From a sales point of view, for the last 20 years, the Volkswagen Polo has been the most popular hatchback in South Africa, without question. Every other compact hatch, including the Hyundai i20, watched from the periphery as the Polo and, subsequently, the Polo Vivo, dominated sales charts.
With a massive target on Volkswagen’s back, the latest Hyundai i20 has set its sights on the classy German. With sales north of 105 000 since its launch 12 years ago, Hyundai will look to garner new customers and encourage current owners to trade up to the fresher i20 model.
Straight off the bat, the third-generation hatchback was a clear winner with the team in terms of styling. Its edgy aesthetic is highlighted by sculpted front and rear bumpers and a large black grille that gives the Hyundai i20 a markedly self-confident appearance. From the front, halogen headlights are at one with the grille to create the same cohesive design you find on the US-market Elantra and Santa Cruz bakkie. Triangular-shaped LED daytime-running lights add extra attention to the front end.
Similar treatment can be found at the rear with the lights forming the lower section of the i20’s rear glass. Hyundai aimed to create emotive value and a distinct look in its compact hatchback and by the team’s reaction, they nailed it. It’s arguably one of the best designs produced by Hyundai’s German design centre and boldly heralds a new philosophy the firm likes to call Sensuous Sportiness.
Despite sitting 20 mm higher than its predecessor (170 mm off the ground), the new Hyundai i20 portrays a squatter stance thanks to a 41 mm increase in width. For the record, the wheelbase has been lengthened by 10 mm, too, to make for a more spacious interior package. This results in noticeably more cabin space than the previous model with 88 mm more legroom for rear passengers and 40 mm more shoulder room.
In profile, a strong shoulder line stretches down its flanks towards the C-pillar, one that morphs into black and continues to the roof for the two-tone effect on our test unit, which is a R5 000 option. The look is arresting and it has the sort of striking qualities that could sway design-conscious buyers keen to break away from the hatchback norm. Smart looking, 16-inch wheels complete the package on our Fluid model.
It’s a pity then that the inside of the i20 doesn’t quite reflect its exterior as convincingly. The faux-leather seats for one, lack lumbar support and one tester felt they could have been more supportive in cornering situations. Those familiar with Hyundai’s latest crop of models will find commonalities in the i20’s cabin.
It is littered with excellent touches such as a leather-trimmed steering wheel, an easy-to-use 8,0-inch touchscreen housing the infotainment system, and a large 10,25-inch digital instrument cluster for the driver providing all information in a clear, concise manner.
Hyundai has put a lot of emphasis on the features of the new i20 and, in flagship Fluid specification, niceties like a charging pad for a smartphone, dual USB ports (one for fast-charging) and a 12-volt socket are welcome additions. Hyundai has also catered for rear passengers with a USB port and two air vents in the back.
A letdown in an otherwise well put- together interior is the liberal use of plastics that are hard to the touch and lack the sophistication of the rest of the cabin. The rubber on the inside of the driver’s door aperture didn’t sit completely flush with that of the door; one tester noted this after having to firmly close the door to make it shut.
Let’s get to the meat of the meal, though … the main talking point if you will: the deployment of Hyundai’s three-pot turbopetrol for the first time in the compact Hyundai i20. On paper, it develops 90 kW and 172 N.m and, on the road, performance is in keeping with those impressive figures. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and the team welcomed the shelf-shifter option. In application, the engine offers great shove from 1 500 r/min when peak torque is available. Be ready to row through the gears though, as the little turbo-triple runs out of revs pretty quickly and the driver has to search for its sweet spot to extract maximum performance.
Under the body, the i20’s suspension comprises McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle at the rear. Not the most sophisticated setup with body roll prevalent through the corners but one that presents satisfactory ride comfort all the same. The power assistance to the steering is stronger than we’d like, which leaves the helm feeling vague around dead centre but this lack of directness goes away as soon as there is some directional input directed to the front wheels.
One thing beyond question is how much Hyundai has improved the i20 in comparison to the previous model: the drive is in another league, it has more standard kit and is arguably the most desirable looking in the competitive B-segment at the moment. Is that enough to sway consumers away from the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2? The proof of the pudding for Hyundai, will be in the sales figures.
Price: R335 900
0-100 km/h: 10,34 seconds
Top speed: 190 km/h
Power: 90 kW
Torque: 172 N.m
CAR fuel index: 7,80 L/100 km
CO2: 124 g/km