During the last 10 years we have seen Hyundai mature into a mainstream car manufacturer.
With new products that have been increasingly in tune with what European customers want.
Just two-generations ago its cars could be fairly described as four-wheeled ‘white goods’, for people who didn’t really care about driving or what the car said about them.
But the transformation that began with the first model to use the ‘i’ prefix along with a number continues to gather pace.
The current i30 holds its own in a very crowded medium car sector. The i40 – particularly the Tourer – has a strong presence in the exceptionally tough D-sector.
The ix35 is one of the most popular compact crossovers, while the Santa Fe has been able to muscle in on the SUV sector thanks to its ability and image alongside many well-established manufacturers.
Earlier this year the i10 city car set a benchmark in the city car sector. Now the second-generation i20 takes a bow, seeking to lure away customers from the best-selling Ford Fiesta, and excellent Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa.
Developed at the manufacturer’s European HQ and built in Turkey alongside the i10, Hyundai is claiming best-in-class equipment levels and segment-first features.
Hyundai says i20 is first in this sector with a panoramic opening glass sunroof, while other features more often found on high-end cars are also available such as heated front seats, heated steering wheel and automatic climate control are also available.
We might have seen these features before in this sector available on high-specification variants or as options, but Hyundai is demonstrating that it can match or beat rivals for equipment.
The i20 is also exceptionally roomy for a small car. On the European media event in Spain, guests were taken to a restaurant for dinner. I mistakenly assumed that Hyundai would have organised a shuttle bus to reach the venue, but we were driven to and from the restaurant in i20s, and able to sample the car for rear seat accommodation. There were no complaints about lack of space – knees and feet had room to spare and there was no encroachment into headroom from the roof-line.
Luggage space is also among the best in the small hatchback sector, with a minimum of 326 litres. The Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo have a minimum of 290, 285 and 280 litres respectively.
Hyundai is developing connectivity technology, and the i20 takes a step forward along this road with a smartphone docking station on the dashboard.
It is compatible with iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and a range of Samsung Galaxy devices and allows them to be used for for navigation and entertainment. There is also voice-activated Bluetooth, including My Music, which can store and play up to 1GB of music, and USB/iPod and auxiliary audio-in connectivity.
For those who prefer a sat-nav screen there is a factory-fit navigation option that includes the addition of a rear-view camera.
But the line-up starts with the S, which has electric front windows and electrically adjustable and heated mirrors, front, side and curtain airbags, tilt and reach adjustable steering, a tyre repair kit and remote central locking. The audio system doesn’t have a CD player as standard (the shape of things to come for this dated music medium?), but has a USB connector and aux-in socket. S Air adds air conditioning, allowing the base model to be valued more accurately as a used car, while choosing and S Blue adds stop/start and low rolling resistance tyres to help cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
SE grade, which is expected to be most popular, has 16-inch alloy wheels, and adds Bluetooth, cruise control and speed limiter, front fog-lights, lane departure warning, electric rear windows, rear parking sensors, a space saver spare wheel, steering wheel audio and Bluetooth controls. It is available with optional factory-fit navigation and in the driver assist pack, LED daytime running lights and the smartphone docking station.
The i20 Premium adds automatic headlamp activation and windscreen wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, LED daytime running lights and LED rear lights, and smartphone docking station as standard.
Premium SE adds front parking sensors, chrome styling details, panoramic glass sunroof plus heated front seats and steering wheel.
Engines are carried over from the previous i20. It means the super-efficient 75hp 1.1 CRDi engine still has CO2 emissions of 84g/km, which is still good but no longer best in class. Shortly after the car’s launch the engine line-up will be boosted by a three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with direct injection. Available in 100hp and 120hp outputs, this might well be the pick of the range when it arrives.
We spent most time in the 90hp 1.4 CRDi, which has CO2 emissions of 106g/km and is still likely to be of interest to fleets.
Performance is smooth and brisk enough for a small car, with plenty of low-down torque for safe overtaking when required.
It’s easy to drive around town, as it should be, with light steering and a smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox. The 90hp diesel is also comfortable on the motorway.
The i20 feels a much more sophisticated car than the one it replaced, with a more mature look. In creating a new identity it seems to be more in keeping with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo rather than more overtly youthful and fun models like the Seat Ibiza and new Mazda2.
But its subtly elegant look should attract a number of new customers, and its five-year/unlimited mileage warranty is still a big draw, particularly for those operating cars on a three- or four-year lifecycle do the first used car customers have the reassurance of some residual manufacturer warranty.
However, we think the car will become even more interesting with the new petrol engines.