It’s when I stopped at a traffic light, alongside one of the many Santro cabs that have replaced Mumbai’s black-and-yellow Padminis, that the pace of Hyundai’s evolution as a carmaker struck me. Sitting in our long-term Elite i20, still fresh from its global launch three months ago, the Santro seemed like a dinosaur and looked just as ugly. Both these cars may be separated by 17 years, but the difference seems light years apart. It epitomises Hyundai’s rapid and relentless transformation from a Korean upstart to a global powerhouse.
It’s no surprise then that the new i20 is a big jump over the previous one. Hyundai thinks it’s worthy of the ‘Elite’ prefix, to suggest that it’s more premium and upmarket than the competition. Arrogance or just plain confidence from the Korean automaker?
STYLING: Well-proportioned and subtle - It's a huge leap over the previous model.
Away from the spotlights of the glitzy launch and the royal settings in Rajasthan for the media drive, it’s time for a no-nonsense evaluation of Hyundai’s latest, in Mumbai’s more down-to-earth surroundings.
The truth is that the Elite i20 doesn’t stand out in the scrum of traffic like the tall-boy Santro once did. But that’s also a reflection of the design maturity Hyundai has reached so very quickly. The toothy and oddly proportioned Santro was a caricature on wheels, a good (or bad) example of Hyundai’s design excess. The Elite i20, in contrast, is more restrained and a fine example of Hyundai design at its best.
Mornings are usually a rush, but before jumping into the i20, I can’t help give it the once-over — it looks that good. I just love the proportions of this new hatch, the way the wheels have been pushed out to each corner, the subtly muscular window line and, for a Hyundai, the simplicity of form. Even the grille, an area Hyundai has gone OTT with in the past, is smartly executed and looks brilliant.
It’s a shame that once you get in the car, you can’t see what it looks like because the interiors aren’t quite as impressive. It’s a very busy cabin, brimming with buttons, especially on the steering wheel; it took me a couple of days to figure out all the functions. Pairing my phone and streaming music was pretty straightforward, but the tiny display screen doesn’t make shuffling through folders and different tracks very easy. And with 1GB of storage, you’re likely to have a lot of music to sift through. Living with the Elite i20, I found the postage stamp of a screen the biggest irritant and would love to swap the entire unit for a big 2DIN touchscreen with a large display. This would also do away with the rash of buttons that run under the head unit. If Tata can give a generous screen for the Zest, why can’t Hyundai?
DISPLAY SCREEN - Simply too small to use with ease; out of the place in an otherwise well-equipped hatch.
Except for some shiny bits of plastic, some of which reflect in the windscreen, there’s not much else to quibble about. There’s a sense of luxury the Elite i20 exudes, which you quickly get used to and take for granted. It’s when you step into another hatch you realise how plush this Hyundai really is. Even the Polo, which no doubt is the benchmark for fit and finish, feels less special in comparison. There’s a lot of stuff in the Elite i20’s cabin which you never thought you would use. You’d think two 12V chargers in the front is an overkill, but with the proliferation of battery-chomping iPhones, there have been enough instances of both sockets being used to juice up. And in this age of Café Coffee Day and Starbucks, I’ve used the large cupholder pretty frequently too.
Mumbai roads can bring out the best and worst in any car. There’s not a single smooth surface in the city, not around where I live at least, and the 7km drive to work in peak traffic takes around 40 minutes. That’s the habitat the Elite i20 has been living in for the past month, so the simple question is, what’s it like to drive in traffic and on bad roads?
The clutch, steering and gearshift are fairly light, so you’re not tired after a long drive. But you get the sense you’re driving a big car (which it is), so it’s not as easy to thread through gaps as with something a bit smaller. The 1.4 diesel engine is fairly alert on part throttle and doesn’t suffer from the turbo lag of the previous i20 — a big boon in traffic. However, mash the throttle hard and the response is far from immediate; there’s a bit of hesitation before you surge forward. Performance isn’t spectacular, but it’s adequate for daily driving and the good thing is that there’s enough torque to restrict gearshifts between 2nd and 3rd gears for most urban duties. Coming off speed breakers, there’s no need to slot into 1st. The i20 pulls smartly from a crawl even in 2nd gear.
TWIN CHARGERS IN FRONT + USB PORT - Yes, we use both the chargers rather often. Clever touch!
Living with a chronic back problem, I’m super-sensitive to seat comfort and found the i20’s bucket a bit too soft. The problem is the lack of lower back support. After a long drive, I could feel twinges running down my spine.
FRONT SEAT - Too soft for comfort - there's not enogh support for the lower back.
The ride is fairly soft, which is good, but sharp edges do catch out the suspension and you feel distinct thuds and thunks. It’s more audible than uncomfortable, but again, the i20 doesn’t quite smother the jagged mix of tarmac and concrete that I drive over every day, like say, a Tata Zest.
What’s the new i20 like to spend time in over long distances? My next drive up to Mahabaleshwar will give all the answers.
Price Rs 9.24 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy: 16.7kpl (overall)
Maintennace costs: None