A worthy rival to the Europeans, but lacking any originality

What is it?

The new Hyundai i20 replaces the ageing Getz. Hyundai hopes its new baby will be able to capitalise on growing demand for small cars and superminis, with the i20 claimed to prove that the company can create successful products for the specific demand of the European market.

What’s it like?

Considering its importance to Hyundai, you may be slightly disappointed when you first clap eyes on the i20. This can fairly be described as a conservative-looking car that does without the panache of funkier segment rivals.

The i20 is certainly no fashion object, but the relatively high roofline has practical benefits and the shape is elegant enough.

Hop into the cabin and you’re greeted by a more contemporary interior than we’ve seen from Hyundai thus far. The top-spec Style gets a leather steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake handle, but even lesser i20s will have generous standard equipment. Vibrant two-tone seats jazz up the interior, but there are still some old-fashioned, cheap-looking plastics – and the fragile-feeling switchgear is a let-down.

However, those minor niggles don’t detract from the amount of space available - there’s decent headroom and knee room in the back, and the luggage area is reasonable too.

The range-topping 1.4-litre diesel is capable of more than 50mpg under hard use, but it’s a coarse-sounding motor and it doesn’t really suit what is potentially a smart, nippy little car.

On the road, the i20 is surprisingly composed and dynamically accomplished, especially when compared with the Getz. There’s much less body roll and it steers with neat, accurate precision.

Beyond the limit, the i20 behaves predictably and optional ESP adds an extra safety net.

In fact, if you’ll excuse the stereotyping, it drives like a German car – not surprising since much of the high-speed and handling testing has been done in Deutschland.

But therein lies the i20s biggest flaw: its ride quality. There’s too much vibration through the cabin at low and high-speeds. And although it rides over big bumps quite adeptly, the low-speed fidget is a constant distraction.

Our test car’s Kumho tyres could be part of the cause - UK models will be shod with Hankooks.

Should I buy one?

The i20 moves the game on for Hyundai. It’s a decent car and a justifiable rival for European products in terms of quality and driving experience as well as price.

It’s not particularly fresh or original, but it does undercut its significant rivals and Hyundai’s five-year warranty remains one of the best in the business. As an overall package, it’s fair to say the i20 has got what it takes to bring many new buyers to the brand.

Will Powell

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jerry99 23 October 2008

Re: Hyundai i20 1.4 CRDi

So the Koreans have just about caught up with European manaufacturers for "conventional mainstream cars" at the same time as many of these manufacturers seem to be having a crisis of confidence about which niches their next products should fill.

It seems to me that the Koreans are poised to see a dramatic growth in their market share should the public decide they do not wish to pay through the nose for niche products.

In fact the Europeans appear to be on the point of conceding the conventional car market without putting up any real fight.Perhaps Ford is an exception hoping that a really well developed chassis and reasonable running costs can still give them an edge. Otherwise will the remaining European mass market manufacturers follow Rover and Land Rover into niches that most do not want to buy?