From £10,0308

Third-generation city car returns to a class many are deserting. Can it make a case for itself?

It seems a slightly odd thing to write but, if you’ve been paying attention to recent goings-on in the wider motoring industry, you might well have concluded that the Hyundai i10, the subject of this week’s road test, shouldn’t really exist.

For some time now, we’ve been told that tiny, petrol-powered city cars such as the new, third-generation Hyundai i10 are becoming increasingly difficult for their makers to make money from. Sure, they’re still a fairly excellent source of affordable personal transport for urban dwellers, but the business case behind them isn’t quite as straightforward as it once was.

The i10’s rear diffuser won’t exactly fool anyone into thinking that it’s in any way functional, but it does lend the Hyundai an appealingly sporty aesthetic.

Profit margins on small cars have always been rather, well, small. These models might be diminutive in stature, but their platforms and powertrains and production lines still cost a fortune to develop and run. In any case, you don’t need a Bezos-esque level of business acumen to understand that if you then sell them cheaply, you’ll be looking at slim returns at best. With emissions regulations becoming ever more stringent, they’re not quite as attractive on paper as they once were, either. Here in the UK, budgetary changes in April 2017 caused many to lose the VED-exempt status their sub-100g/km emissions ratings had previously afforded them.

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Add into all of this an exploding compact crossover market into which investment is undoubtedly more profitably injected and you might understand why some manufacturers are binning city cars from their line-ups entirely. Some, like the Volkswagen Group, have instead electrified their A-segment offerings – but then that doesn’t do much to solve the original question of cost.

So you’ll see why this new, exclusively petrol-powered i10’s arrival comes as something of a surprise. Of course, a huge amount of Hyundai’s European success stemmed from the popularity of this car’s predecessors, and the South Korean firm will be keen to see that continue. But given the climate into which this third-generation car emerges, it’s clear the stakes have never been higher. Time to see if Hyundai’s commitment to its small car formula has been worth it.

Hyundai i10 design & styling

As with the previous i10, this new version is built at Hyundai’s Izmit plant in Turkey for European markets and it shares its platform with the Kia Picanto. In its metamorphosis from second- to third-generation form, Hyundai’s smallest model has experienced a bit of a growth spurt, but the changes to its overall footprint aren’t drastic and should improve interior spaciousness.

Overall length has crept up by 5mm, but it’s the fact that its wheelbase has been stretched by 40mm that should have the greatest effect in the cabin.

The roofline has been lowered by 20mm and width increased by 20mm to lend the i10 a more squat, athletic stance than before. In fact, the general consensus among our testers is that this new car’s styling is one thing that Hyundai has well and truly nailed. Where its predecessor was an attractive if largely featureless device, this new third-gen car has all the chiselled good looks, chic visual trinketry and premium appeal to see it confidently mingle with the established class elite.

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There’s enough visual aggression about its sharp front end to shake off the ‘cutesy’ image that’s so often attached to cars in this class, but not so much that it appears contrived or try-hard. In any case, Hyundai has long claimed that a healthy amount of its sales stem from customers taking a shine to its vehicles’ designs, and we’ve no doubt the i10 is on a strong footing to see this continue.

From launch, the i10 is available with a choice of two naturally aspirated petrol engines: a 66bhp 1.0-litre triple and the 1.2-litre four-pot that straddles the front axle of our test car. Both powerplants are available with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automated manual transmission, and ours uses the five-speed manual to direct its 83bhp and 87lb ft to the front wheels. A sportier N Line model with a 98bhp turbocharged three-pot will arrive in the summer.

As for its suspension, the new i10 doesn’t deviate from the established class formula. MacPherson struts are employed at the front axle and a torsion beam sits across the rear. The rear torsion bar is now U-shaped as opposed to triangle-shaped to improve stability, while a stronger steering torsion bar and quicker steering gear should help to sharpen steering response.

The i10 range at a glance

Hyundai Motor UK offers the i10 in three trim levels: SE, SE Connect and Premium. It’s a particularly simple range because – besides metallic paint – there aren’t any options to add until you hit top grade (at which point you can jazz up your car with a Tech pack, a two-tone paint job, or both).

Bottom-rung SE cars are likely to be pretty rare birds, spottable on the outside by their steel wheels.

The £1000 spend necessary to trade up from SE to SE Connect buys you Hyundai’s 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with reversing camera and smartphone mirroring and it’s unlikely that very many buyers will want to go without them.

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Price £14,995 Power 83bhp Torque 87lb ft 0-60mph 12.3sec 30-70mph in fourth 24.2sec Fuel economy 42.0mpg CO2 emissions tbc 70-0mph 44.7m

Hyundai i10 First drives