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Hyundai turns on the style – just a little – for its third-generation Polo chaser

The Hyundai i20 has proven that, for the time being at least, a meat- and-potatoes kind of supermini can sell well even in style- savvy Europe.

Seven years ago, when we road-tested the previous Hyundai i20, we concluded that it was a competent, practical and versatile kind of small car, albeit a dry and anonymous one. Forgettable or not, however, it was good enough to sneak beyond 100,000 units per year in Europe in 2017 and consistently to do even better than that in India, which has become its biggest market.

Kink in the i20’s C-pillar styling is more impactful on higher-grade cars, where it’s picked out in chrome. It aligns nicely with the rear window and cleverly mirrors the shape of the tail-light

Now, as the third-generation i20 enters production in Turkey, Hyundai defines this car’s core attributes – quality, reliability and practicality – as ones that seem familiar for their worthiness of flavour. And yet the ambition and new-found confidence driving this model forwards is tentatively but plainly growing.

Having decided, nearly a decade ago, that the best way to deliver greater space was simply to build a bigger small car, Hyundai has continued in the same vein, so the new i20 is wider and longer than the car it replaces and still sizeable for its class. But it’s also the first Hyundai to come from a new styling initiative intended to make its cars more distinctive and have greater ‘emotional value’.

Aside from being a lot of car for not a lot of money, then, this new i20 has connectivity and advanced safety provisions boldly touted as best-in-class. It also has a simpler but broader derivative range than any of its predecessors, with a 48V mild hybrid joining the line-up and, more noticeably, a sportily styled and tuned N Line version on the way, as well as a Hyundai i20 N hot hatchback.

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Maybe now is the time for all that World Rally Championship exposure to sell some cars for Hyundai. So just how much of the supermini-buying market’s attention does this slightly more noticeable Hyundai now deserve? Our answer starts with the new mild-hybrid version of the i20 in entry-level SE Connect trim.

The i20 line-up at a glance

Just one engine is available in the new i20 at launch, but it can be had with either Hyundai’s ‘intelligent’ six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The trim heirarchy is very straightforward, too: SE Connect represents the entry level and is followed by Premium and Ultimate grades. Standard equipment is reasonably generous even at the entry level, and the only real available option is the choice of paint colour. This is the case regardless of the trim level chosen.

Hyundai i20 design & styling

Hyundai’s European design team has often been so conservative, over the years, as to make it difficult to tell the firm’s mid-life facelifts from its new-generation models. This i20 is all new, though, and its dimensions (30mm wider than before, 24mm lower of roofline and 10mm longer of wheelbase) confirm that. And while its design isn’t what you’d call daring, it does seem fresh and pretty clearly distinguished from its predecessor.

Although it’s still a conventional supermini with front-wheel drive, transverse-mounted engines, struttype front suspension and a torsion beam at the rear, the i20 has an all-steel chassis – and it’s a sufficiently light one to have made for an overall 4% weight saving in our test car compared with the previous, non-hybridised 1.0-litre i20, which is impressive in itself.

The new mild-hybrid system consists of a 48V lithium ion battery and current inverter (which form a roughly briefcase-sized unit carried under the boot floor, where the spare wheel well might otherwise be), plus an enlarged belt-driven startergenerator motor hung off the engine.

This electric motor only ever assists the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine for short bursts under acceleration, but it’s claimed to contribute to a running efficiency gain of up to 4% compared with a non-hybridised i20. That makes for up to 55.4mpg on the WLTP combined test, and that figure is the same whether you go for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or new ‘intelligent’ six-speed manual. (Even the manual gearbox can disconnect the engine from the driven axle automatically when you’re slowing down in order to coast and save fuel.)

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For now, the 1.0-litre T-GDi mildhybrid petrol engine is the only one on offer in the i20. In time, cheaper and more expensive petrols are likely to join the range, but diesel options were removed midway through the life of the outgoing model.

10 Hyundai i20 2021 road test review cabin

The i20’s predecessors have typically had fascias that seemed simply laid out rather than ‘designed’. It has never been a car to seem at all ‘loaded’ with technology. How quickly things can change.

Even our sub-£19,000 test car has a fully digital instrument screen integrated into a flight-console-like panel that passes behind the steering wheel rim and meets up with the central infotainment touchscreen to make one sweeping, dominant installation.

That Hyundai isn’t ready to abandon rows of physical buttons in cars like the i20 is notable – praiseworthy, even. But it could think more clearly about hierarchy.

The digital instruments are bright, simply rendered and clear, and the infotainment system is equally simple and easy to use, so even those suspicious of the creeping adoption of digital technology in mainstream cars have little to fear from either. But together, they certainly make a statement. This is clearly a new-generation i20 aimed at a younger, more technology-savvy buyer.

The rest of the cabin is likewise a surprise in places. The i20 feels big for a supermini – specifically, wide. Even larger adults sitting side by side can easily avoid brushing shoulders, elbows or knees, and there’s plenty of room for them to sit one behind the other in reasonable comfort.

There’s a fine driving position that’s quite low and dead straight, with lots of steering column adjustment. The front seats are a touch hard and have less lateral bolstering than some might like. This isn’t really a sporty hatch, though, as we’ll come to explaining, so just a little bit of support may be enough.

The i20’s dashboard is decorated with horizontal ribs – a feature also to be found around the door handles, air vents, speaker grilles and elsewhere. They’re the kind of garnish that someone who liked an earlier i20 or even a Pony or Getz (remember those?) might consider superfluous. But they do work to give the new i20’s driving environment just a smattering of sensory intrigue, which is very welcome. There’s absolutely nothing else to play to the tactile senses here: not a soft-feeling moulding anywhere and a very limited palette of interior colours.

However hard, the car’s plastics do promise to wear well. They’re not too reflective, they don’t mark up under fingernails and they don’t seem to show the dust or grease much.

Chunky, solid-feeling switches and fittings, among them infotainment shortcut controls so large that they could probably be seen from space, also play a part in conjuring a certain apocalypse-ready aura of longevity and no-nonsense simplicity.

Hyundai i20 infotainment and sat-nav

A simplified, easy-to-use infotainment system that gives users decent audio quality and the ability to mirror their smartphones for sat-nav might have satisfied the Hyundai of old in this section, and that’s pretty much what the base-grade i20, as tested, gets.

The 8.0in touchscreen is compatible with wired mirroring for Apple and Android handsets; it has DAB radio and wheel-mounted controls; and it works very well, giving you big displayed target icons that are easy to hit at arm’s length and allowing you a customisable split-screen ‘home’ display.

Mid- and high-grade i20s have a bigger and better system with in-built sat-nav, among other things. They also get Hyundai’s Bluelink and Live connected services for connected navigation routing, live traffic updates, weather information and more. A five-year data subscription comes with the car. Hyundai’s standard six-speaker stereo sounds slightly tinny, but you get a more powerful Bose system on top-grade cars.


The i20 has never been a car for those who care a great deal about the driving experience of their supermini. By and large, it still isn’t. But since middle-of-the-road dynamic blandness has never seemed to undermine the success of the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Vauxhall Corsa or Skoda Fabia, why should Hyundai aim for anything different?

If you’re looking for one outstanding selling point for the i20’s newly electrified powertrain, you’ll be looking for a long time. The 1.0-litre turbocharged mild-hybrid triple doesn’t make the i20 the smoothest or most refined car in its niche, nor the most slick or drivable, nor (quite) the most frugal, nor the keenest accelerating. But it does cover all of those areas sufficiently well as to allow none to be counted as a weakness. It also begins to feed into a sense of balanced versatility for the i20 – of ease of operation, ampleness of performance, unobtrusive pleasantness of character and creditable efficiency – that makes it hard to seriously criticise.

The i20 is likeable enough, but I’m not sure it forges a properly memorable identity for itself. It lacks the handling vivacity of the Fiesta and while it’s pretty comfortable, it’s certainly no Polo.

For anyone curious to know exactly what the mild-hybrid system adds in helping the car down the road, the digital instruments have a display mode with a graphic to tell you precisely when it’s chipping in – and it’s not often.

The car defaults to Eco running mode with every restart. That it doesn’t remember your last selected mode is a slight annoyance, because Eco desensitises the accelerator pedal to unhelpful effect. Flick the car into Comfort or Sport, though, and the engine responds more smartly and in more linear relation to pedal inputs, albeit seemingly only getting any electrical help from the battery and electric motor in very specific circumstances: at low revs as you accelerate and immediately after every upshift, and only for a second or two.

The three-cylinder engine borders on noisiness when it’s loaded up and working hard. Occasions to work it like that were made more frequent in our manual test car by the longfeeling gearing that you’d expect of an economy car. As a result, you make plenty of use of second and third gears around town and save sixth for the motorway.

Even so, the i20 copes with the impediment easily enough. It offers decent low-range torque and flexibility, and the outright performance level isn’t obviously lacking. A light clutch and gearshift make progress easy.

19 Hyundai i20 2021 road test review on road front

The i20 may be a big supermini, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly heavy one out on the road. It handles fairly smartly and with a modicum of agility, through medium-paced steering that may lack the ability to engage much but also stops well short of any major transgression.

The suspension also feels like something of a moderate in its tuning priorities. It holds the car usefully tautly when negotiating roundabouts around town and tackling quicker bends out of town. Body control is more troubled by more complex tasks, though. The i20 is a little bouncy and choppy-feeling when disturbed at speed, while the ride can become slightly hollow feeling over sharper edges and coarser surfaces. So in neither its damping nor its isolation does the car have much finely honed polish about it and handling precision is perhaps worthy of only passing praise.

There’s cause for optimism about incoming i20 N's handling appeal, because the this car handles neatly. It could easily tolerate quicker steering and more lateral grip, and better dampers would make a sizable difference

The standard lane-keeping assistance electronics activate themselves by default with every engine restart. (If these systems don’t do that, test body Euro NCAP deducts points when it rates them.)

Thankfully, Hyundai makes them easy to deactivate by putting a large button for the job, labelled in idiot-proof fashion, just ahead of your right thumb on the steering wheel spoke. And that kind of thinking seems laudable in acknowledging the fact that even the best of these systems work well only in particular circumstances. Even if you do use them, you’ll likely want to turn them on and off frequently.

You can do that easily in the i20. Even if you leave them on, you only get a lane-departure warning system without meaningful steering intervention until the car accelerates beyond 40mph, which likewise seems like sensible thinking in a set-up that has to be on before it’s deactivated (although, needless to say, we’d much prefer that any such ‘active’ and interventionist driver aid worked the other way around).

Comfort and isolation

The soundness of the driving position and the provision of plenty of space even for taller drivers form a sound basis here. You don’t expect the last word on seat comfort in a sub-£20,000 new car, but what the driver’s seat lacks in cushioning and lateral support it may make up for in adjustment range.

The i20 rides comfortably and quietly enough on most urban roads, fussing a little more than a bigger, heavier family car might as you negotiate speed bumps and other bigger inputs, but not intrusively so. Visibility is typical of a supermini and pretty good in most directions.

We tested the car on its smallest-available wheel and tyre, a 16in alloy rim that no doubt contributed to a touring test fuel efficiency that is worth plenty of credit (which we’re coming to). The ride wasn’t beyond reproach, transmitting just a shade more noise and vibration from the road surface than the best dynamic acts in the supermini class do.

However, wind noise is fairly well controlled, and the i20 recorded 63dB of in-cabin noise on the smooth Tarmac of the Millbrook bowl and at a 50mph cruise, which beats what we registered in nearest-equivalent versions of the current Renault Clio and Toyota Yaris and levels with the Volkswagen Polo (although that car was tested in more challenging, wet conditions).

Hyundai i20 assisted driving notes

The i20 offers enough active safety systems as standard to stand out in a competitive supermini class, but even here, just as in rivals, you get a car with the full gamut of available technology (blindspot collision warning, semi-autonomous lanefollowing assistance and collision warning with cyclist detection) only on the top-spec model. Even those models do without fully active cruise control.They can detect and display posted speed limits, although our test car didn’t have that functionality.

Hyundai’s forward collision warning (AEB) system has pedestrian detection as standard. It doesn’t have tunable sensitivity, but it isn’t intrusive and you’re unlikely to know it’s there until you really need it, which is as it ought to be.

The i20’s lane-keeping assistance and lane-departure warning systems default to on and work in series, the latter operable below about 40mph and the former above that speed (although it’s very simply turned off). When operating, it works quite subtly.

1 Hyundai i20 2021 road test review hero front

Hyundai has moved a little beyond playing the value powerhouse and the truth is that an entry-level i20 will, for the moment at least, cost you as much as an equivalent circa- 100bhp Renault Clio or Volkswagen Polo on monthly finance. Cheaper versions of the car can be expected to bring the entry price downwards in time, though, and the car offers plenty in terms of standard specification (digital instruments, smartphone mirroring and plenty of active safety systems).

New Hyundais also still come with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty as standard, which may be a lure to some private buyers. Cost of insurance isn’t such a lure, though: mild-hybrid versions of the i20 have been rated a couple of groups higher than an equivalent Clio and higher still than a Polo, although they’re on a par with the Toyota Yaris Hybrid.

The i20 holds its own against the Polo, retaining 46% of its value to the VW’s 47%, and betters the Ford Fiesta (38%)

For fuel economy, customers can expect good things. Our 43.6mpg test average score understates this car’s potential for daily-use efficiency as the road test’s average always tends to do by including rigorous track testing within it. On a 60-70mph motorway cruise, our touring economy result suggests you should see better than 63mpg from this car, which is good enough to be beaten only narrowly by the 65mpg Yaris Hybrid we tested last year.


21 Hyundai i20 2021 road test review static

The third-generation i20 builds incrementally on many of its predecessor’s strengths, as well as showing a few signs of development in more intangible areas.

It’s a small car of very evident practicality and efficiency. It has a roomy, hard-wearing and well-provisioned cabin and an unobtrusive, easy-to-operate road-going persona. It also shows greater ambition than its forebears as regards design appeal and technology, although quantifying just how much ‘emotional value’ Hyundai has succeeded in adding here is quite the balancing act.

Steady gains for a versatile runabout still lacking some personality

The i20’s styling still lacks true boldness and kerbside allure, and its driving experience, although viceless and rounded, remains most remarkable for how unremarkable it is.

While it is progressing, then, this car has yet to take the key, transformative leaps that might turn it into something with the potential to dominate Europe’s supermini segment. Given the readiness of its Korean creator to play the long game, the i20 may indeed one day take big-volume scalps.

For now, though, Volkswagen, Ford, Renault and Peugeot should continue to consider themselves on notice rather than under imminent threat.


Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Hyundai i20 First drives