Verdict

In many ways the Hyundai i20 comes across as a more grown-up Getz, which is certainly not a bad thing. There is an honesty and charm about the older vehicle that has largely been successfully transferred into the i20, and the more upmarket interior goes a long way to justifying Hyundai pricing it higher up the ladder. Against its new rivals, the Hyundai i20 is definitely competitive in terms of cabin space, features and performance/economy, but where it falls short is in its NVH refinement. With a little more sound-deadening the i20’s biggest drawback (road and tyre noise in the cabin) should be easily addressed.

We like:

• Neat cabin design • Equipment level • Performance • Value for money

We don’t like:

• Cabin noise insulation

Fast Facts:

Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol Power: 91 kW @ 6 300 rpm Torque: 156 Nm @ 4 200 rpm Transmission: Five-speed manual Wheels: 15-inch steel Top speed: 190 km/h 0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds Fuel economy: 5,9 L/100 km


Also consider:

Volkswagen Polo 1,6 Trendline: One of the most popular models in South Africa. The Polo offers an upmarket cabin and driving experience – refinement is much better than in the Hyundai i20. But at this price it lacks specification (including a service plan) and power.

Ford Fiesta 1,6 Ambiente: Getting pricey, but the specification is good and the driving entertainment arguably class-leading. The cabin is a cheery place, but lacks the Polo’s solidity. The Ford, however, has a standard service plan.

Suzuki Swift 1,5 GLS: Don’t underestimate the little Suzuki – it offers bags of character, a high-spec interior and impeccable build quality. It’s not as spacious as most of its rivals, though. Includes a long service plan.