We test Hyundai's eagerly anticipated light crossover...

If there’s one vehicle that helped Hyundai gain widespread popularity on the local front, it has to be the original Tucson. The plucky Korean SUV found favour with the SA-buying public by offering an affordable and well-specced alternative to the established brands. As a result, young families flocked to Hyundai showrooms in their droves. Through its subsequent generations, from ix35 back to Tucson, this compact SUV has grown in quality and sophistication, but also price. And that has left a gap at the lower end of Hyundai’s line-up. It is a space that the Creta steps into.

The Creta is the smallest member of the Hyundai SUV/crossover family that includes the aforementioned Tucson and larger Santa Fe. Spiritually, though, this is a modern-day interpretation of the original Tucson, measuring a matchbox length shorter in length and width than that 2001 model. In today’s market, casting a footprint of this size places it in direct competition with other light and compact crossovers such as the Kia Soul, Volkswagen Golf SV, Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster.

First called the ix25 and launched at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show, the version sold in our market is made in India. Its design is inspired by the company’s Fluidic Design Sculpture visual language and shares many traits with other members of the Hyundai family, most notably the hexagonal grille, oversized headlamps and distinct crease running along the flanks. The rising nature of the latter is an effort to create a sense of movement even when standing still.

In conjunction with a tapered greenhouse, the Creta takes on a cab-forward appearance with a sense of solidity. The small crossover also boasts an impressive ground clearance of 190 mm, making it an ideal kerb-hopper.

The sense of solidity continues in the cabin, with simplicity clearly a key aesthetic. From the layout and look of the instrument cluster, to the facia and major controls, there is no unnecessary fanfare, just a well-laid out interior with impressive sturdiness to the switchgear. Hints of the Fluidic Sculpture can be seen in the hard-plastic facia, too, as it flows into the front door handles.

This high-spec Executive model boasts a full-colour touchscreen infotainment system equipped with a reversing camera and satellite navigation, although the latter wasn’t the most accurate or quickest we’ve encountered. In direct sunlight, we also struggled to read the shiny screen and a matte finish would work much better. This system is not the excellent European-spec one found in the new Sportage and it’s very possible this is a cost-cutting exercise.

The air-conditioning is also manually operated and not of the climate-control variety; again, a likely way to cut costs as we know the Creta’s South African launch was delayed until Hyundai could get the pricing-versus-specification-balance right. Standard on the list is contrasting two-tone leather trim and a light-coloured roof lining that lends a sense of airiness to the cabin.

Not that the cabin really needs any help in that regard. Even the very tallest members of the test team found an abundance of headroom, both in the front and rear seats. Kneeroom, too, is more than adequate for the vast majority of occupants, even comparing favourably with that of the larger Tucson. Luggage volume is smaller than that of a Kia Soul or Ford EcoSport, but no tighter than a VW Golf’s, and it houses a full-size alloy spare wheel under the boot board.

Powering the newcomer is a slightly older-generation 1,6-litre turbodiesel. The engine fires up with that distinct diesel clatter and sustains an audible presence regardless of speed. The inline-four produces 94 kW and 260 N.m of torque, which aren’t particular high figures, but close enough to outputs of major rivals. Our range-topping test unit was fitted with a six-speed automatic torque-converter transmission that is connected to the front wheels, and it’s the only transmission option available with this turbodiesel engine. The torque convertor unit provides smooth shifts and is perfectly mated with the powerplant.

In our battery of tests, the Creta performed well, although it lags a little behind its rivals in outright pace. You need to plan overtaking manoeuvres and be careful to have plenty of space ahead, as the Creta doesn’t accelerate particularly quickly higher up in the speed range.  The light crossover registered an impressive fuel consumption of 6,3 L/100 km on our standardised route that takes in a mix of urban and motorway driving; that’s considerably better than Hyundai’s claim of 7,5. Thanks to the anti-lock brakes, it managed to achieve an average braking time of 3,12 seconds, earning it a good rating on our subjective scale.

The Creta’s primary ride quality is very good, no doubt helped by those plump, 65-profile tyres, although the occasional thud can be heard rather than felt in the cabin. On less than ideal roads, however, the quality deteriorates to being jittery, which is probably due to the semi-rigid rear suspension arrangement. While there is no electronic stability programme, the Creta doesn’t possess any tricky handling traits and the Goodyear tyres noisily announce a loss of grip. Thankfully, there is a good level of heft to the steering action, not like Korean power-assisted setups of yore that were devoid of weight and completely artificial in feel.



TEST SUMMARY

Overall, the Creta is difficult to fault. It is well priced, has more standard specification than a number of its counterparts and it comes with Hyundai’s five-year service plan. Despite scoring well, we feel that it lacks a bit of characterful sparkle or charm.

Considering the sales success enjoyed with the Tucson/ix35, Hyundai took a surprisingly long time to introduce a car into the light-crossover segment of our market but, now that it’s here, we suspect that the Korean firm will find several thousand buyers for its new model, in much the same way it did with the original Tucson.

While there are two naturally aspirated petrol Creta options as well (a manual and an automatic transmission), there is a distinct lack of turbodiesel automatic crossovers on offer in South Africa and it’s here that this car will not only find a market, but create one as its arrival stirs competitors to launch similar derivatives into this ever-growing segment.

*From the March 2017 issue of CAR magazine