First Drive Hyundai i20

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To call the small hatchback segment crowded would be an understatement of huge proportions.

Practically every volume car manufacturer out there has an offering and competition is fierce in the battle to oust the traditional market leaders, 
the Polo, Fiesta and Corsa. The all-new i20 is Hyundai’s latest effort to steal some of the glory from the big 
European firms.

From the outside, it’s clear Hyundai’s designers have been studying the same style books as their competitors. Low and wide with a mix of purposeful lines and swooping curves, it’s a handsome-looking motor – borne out by a brace of recent design awards.

Inside, it’s a similar story – a clean, clear and easy-to-use layout, with bright contrast panels to give it a lift. Space, too, is a strong point of the i20. Even the abnormally tall driver will fit up front with little difficulty and an average family of four can travel in comfort with all their luggage thanks to a boot which outstrips that of some cars in the segment above it. The first-in-class panoramic sunroof fitted to certain 
models only goes further to give the feeling of being in a bigger car.

Starting at £10,695 for the basic S trim petrol and topping out at £17,345 for a diesel in Premium SE Nav guise, the i20 range is available with a choice of three petrol and two diesel engines. The petrols comprise a 1.2 with 75bhp or 84bph and a 1.4 with 99bhp. The diesel offerings are either a 75bhp 1.1 or a 1.4 putting out 90bhp. A turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit is scheduled to join the line-up later this year.

Our test car was fitted with the largest petrol engine mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox. While it will never set the tarmac alight like a Fiesta ST or Polo GTi it provides plenty of poke around town and was perfectly comfortable on A-roads and motorways. It’s also pleasantly refined, only intruding into the cabin under the harshest of acceleration. Hyundai claims combined economy of 51mpg but the real figure during my time with it was mid-40s, despite religiously following the gear shift warning on the dash. For those seeking better economy the diesels claim up to 70mpg from the regular models and 88mpg from the 1.1 equipped with Blue Drive technology.

Ride and handling are a similarly calm affair. The i20 is smooth, stable and grippy and felt composed on even pothole-scarred roads but never provoked the need to wring every last drop out of the chassis.

However, it’s not really with raw performance that Hyundai is looking to tempt away buyers from the mainstream but with generous kit. The base-spec S has to make do with steel wheels and no air con but still throws in electric, heated mirrors and tyre pressure monitoring. Make the jump to SE and above and things become a lot more generous.

On test was the £15,325 SE Premium which featured automatic halogen headlights with static cornering feature, auto wipers and climate control, cruise control, lane departure warning, hill start assist, panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, a cooled glovebox, heated seats and – the single most welcome feature during this so-called ‘spring’ – a heated steering wheel.

Hyundai haven’t held back on the entertainment front either. Fitted to the test car was an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with USB, aux and Bluetooth connectivity and voice command technology, a dash-mounted smartphone dock and steering wheel controls for the lot. If all that isn’t enough for you the Premium Nav and Premium SE Nav chuck in a 7-inch touchscreen navigation unit complete with DAB radio and reversing camera setup.

Overall, the i20 is a spacious, generously equipped and refined machine. Add in Hyundai’s famous five-year warranty and it’s easy to see this new generation giving the big boys a run for their money.