A road trip to the new i20’s home capital would’ve been much more of a hoot than testing it in the Mancunian rain that poured down for the whole week. It might’ve been tricky to twist the arm of Hyundai’s press office, though, plus I wouldn’t have been able to afford the fuel or accommodation and it would’ve meant crossing Russia, China and, erm, North Korea. Okay, I’m kind of glad I stayed local for the week. The new i20 is up against the Fiesta, Corsa, Clio, Polo, Fabia, Yaris and C3, and if I had chosen to trek to South Korea in one, it actually wouldn’t have been an #epicfail.
For starters, it’s positively huge inside. I like to jack my seat up pretty high, which usually means that, as a 5’ 10” bloke, my bushy hair rubs against cars’ roofs. In the Hyundai, I still had loads of headroom, so could easily have worn my Rasta hat. Fitting you and four mates inside a new i20 would be a doddle and it proved comfortable on long journeys, with excellent visibility, too.
Another nice surprise was the boot, which swallowed our weekly shop, my ‘man box’, wellies, a change of coat and a briefcase with ease. In fact, the i20’s boot can carry more litres (it’s how they’re measured) than a C-segment Ford Focus. Fair enough, 10 litres isn’t much extra, but sporting world records are won by fractions of a second.
The car Hyundai sent me was in ‘SE’ trim with handy steering wheel controls for the radio and phone, plus electric windows, cruise control and speed limiter, a cooled glovebox to keep drinks fresh, rear parking sensors, ESP to reduce skidding, Hill-Start Assist, tyre pressure monitoring and Lane Departure Warning. Even the four-speaker stereo sounded pretty good when cranked up. It’s just a shame Hyundai doesn’t provide DAB as standard.
Some cars have dashboards splattered with a ridiculous number of tiny buttons, but I prefer logical controls large enough to prod with my big fingers, on the move, in the dark, when I’m lost and concentrating – and Hyundai’s i20 is a winner here. Being a bloke, I’m not one for reading manuals and require a ‘lightbulb moment’ to work out how to reset some cars’ trip computers, but in the i20, it was easy. My Samsung Galaxy S3 paired with the Bluetooth system on the first attempt, too. Sat nav is optional with SE trim and apart from the plastic dock looking a bit naff, I reckon using your own smartphone’s navigation is a good thing, meaning no shelling out on expensive map upgrades.
Most of the functions were a cinch to find and use, looked quite classy and felt sturdy. Inside the new i20 it doesn’t feel as modern and stylish as the new Corsa, but the quality almost knocks on the Polo’s door. The materials used aren’t exactly exquisite if you subject them to a lot of poking and stroking, but the i20 is a great attempt and has a mature solidity about it. It may even prove adequate for a Britain to Korea road trip, but the most remote place I ventured to was Newark, which admittedly isn’t that exciting, but it did mean I could test the i20 on a wide variety of roads at different speeds.
Heading east over Woodhead Pass with its twists, turns, straights and hills, it was clear that the four-cylinder, 83bhp, 1.2-litre petrol engine won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I went into the whole i20 experience eyes wide open, knowing it would need revving keenly to get any fire from it. Even then, it was more like a damp match than a raging blaze, the gearbox needing to be worked hard to get the most out of the car, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say I actually quite enjoyed the 1.2 experience in the end. After getting used to regularly changing gear, the engine was generally pleasurable, even at motorway speeds – once I eventually reached them. The downside to driving on the M1 in the i20 was the amount of wind noise and the way every gust buffeted the car about like a paper bag on the pavement, but other than that, it felt quite at home.
For such a competitively priced small car, it was agile and chuckable enough, with an adequate steering setup, cornering actually proving quite good fun, the return leg over Snake Pass brought to life by squeezing every last drop out of the Hyundai’s abilities. The 5-speed manual gearbox was enjoyable to use, wasn’t notchy and had a nice clutch bite point. It’s not a sports car and doesn’t claim to be, but the i20 holds its chin up with no embarrassment. It was great to drive around town, too, floating over speed-bumps like they weren’t there, and the engine was so refined that when a friend jumped in for a lift, he asked if I’d even turned the ignition on.
Intercontinental road trips often involve crossing one or two less friendly countries, meaning you’re better off in a car that doesn’t stand out too much. You’d be fine with the new Hyundai i20, then, as it plays it safe. The floating C-pillar is elegant and the new grille and daytime running lights keep its face bang up to date, but it’s not revolutionary and looks similar to other cars out there.
Costing £12,725 seems pretty reasonable and although the 1.2’s emissions aren’t mega green, you get Hyundai’s famous 5-year warranty. I was quite pleased with averaging 43mpg (official is 55.4mpg) after 165 mixed miles that included some very keen driving.
Hyundai may not be one of the obvious go-to choices, but makes very fine cars. I doubt any of you are planning a drive across continents but I can vouch that its fairly plain design definitely won’t attract any undue attention from bandits, nor will its modest engine get you from country to country very fast. You’d love its practicality, refinement, relatively decent handling and excellent ride quality, though, proving that Seoul can indeed be found in the new i20. Okay, I mean soul.