What is it?
The Hyundai i20 Active is, as you might reasonably assume from its name, an i20 with a slight but significant twist - that being the Active suffix, which encompasses 20mm of extra ride height and some cosmetic addenda including skid plates at the front and rear and cladding across the wheel arches.
But before anyone gets too high and mighty about Hyundai’s plans to charge roughly £1200 more for a car seemingly only slightly modified over the one from which it is derived, let’s take a reality check. The SUV and crossover market is booming - so much so that, in 2015, more SUVs and crossovers were bought in Europe than any other type of car. The appetite for small, crossover-style vehicles is ravenous.
Little wonder, then, that manufacturers are rushing to get high-riding cars on sale as quickly as they can - Hyundai among them. With a baby brother to the Hyundai Tucson long rumoured but seemingly still some way off, this i20 Active is the halfway-house solution to the firm launching a genuine crossover rival to the likes of the Kia Soul, Renault Captur or Suzuki Vitara. It has been thoroughly tuned for European roads, too, and, if you take a moment to consider the pictures above, the i20 Active is actually a nicely understated example of the breed.
Adding extra lustre to the model's launch is the addition of Hyundai's new 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 99bhp. The engine is claimed to return up to 58.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 110g/km and will be rolled out across Hyundai’s range in short order.
What's it like?
What buyers want from a high-riding hatch is still a moot point - this is, after all, a segment of the market that wants 4x4 looks without 4x4 ability, which tends to attract older customers who are buying into a much younger mindset (hence the abundance of kite surfing pictures in the marketing material) and more. In other words, compromises and contradictions abound.
So it is that the higher-riding i20 Active is actually stiffer than its hatchback counterpart, tweaked slightly to give it a more dynamic, exciting feel that goes some way to living up to the name. As a result, while the i20 Active’s ride is still firmly on the comfortable side of alert, it has an edge that is sometimes exposed by our most rutted, potholed roads. Nor does the stiffness fully overcome the compromises of the higher ride height, with a small but significant wallow noticeable under quick direction changes.
Elsewhere, the driving experience sits entirely on the benign side of capable. This is a car that does everything well but rarely ventures close to being exciting. The handling is safe and tidy, but the steering is short on feedback and the overall experience short on involvement. It’s a car that will get you from A to B without fuss or excitement, and for most buyers that’ll be enough. The Autocar reader may want more, however.
The engine is a good example of the three-cylinder turbocharged breed, with peak torque appearing between 1500rpm and 4000rpm, meaning you can make decent progress without having to thrash it. Throttle response is decent, if not startling, and performance broadly in line with the normally-aspirated 1.4 petrol that it replaces, helped by the well-judged ratios in the five-speed gearbox. Three-cylinder thrum aside, refinement is excellent, too.
Elsewhere, the i20 Active underpins all of the progress made by Hyundai in recent years. As on the standard i20, the Active is well packaged, well built and well equipped, albeit erring on the side of achieving all of this without any great flamboyance. Still, such an approach to interiors hasn’t done Volkswagen any harm over all these years, and it’s a mark of Hyundai’s progress that it can be spoken of in broadly similar terms.
Should I buy one?
The Hyundai i20 Active is charming in many ways. It looks good in an understated way, drives reasonably, fits everyday life well and the 1.0-litre engine has numerous merits. If it can demonstrate real-world fuel economy close to that claimed, it will be a real boon.
The main issue, however, is that there is some very accomplished opposition at this price point. The equivalent Kia Soul, Renault Captur or Suzuki Vitara are very capable vehicles with specific assets that shine brighter and deliver broader appeal. Then you have to consider the smaller and pricier but charming Fiat Panda 4x4, which brings an alternative dimension to the mix with its pumped-up capabilities.
That said, we could take no issue with anyone choosing the i20 Active over rivals, and if you’ve decided the i20 is the car for you, the appeal of the walk up to this model is easy to understand.
Hyundai i20 Active 1.0T-GDi 100PS
Location Gloucestershire; On sale now; Price £15,775; Engine 3 cyls, 998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 99bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 127lb ft at 1500-4000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight na; 0-62mph 10.9sec; Top speed 109mph; Economy 58.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 110g/km, 17%