While the original i10 was the face of the scrappage scheme, and the i30 marked the brand’s first major step towards taking on the might of the Volkswagen group, the i20 has so far passed by relatively unnoticed despite strong sales since 2008 – until now that is.
Hyundai i20's assault on the supermini hierachy
With this model, Hyundai’s major assault on the supermini class really begins. Dominated by and continues to be by the Ford Fiesta and now by the new class leader - the more mature Seat Ibiza, the latest i20 now has to go toe-to-toe with not just them, but also the Skoda Fabia, the revitalised Nissan Micra and the funky Mini 3dr hatch - that is without contemplating the next gen Volkswagen Polo entering the fray at the end of 2017.
To broaden the supermini Hyundai's appeal, it is now available in three bodystyles - the conventional 5dr hatch, a three door coupé and a rugged-looking, crossover-esque shape dubbed the Active. As for engines, there are only five petrol options for buyers to muse over, with the diesels being dropped altogether from the i20 line-up. At the entry point of the range is a pair of 1.2 naturally aspirated petrol engines producing 74bhp and 83bhp respectively, followed by a 99bhp 1.4 petrol fitted curiously only with a four-speed automatic gearbox. Topping the range a pair of 1.0-litre turbocharged units, which seem to be the current vogue in small cars, producing 99bhp and 118bhp respectively. The lower powered unit 1.0 T-GDi is the only engine you can have with the rugged i20 Active.
As for standard equipment, the i20 is better equipped than its predecessor, and with five core trims to choose from for the 5dr hatchback, it should put it on par with the best in this class. Entry-level S models get 15in steel wheels, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, hill start assist and tinted rear windows on the outside, while inside there is remote central locking, a 60/40 folding rear bench, and USB connectivity fitted as standard. Upgrade to S Air and you'll find air conditioning and a cooled glovebox added to the i20.
SE models gain 15in alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, DAB radio, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors and a smartphone dock over the entry-level trims, while Premium Nav cars add 16in alloy wheels, climate control, auto lights and wipers, power folding door mirrors and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and a reversing camera.
Topping the five-door range is the Premium SE Nav trim which adds luxuries such as heated front seats and steering wheel, front parking sensors, and a panoramic sunroof. Those wanting the a more rugged looking supermini can opt for the i20 Active, which gains all the equipment of an SE-trimmed car plus 17in alloys, lots of plastic body mouldings and a rugged body kit complete with skid plates and wheel arch mouldings. Want a three-door version of the i20, then you are limited to two options - SE or Premium Nav.
Can the i20 match its on-paper stats in the real world?
On paper the i20 seems promising. The 1.4-litre normally aspirated petrol engine we tested has been newly developed with this car in mind, and although it has to make do without a turbocharger – unlike all its major class rivals – 99bhp in a car that weighs just over a tonne should provide enough poke to easily nip in and out of town traffic.
Start it up, and at tick-over you can barely tell the engine is on at all – testament to the work Hyundai’s engineers have done to improve the sound-deadening, and all part of the new i20’s grown-up appeal. The longer, lower body is a lot wider than before, and in fact it looks and feels more like a car from the class above than a dinky supermini.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox has a slicker action than before, with new multi-cone synchro rings in the first two ratios and a guide plate to make it feel more precise, although it’s still too easy to select third instead of first by mistake, and be left grasping for the right gear as the lights change and the revs die away.
High-strength steels make up a large proportion of the new body shell, and the extra rigidity has definitely made an impact on the new i20’s dynamic character.
Turn hard into a series of corners, and there’s more grip, it resists body roll, and the steering – while rather slow and lacking the precision of say, a Fiesta, has lost much of the wooly, vague dead-zone around the straight-ahead that you got in the previous i20.
It’s still not a driver’s car though. The Fiesta still strikes the best balance between ride and handling in this class, with the others close behind, and the ride in the i20 is probably its weakest area.
Speed bumps and longer undulations are well absorbed, but any sharp ridges or expansion joints expose a seeming lack of suspension travel, sending a big thump into the cabin.
The other problem is power. The petrol versions we drove (the 84bhp 1.2-litre, and this 99bhp 1.4) felt gutless once out on the open road, and introducing any sort of steep incline only highlights the naturally-aspirated motor’s reedy 99lb ft of torque.
Inside the cabin, though, the i20 really gets one up on its rivals. The 326-litre boot capacity – rising to 1042 litres with the rear seats down – has been increased from 295 litres in the previous generation, and is 34 litres more than that offered by the Fiesta.
The i20's interior is bigger than the current gen Polo, but the cabin materials are not up to the same standard, with less soft-touch plastics, and some oddly-coloured panels and textures. It also does without a touch-screen infotainment system, instead offering a smart phone dock, and a simple dot-matrix radio display.
If you’re looking for a practical, well-made supermini with generous kit levels, and a big boot, then the new i20 deserves a place on your shortlist. Yet despite its improved dynamics, it’s still not quite as fun or comfortable as the best cars in this class.
In the face of so much turbocharged competition, it’s perhaps no surprise that the i20 feels a bit underpowered, but the fact it’s also not especially efficient (a CO2 figure of 127g/km means the 1.4 will cost you £110 in road tax alone) does count against it.
The new Vauxhall Corsa with a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine is a few hundred pounds cheaper, nearly as roomy inside, and feels much faster in everyday driving. The new 1.0-litre T-GDI engines do give the stylish little Hyundai an extra string to its bow, but it lacks the overall refinement of the smoother Ford EcoBoost and the Volkswagen Group TSI engines.