Hyundai i20 (2015) First Drive

I20 2 1800x1800

Hyundai new model launches in Gauteng follow a pattern: quick in, quick out, an insightful industry and model-related talk by Stanley Anderson, Marketing Director at Hyundai Automotive SA, a drive that takes half the morning, and apart from lunch, that’s pretty much it.

The new i20 launch on February 5 was no different, and the interesting bit was analysing just how important i20 sales are to Hyundai here. Last year saw Hyundai lose some passenger market share as a whole in this country, and although Anderson put this down to a lack of new product compared to some of the Korean-based company’s main rivals, pricing definitely had something to do with it.

i20 has Tough Competition

You get an idea of what a major player the i20 is in this country when you discover that in its market segment it is number two, behind VW’s all-conquering Polo, but ahead of the likes of Ford’s Fiesta, Renault’s Clio IV, Kia’s Rio, Toyota’s Yaris, Nissan’s Micra and Suzuki’s Swift.

And the sales figures of this car over the past five years also tend to be an eye-opener. Since 2009, the previous-gen i20 sold 68 631 units. Do the math and you realise that’s a solid average of over 1 000 units a month, impressive for a car that only had a mild face lift in its life cycle.

The style is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and there is far less of the Fluidic Sculpture approach on this car than there has been on the current Elantra and Accent models. It’s rather been a case of stretching the little hatchback slightly, creating shorter overhangs, freeing up more interior space and modernising key elements like the distinctive trapezoidal grille. On the flanks, Hyundai mentions key elements like the high styling line just below the windows and “sculptured” undercuts on the body panels to get away from a slap sided appearance.

At the rear, the car’s most distinctive design feature is found in the tail lamps positioned at the outmost edges of each side of the rear, with a blistered look blending into the rear wheel arches and giving the car a staunch, planted look from the rear, with the wheels placed close to the body panels and thus avoiding the soft, tucked-in look that afflicted some previous examples of Hyundai hatch-dom.

Improvements Inside

The biggest changes, perhaps are inside, where there has been a huge effort to use premium-level plastic in areas like the door, switch-gear surrounds, and on the dashboard, which is now mounted higher and further forward, to free up leg space for the front passengers.

Talking of space, the boot is quite impressive for a hatch of this size at just under 300 litres and there are large stash-spaces in the cabin too for outsized cans of energy drinks or giant cups of coffee.

Same Engines

Engine-wise, there has been no change from the previous offerings on the i20, although the 1.6-litre model is no longer in the line-up.  Power outputs are competitive without being earth-shaking: the 1.2-litre is rated at 61 kW and 115 Nm, with the 1.4 (which we drove) at 74 kW and 133 Nm.

The car used for the launch drive was the 1.4 manual, which is a six-speeder, and on level open road cruising it is possible to use sixth regularly, with down-shifts only required for gradients or for overtaking. It is interesting to note that none of the journos present at the launch asked about performance, and there was scant mention of it in the media release. This is not a performance car, but a utility vehicle with the required level of creature comfort and sophistication now demanded by this market.

i20 Positioning

And indeed, the new Hyundai achieves a level of sophistication in terms of ride and steering feel that is now very close to the best of Europeans in this market. The chassis is not quite there yet – but it’s so close that the target-market customers probably wouldn’t notice the difference between this car in the way it handles, compared, say, to the benchmark Polo or the excellent, but ageing Suzuki Swift.

The thing is, Hyundais are no longer the inexpensive cars that they were a decade ago, thanks to the globalisation of the brand. They have to compete head to head with the best, and yes, the i20 is a pretty good bet in this market. One of the indications that exchange rate movements have affected Hyundai is to be found in the fact that, while the five-year/150 000 km warranty is still in place, the sticker pricing only includes a two-year/30 000 km service plan on the 1.2-litre Motion model, while the 1.4 Fluid model gets a slightly more generous, but still frugal three-year/60 000 km service plan as part of the deal. Extended service plans are available at extra cost.

Pricing

Thus the new i20 range comes in with a model line-up pretty much at the lower end of the range available internationally. Right now there are three models: the 1.2 Motion manual at R184 900, the 1.4 Fluid manual at R204 900 and the 1.4 Fluid Automatic at R214 900.

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