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Hyundai Elite i20 review, test drive

18th Aug 2014 10:22 pm

Hyundai's bigger, bolder i20 certainly looks the part. We're in Jodhpur to tell you what it's like to drive.


  • Make : Hyundai
  • Model : i20
What is it?
Simply put, the ‘Elite’ i20 is the latest generation of Hyundai’s premium hatchback. Following its global unveil in India, it’s been launched with a 1.2-litre petrol and a 1.4-litre diesel engine, each offered in five trim levels. Prices for the base petrol i20 hatchback start at Rs 4.89 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) and top out at Rs 7.67 lakh for the top-spec diesel. It may appear pricey compared to direct rivals like the Maruti Swift, Fiat Punto Evo and Nissan Micra, but let’s not forget that a premium price tag didn’t stop the original i20 from becoming a big seller either.  
Of course, among the many reasons the first i20 was such a hit, one was its interesting styling. The new i20 follows suit with a rather handsome design, albeit one that’s not quite as flamboyant as Hyundais of the past few years. Styling is mature, restrained and in keeping with the evolved look of Hyundai’s latest Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language. See the new i20 in the flesh and you’ll agree that’s no bad thing. 
The focal point at the front is the large and low-set hexagonal grille, though the neatly swept back headlamps with their chrome detailing are also interesting to look at. Oddly, Hyundai has given day time running LEDs a miss on the Indian i20 (the international i20 gets them, as did the outgoing model). However, this new i20 does got a flatter bonnet, the benefit of which is that it looks a whole lot wider than its 24mm increase in width (vis-à-vis the old i20) would suggest. It’s interesting to note that the wheelbase is also a full 45mm longer than before, though the overall length has been trimmed by 10mm to 3985mm.  
In profile, the new i20 looks sharp, with the rising window line, bold shoulder line and that blackened C-pillar lending the car its distinctive look. An important point here is that only the top two trims of the i20 get 16-inch alloy wheels. How successfully the 14-inch steel wheels on lower-spec cars manage to fill the large wheel arches remains to be seen. Still, there’s no arguing that the tail looks attractive. The spread-out tail-lights look rather nice, and even small details such as the lip atop the windscreen is well executed. Frequent travellers will be happy to know the i20’s boot is spacious enough to hold more than a weekend’s luggage with ease. The only problem is the boot sill is quite high, so loading and unloading can be an issue. 
As for the cabin, there’s really little to complain about. Overall quality is impressive (though still a notch down on the VW Polo), detailing is impressive (the column stalks feel very rich) and the layered dashboard looks suitably upmarket. If there’s a negative it’s that the screen for the audio system is a tad too small. Some might also find the knobs for the music system small and fiddly, but drivers do get their own set of controls on the well-finished, three-spoke steering wheel. Drivers will also like the good visibility and ability to adjust the steering for rake and reach. The supportive seats and general feeling of space enhance the front seat experience further.
Access to the rear seat is nice thanks to the wide door aperture, and once inside you’ll be quite amazed by the space on offer. Legroom and headroom are particularly good and there is sufficient width to seat three. The rear seat also scores well for good back and leg support. However, the backrest is a bit too reclined and the bolstering on its outer edges hurts comfort when seated three abreast. Shorter occupants may also find the windows a little too high for their liking. If there’s a consolation, rear seat occupants do get a dedicated air-con vent in all but the base version of the i20.  
And that brings us to features. The top-spec Asta trim we’ve featured comes with lots of equipment as standard. The list includes automatic headlamps, push button start, automatic climate control, an audio player with 1 GB of onboard music storage, Bluetooth telephone function and a reverse camera. Even the mid-spec Sportz trim comes well loaded, but frustratingly essentials such as a rear wash/wipe and a passenger-side airbag are only offered on the top-spec car.
What is it like to drive?
The i20 diesel comes with the same 1.4-litre, common-rail engine as the previous i20. There’s no change in power (89bhp at 4,000rpm) or torque figures (22.4kgm at 1,750-2,000rpm) either. The six-speed manual gearbox has been carried forward too, albeit with slightly shorter third, fourth and sixth gears to aid drivability. 
Engine refinement is good with a quiet idle and a subdued clatter being the only sound from the engine bay to keep you company in slow urban commutes. You don’t need to rev the engine very hard to get the best out if it because power comes in nice and early, and this is followed by a gentle surge after 2,000rpm. You’ll also seldom find the need to pass 3,000rpm to get past slower traffic. If you do so, you’ll find the engine quite loud on its climb to its 4,900rpm limiter. 
While not the most enthusiastic of performers, the i20 diesel makes a strong case as a car for city driving. Helping in no small measure here are its smooth-shifting gearbox and adequately light clutch. 
A light, if somewhat snappy clutch, and easy gearshifts are some of the traits you’ll find in the i20 petrol too. While power and torque outputs are unchanged from the earlier i20, the 82bhp, 1.2-litre motor has been re-tuned for better bottom-end responses. The engine does feel better than before but it’s still not the liveliest at low engine speeds. However, things get progressively better as you rev harder. The i20 petrol builds speed quickly and revs quite readily past 6,000rpm. Just don’t expect it to excite you. 
That’s something that can be said about the car’s dynamics as well. Hyundai has clearly made progress in terms of suspension setup, but it’s still far from the benchmark set by the Fiat Punto Evo. The steering, for one, has a dead zone around the straight-ahead position though it turns into corners quite eagerly. There's a balance in the chassis that wasn't there before but there's also still a fair of roll around corners. But once again, it’s in more everyday driving conditions that the i20 is at its best. The light steering makes parking easy, the suspension is absorbent (save for the odd thud on big bumps) and even suspension noise is very well contained. There’s also a newfound maturity in the i20’s high-speed manners, though it’s still not near the class bests.
Should I buy one?
If an engaging driving experience is all you seek from your hatchback, the i20 is not the car for you. It betters the old i20 in almost every way, but dynamics are still not its strongest suite. But if you are primarily looking for an all-rounder with lots of space, a premium cabin and lots of features, the i20 could just be your best bet. It’s got peppy enough engines that should prove to be sufficiently fuel efficient too. Overall refinement is also very impressive, so when you add all of it together you get a car that gets you your money’s worth, premium price notwithstanding. Hyundai’s proven service backing only helps to make the i20 a car that’s easy to recommend. 
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