FRANSCHHOEK – The Hyundai i20 is a bona fide success story in our market. Since its local launch in July 2009 – which, incidentally, I also attended and from which I came away extremely impressed with the new Korean – nearly 90 000 have been sold; a huge number in local terms.

The second-generation model, launched in February 2015, has maintained that momentum and, in 2017, the i20 was the third-bestselling vehicle in the small-car segment after the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta.

It therefore stands to reason that Hyundai wouldn’t fiddle with its winning recipe too much. And it hasn’t. This facelifted i20 is effectively the same car as before, only it’s been subjected to mild styling tweaks, enhancements in standard specification and, in the place of the quirky 1,4 Sport, the introduction of a new plastic-cladded Active model, driven here.

The line-up and the tweaks

Like before, there are six derivatives, running the pricing gamut from the entry-level 1,2 Motion at R229 900 up to the 1,4 Fluid AT at R284 900. On average, pricing has increased by R5 000 per model, but that’s been countered with additional convenience items.

Styling-wise, all i20 models aside from the Active boast somewhat fussy new bumpers and front grille, LED daytime-running lights, new rear lamp units and a reworked tailgate design. Furthermore, the alloy-wheel designs have been refreshed. The Active, meanwhile, sports plastic guard panels front and rear but, curiously, the pre-facelift i20’s rear-end design.

Inside, the latter model has trim elements painted red or blue depending on the exterior hue, while all i20 models gain a locally sourced seven-inch touchscreen-controlled infotainment system with aux-in and USB ports, plus Bluetooth. For R2 500 more, customers can upgrade the system to include sat-nav. Fluid and Active models have climate control, too, and thankfully Hyundai SA has added leather trim to the steering wheel on those derivatives.

That last addition enhances the otherwise plain interior ambience; while it feels rock solid, Hyundai could have taken this facelift further by adding soft-touch surfacing to the door cards and facia to bring the vehicle’s finish in line with its price-competitive Polo, Fiesta and Kia Rio rivals.

How it drives

On the road, the i20 still impresses with its overall refinement and ride comfort, and the light steering and direct but fuss-free shift quality of the six-speed manual mean it’s a complete doddle to drive. That said, possibly as a result of its higher ground clearance (170 mm), the Active displayed some looseness in its body control along our bumpy test route through Villiersdorp and on to Caledon. Normal models feel better tied down.

The 1,4-litre petrol engine beating under the bonnet of this Active variant displays few vices. Sure, its turbocharged rivals offer dollops of additional low-down torque, but thankfully the Hyundai unit is quiet and smooth. I also had a go in a 61 kW 1,2-litre Fluid, which struggled quite a bit more to maintain momentum up steep inclines.

In terms of safety spec, the i20 distinctly lags behind its rivals. Two airbags across the range are no longer competitive in this segment, and it’s a shame all models lack ESP and Isofix anchor points for child seats. Disc brakes aft, are however, standard, not always a given on small cars.

And how it rates...

It would, however, appear that insufficient active and passive safety tech doesn’t really concern Hyundai i20 buyers. What they do appreciate is the stellar reliability – it has some of the lowest warranty claim rates in the Hyundai stable – fuss-free nature and generally excellent refinement. The facelifted model does nothing to detract from those qualities and, in this Active derivative, adds welcome versatility with its higher ride height and urban-proof body cladding. The standard seven-year/200 000 km warranty simply sweetens the deal.