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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’.

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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.

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.

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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.)

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.

Hyundai i20 First drives