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Hyundai i20 review: an underrated supermini with surprising sparkle

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/01/2019 Alex Robbins
Brussels, Belgium - January 15, 2015: Hyundai I20 compact hatchback car on display during the 2015 Brussels motor show. People in the background are looking at the cars and a man is walking away from the car. © Sjoerd van der Wal Brussels, Belgium - January 15, 2015: Hyundai I20 compact hatchback car on display during the 2015 Brussels motor show. People in the background are looking at the cars and a man is walking away from the car.

You’d be forgiven for approaching a review of a Korean supermini with a yawn. ‘The Hyundai i20, eh?’ you’re probably thinking. ‘Boring. It’ll be average everywhere, get three stars and that’s that. Now, where’s that BMW M2 Competition review?’

Hold your horses, though, because the i20 is worth getting to know; one of those cars whose praises are worth singing, even if they don’t actually get sung very often. 

It’s been around since 2015, this little hatchback, when it was initially launched with a rather uninspiring range of naturally-aspirated petrol engines that hobbled it somewhat in terms of appeal. Since then, though, Hyundai’s 1.0-litre turbo has been added to the range, and the i20’s had a mid-life facelift, all of which should broaden its appeal.

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Two 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated petrol units are carried over, however, and sit at the bottom of the range, rated at 74bhp and 83bhp. Above them sit those two 1.0-litres, also petrol – you can’t buy a diesel i20 – with 99bhp or 118bhp. All come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, except the most powerful 1.0, which gets a six-speed, while a seven-speed dual-clutch auto is optional on the 99bhp 1.0. 

There are then four models to choose from – entry level S Connect, which isn’t really worth bothering with as it only comes with the weakest 1.2. It still gets a touchscreen audio system, reversing camera, air conditioning and Bluetooth, however.

SE adds alloy wheels, automatic emergency braking, cruise control and rear parking sensors; Premium Nav gets you larger wheels, navigation, climate control and front parking sensors; while top-spec Premium Nav SE gives you heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic roof and a heated steering wheel.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JANUARY 13:    Hyundai i20 compact family hatchback car on display at Brussels Expo on January 13, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. The Hyundai i20 is available with various petrol and diesel engines and trim levels. (Photo by Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images) © Sjoerd van der Wal 2018 BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JANUARY 13: Hyundai i20 compact family hatchback car on display at Brussels Expo on January 13, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. The Hyundai i20 is available with various petrol and diesel engines and trim levels. (Photo by Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images) Climb aboard and you’ll find yourself confronted by great swathes of dour black plastic and a rather plain dashboard design, neither of which will stir the senses. That said, it’s all very logical, with a quick, easy-to-use infotainment system and robust build quality – sensible and secure, then, if not exactly stylish.

That pragmatic approach continues with plenty of room, both up front and in the rear seats. Sure, you won’t want to throw a party in there, but the i20 offers as much room as any small car of this type – and more than enough that four adults will feel comfortable for a long trip.

The boot, meanwhile, is big – not the largest in its class, but not far off – as well as being deep and well-shaped, making it incredibly practical.

Hong Kong, China Aug 25, 2016 : Hyundai i20 2016 Back Camera on Aug 25 2016 in Hong Kong. © teddyleung Hong Kong, China Aug 25, 2016 : Hyundai i20 2016 Back Camera on Aug 25 2016 in Hong Kong. So far, so sensible, then. But once on the road, the i20 has a few aces up its sleeve. For one thing, it’s pretty comfortable – granted, the bump damping is just a little too stiff, which means you often find larger lumps in the road can flick the nose upward, joggling you around inside a little too much.

But the i20’s suspension smoothes out most of the road’s smaller imperfections well, meaning it never feels bouncy or fidgety. And while the front seats might not look like much, they’re comfortable and offer lots of lateral support. 

You won’t find the refinement of, say, a Seat Ibiza or a Volkswagen Polo here – the engine’s quite throaty, and wind and road noise are audible from inside too at high speeds – but the i20 is no more noisy most of its other supermini rivals. Certainly, you can plonk it on a motorway for a couple of hours and not arrive at the other end feeling too jaded. 

You might even have a bit of fun if you pull off early and take the back roads. True, the i20 doesn’t have the effervescent sparkle of the Ford Fiesta – its steering is too remote, so it doesn’t involve you in the process as well, and the chassis is more stable than playful.

Serock, Poland - 18th March, 2015: Presentation of Hyundai i20 on the press launch. First generation of Hyundai i20 was debut in 2008, but the second generation was debut in 2014. This car is one of the most popular car in Hyundai offer in Europe. © Tramino Serock, Poland - 18th March, 2015: Presentation of Hyundai i20 on the press launch. First generation of Hyundai i20 was debut in 2008, but the second generation was debut in 2014. This car is one of the most popular car in Hyundai offer in Europe. However, the i20 turns in positively, its crisp, predictable responses mean it’s an easy car to trust, and there’s a remarkable amount of grip on offer. As a result, you can build up a rhythm with it, zipping from corner to corner with ever-growing confidence urged on by that burbling engine.

It’s a good engine, this. It doesn’t rev out as excitedly as some of the latest turbocharged three-cylinder units, but that’ll likely be of little consequence to your typical supermini buyer. It is, however, packed with mid-range punch, which means it’s useful right where you need it to be. Its only other downside is that it’s not quite as efficient as its rivals, falling a couple of miles per gallon behind the best of them in the EU Combined fuel consumption stakes. 

That’s the story of the i20 as a whole, actually. In no one area does it excel, but in almost all of them, it’s there or thereabouts. And while it’s a shade behind the best superminis out there in some places, they’re places that shouldn’t matter too much to your typical level-headed supermini buyer.

What will matter, though, is the i20’s five-year warranty and its excellent reputation for reliability –  the sort of peace of mind its slicker rivals can’t offer. That’s probably a fair exchange for being a step or two behind the best. 

So while it probably isn’t the kind of car that will set your heart aflutter, the i20 is worth a second glance if you’re in the market for a new supermini. Good value, spacious, well-equipped and comfortable, it’s a sensible option, but happily, with its sprightly engine and game chassis, it doesn’t do without a dash of character to keep you interested. 

Druskininkai, Lithuania - June 27, 2014: Photo taken during Rally Poland 2014 in Druskininkai Lithuania. Image shows Thierry Neuville driving his Hyundai i20 WRC rally car on gravel roads of Lithuania. © Mantas Volungevicius Druskininkai, Lithuania - June 27, 2014: Photo taken during Rally Poland 2014 in Druskininkai Lithuania. Image shows Thierry Neuville driving his Hyundai i20 WRC rally car on gravel roads of Lithuania.

THE FACTS

Hyundai i20 1.0 T-GDI 100 SE

TESTED 998cc four-cylinder petrol turbo,five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £16,395/now

POWER/TORQUE 99bhp @ 4,500rpm, 126lb ft @ 1,500rpm

TOP SPEED 116mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 10.7sec

FUEL ECONOMY 58.9mpg/47.9mpg (EU Combined/Urban) 

CO2 EMISSIONS 102g/km

VED £145 first year, then £140/year

VERDICT There are sharper, slicker, more fashionable rivals out there, but the i20 is still a great all-rounder, with space, comfort and equipment aplenty. It’s decent fun to drive, too – but its real trump card is its five-year warranty. 

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

Serock, Poland - 18th March, 2015: Presentation of Hyundai i20 on the press launch. First generation of Hyundai i20 was debut in 2008, but the second generation was debut in 2014. This car is one of the most popular car in Hyundai offer in Europe. © Tramino Serock, Poland - 18th March, 2015: Presentation of Hyundai i20 on the press launch. First generation of Hyundai i20 was debut in 2008, but the second generation was debut in 2014. This car is one of the most popular car in Hyundai offer in Europe.

THE RIVALS

Ford Fiesta, from £13,695

Ford’s perennially popular Fiesta is still the sharpest car in the class to drive and rides beautifully, though it’s let down by a boot that’s on the small side, rather so-so build quality and a fiddly infotainment system.

Seat Ibiza, from £14,255

Probably the best small car out there right now, with sharp styling, a grown-up ride and neat handling. Feels great inside, too, with excellent build quality and a smart dash, plus there’s a huge boot and plenty of space. Can’t match the Hyundai’s five-year warranty, though.

Kia Rio, from £10,505

Good-value alternative to the i20 – indeed, the two cars share a platform – and one which can boast a seven-year warranty. It rides a little more firmly, though, and there’s no real handling advantage to make up for it. 

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