Hyundai’s revived Atos has once again set its sights on the ever-important budget segment...
Quirky in design, packaging and name, the original Hyundai Atoz (yes, with a z) arrived in South Africa at a time when our market still featured the likes of the Fiat Uno and Daewoo Matiz. Its tall, narrow stance may have divided opinion, yet few argued against its plucky character and basic but functional interior.
By the time the first significant update arrived in 2005 (together with a name change to Atos), the littlest Hyundai had – along with its compatriot Kia Picanto – established itself as a viable entry-level alternative to the likes of the long-in-the-tooth Volkswagen CitiGolf and Toyota Tazz. Together with the Getz and original Tucson, the Atos played a significant role in the rise of the Hyundai brand in SA.
Discontinued in 2013 (the i10 assumed the mantle as sole budget contender), the recent development of an all-new Hyundai Santro – Atos as we know it – for the all-important Indian market has paved the way for this nameplate to resume its role from the departed i10 as the entry-point to this thriving Korean brand. Built on a new K1 platform, the modern Atos may have retained the relatively tall (1 560 mm) stance of the original 1999 car but is thankfully both longer (by 115 mm) and wider (by 120 mm) than before. Available in just one derivative for now, the test team was universal in its praise of the level of character and quirk within such a compact package, even if those plastic wheel covers will require cable ties to lock them in place in our market.
Praise was not as forthcoming about the new Atos’ interior packaging, notably its fixed driving position. With no adjustment offered on the steering column and only a traditional fore-and-aft plus backrest-rake movement available on the nevertheless comfortable driver’s seat, all testers, short and tall, noted compromised seating behind a low-sited steering wheel and subsequently obscured instrumentation. Sure, this is something an owner would grow accustomed to but it’s the weakest point in an otherwise superb cabin. Another anomaly sees the controls for the electric front windows sited behind the transmission lever.
While hard plastics obviously abound – including on the surfaces of various storage bins – it is difficult to fault the levels of fit and finish in the cabin relative to its cheaper-feeling rivals. Standard air-conditioning and front electric windows aside, the fitment of a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with steering wheel-mounted controls that feature both Bluetooth and smartphone mirroring functionality is a welcome inclusion. The latter is accessed via a USB port and includes a 12 V power socket.
However, some owners may feel a little short-changed with a return to the traditional key-in-the-slot central-locking system and the need to manually lock the doors once on the move. The absence of a rear window wiper or even the option of a demist function is arguably more jarring, though.
If the wider stance of the car means more shoulderroom for occupants, unlike the relatively small (184 litres) luggage compartment, headroom has never been a weak point of the Atos package.
Weighing 68 kg more than the Atoz tested in June 1999, the new car’s sub-one-tonne frame is powered by the brand’s Epsilon G4HG four-cylinder engine mated with a five-speed manual transmission. Keen to rev, this 50 kW/99 N.m s-o-h-c engine offers impressive spirit, especially round town. With easy-to-operate gearing perfectly set to cope with the tight confines of a hustle-and-bustle urban environment, the trade-off is a more frantic execution on the open road. In the absence of a sixth ratio, it’s best to maintain 100 km/h cruising speeds to keep the revs from nearing the 4 000 r/min mark.
Even without this optimal extra gear and despite the likelihood of more regular downshifts to maintain momentum at performance-sapping altitudes, the Hyundai should match the brand’s claimed sub-6,0 L/100 km average fuel consumption.
The brand says it focused on torsional rigidity in the Atos and, as such, despite its relatively tall stance, the new car feels suitably stable on the road. The combination of featherlight steering and soft suspension means the Atos can prove lively when driven enthusiastically. Yet, in real-world terms, this Hyundai is easy to manoeuvre and copes admirably with most road imperfections.
A hot topic in this budget-conscious segment is safety. Both Datsun and Renault have recently upgraded their respective offerings and the decidedly more substantial-feeling new Atos arrives boasting standard ABS-assisted brakes – capable of an average 3,16-second tested emergency stopping time – as well as dual front airbags. While neither the updated Go and Kwid has undergone fresh Global NCAP crash testing (the previous Go+ lists a one-star driver and two-star passenger rating; the Kwid offers a solitary star for both), the Hyundai boasts a slightly more palatable two stars for both front and rear passenger protection. The inclusion of Isofix points is also a step in the right direction.
A more complete package than its forebear, the role of the Atos within Hyundai’s greater portfolio remains unchanged. Besides providing a compelling entry point (with the Grand i10 positioned just above it) into this successful Korean brand, the Atos package has proven quite the segment disrupter over the years. While the original model offered us a refreshing taste of clever packaging and a relatively solid build quality compared to the Fiat Uno, and the later updated version tempted more than 45 000 South African buyers away from the establishment, the smallest Hyundai has a habit of popping up at just the right time.
Despite our misgivings about safety including structural integrity, the success enjoyed by the Kwid and Go proves how eager cash-strapped consumers are to enjoy the freedom of mobility afforded by personal transport. The arrival of the refined Atos, at a price aimed squarely at those two, should be seen as a breath of fresh air.
Backed by a big dealership network and steady resale values, a seven-year/200 000 km warranty (including two years’ drivetrain cover but excluding some components) and a service plan to cover the first scheduled visit to the workshop, the arrival of the new Atos should make for interesting voting for our 2020 Top 12 Best Buys awards come the April issue.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Hyundai Atos price and specs here