The quick brown fox jumps over the high fence
When Hyundai Automotive South Africa introduced the i20 to the local market, it was the second car in its range that reflects the innovative “i-generation” philosophy underpinning current thinking from Korea’s largest car company.
The i20 give buyers in the supermini sector a fashionable and state-of-the-art design with a high level of engineering and technology, perceived quality and comfort, and performance and fuel efficiency at a price not yet obtainable in the segment, allowing the i20 to undercut the upmarket ‘boutique’ hatchbacks against which it will compete in an increasingly important niche of the B-segment.
It represents a fresh solution for those consumers who choose to change to more compact vehicle which is only small in terms of its physical size.
Hyundai Automotive South Africa will offer a pair of generously-specced models, one powered by a 1,4- and the other by a 1,6-litre unit; in both cases driving the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. Pricing is from R149 900 for the 1,4-litre model and R159 900 for the 1,6-litre.
At first glance it is apparent that plenty of effort and attention has been focussed on providing an eye-catching exterior design and the overall effect is dramatic and striking. The sheetmetal is stretched tautly over wheels that are positioned at the four extremities, a wide stance adding to the sporty effect.
The i20 is unashamedly a fashion statement and while it is sensible in terms of being a smart design, it isn’t shy and retiring. The visual appeal starts with a distinctive wing which runs above the grille, with the chromed ‘H’ logo forming the fuselage. Elongated, teardrop-shaped headlights accentuate the athleticism of the nose while the lower air intake melds seamlessly into the bumper for an aerodynamic effect.
Adding to that is a large and steeply raked windscreen, the acutely- angled bonnet with its stylish pressing lines leading up to the glasshouse with barely a change in the angle where they meet. Coefficient of drag is 0.33 – impressive for a B-segment hatchback.
The side view is equally fresh thanks to a mix of convex and concave shapes. Upper and lower pressing lines lead the eye to the rear wheelarches and the curvaceous rear light clusters. The roofline has an obvious downward curve to the point where it meets the backlight, the effect being a pert and sporty rump.
Aesthetic appeal was the overriding consideration in penning the final shape and the stance is purposeful thanks to a wide track width accentuated by 185/60 tyres on 15-inch wheels.
With an overall length of 3 940 and a wheelbase of 2 525 not only is the Hyundai i20 one of the largest of the current superminis, but it also has the shortest overhangs. Its height advantage also translates into a more spacious and practical interior, especially in terms of total luggage volume with the rear seats folded.
Engineering and drivetrain
The i20’s modern design philosophy is not just skin deep and the bodyshell has been engineered to combine high strength and low weight. This is immediately apparent in sense of solidity it imparts and there’s a big-car feel which is definitely more C- than B-segment. This rigidity is borne out by the i20’s recent Five Star result in Euro NCAP crash tests, with Hyundai’s newcomer scoring highly across the board and outpaced a fancied Japanese rival in all four categories.
Seatbelt warning buzzers and lights, a passenger airbag which can be rendered inoperative via the ignition key, three-point seatbelts for the three rear seat occupants, headrests designed to provide additional support to the upper body and neck in a rear end collision add to the i20’s safety credentials. Needless to say, crumple zones and door impact beams are unseen, but very much present.
The fitment of disc brakes both front and rear is another safety highlight and emergency stopping is aided further by both ABS and EBD. Gas-filled shock absorbers and electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering are two other features pointing to the fact that dynamic safety is as important to the Korean brand as passive safety.
In fact the crisp, accurate chassis and steering responses are what will make this car stand out and it obediently follows instructions without a moment’s hesitation. Hyundai has followed the time-honoured mix of a McPherson struts and a torsion beam axle, fine-tuning the set-up for South African conditions resulting in a car which is precise yet forgiving.
South African buyers will be able to choose from both 1.4 and 1.6-litre multivalve engines, the latter providing spirited performance thanks to an impressive 91 kW and 156 Nm, numbers which will see it outperform all but the most overtly sporty rivals. If anything though, it is the smaller engine which is even punchier for its size: power output is 74 kW, and there’s 136 Nm of torque to back it up.
Both enjoy the advantages of Hyundai’s Gamma generation engines – the brand’s most advanced powerplant design. Robust construction, fuel efficiency and willing performance across a wide operating range were key engineering objectives. As a result, the engine block is a high-pressure aluminium casting with an internal ladder frame, designed to reduce not only weight but also vibration and noise, while providing excellent stiffness. The Gamma engine uses a silent cam chain system to minimise mechanical noise, particularly when accelerating hard and at start up. It is completely maintenance-free, while the ratchet type hydraulic tension reducer takes up any slack in the chain, further improving overall refinement.
The Gamma engines feature Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) coupled to dual overhead camshaft, or DOHC, to provide a free-revving engine which not only ensures exceptional efficiency but provides invigorating performance at the upper end of the rev range should the driver require or desire it. CVVT on the inlet valve camshaft offers better emissions, performance and fuel economy by adjusting the timing of the inlet valves to enhance combustion efficiency. The Hydraulic Lash Adjusters, or HLA, automatically adjust to keep the lifter in contact with the camshaft and the top of the valve at all times, to provide durability and fuel efficiency by allowing for a lighter valve train.
The i20 has a newly developed, lighter, stronger and quieter transmission. This 5-speed manual ‘box offers an extraordinarily precise and easy shift, with perfect gear ratios to achieve both sparkling fuel economy and crisp throttle response even in the higher gears. The multi-cone synchroniser ensures optimum gear changes by more efficiently synchronising the vehicle speed before gear engagement.
The 1,4-litre is capable of 180 km/h and 0 – 100 km/h in 11.6 seconds while the 1.6 is good for 190 km/h and 0 – 100 sprint in 9.5 seconds.
Whether it is brisk stop/start acceleration in the city or inter-provincial cruising which is on the driving agenda, the Gamma engine optimises every drop of fuel. Overall fuel consumption in mixed driving shouldn’t rise above six litres per 100 km for the 1.6 with the 1.4 better still at 5.6 litres of 93 octane unleaded per 100 km.
Comfort and convenience
A classy interior was another key design objective for the i20 and using premium materials and then assembling them meticulously has resulted in a cabin which bursts with good taste coupled to an exceptional level of perceived quality.
Disciplined engineering has resulted in low levels of noise, vibration and harshness, which translates into refinement of the highest order. That’s just the starting point however and the long and generous list of comfort and convenience items make it so much better. They include:
• Electric folding exterior mirrors
• Electric windows all round with one touch up/down for the driver
• Remote release for fuel flap
• Remote central locking
• Electric mirror adjustment
• Steering wheel satellite controls
• Trip computer including average and instant fuel consumption, distance to empty, ambient temperature
• Air conditioning
• MP3 compatible tuner/CD
• Auxiliary and USB inputs
• In-dash lidded oddment compartment
• Tinted glass
• Full-size spare wheel
Of course, the driver’s comfort is an integral safety feature and few cars feel as ergonomically correct in terms of the position of the human body relative to the controls as the i20. The steering column adjusts for reach and for elevation while the driver’s seat is height adjustable.
Seating is plush yet supportive with a hint of firmness to the bolsters which fit snugly at waist height yet don’t restrict movement of the upper body. There’s just the right amount of underthigh support too, preventing fatigue yet never causing the left leg to feel stressed in stop/start traffic.
The rear compartment is equally impressive in terms. Space equates to comfort and there’s plenty of legroom by dint of the long wheelbase and the same care has been taken with the shaping of the seats as is apparent from the front seat accommodation.
Even with a full-size spare wheel the minimum luggage space is 295 litres under a rigid boot board. The seat backrest has a 60:40 split as does the cushion. With the latter tilted forward, there’s a flat and low surface area with a maximum load length of 1, 35 metres.
Hyundai’s i-generation cars are the physical manifestation of the brand’s desire to constantly raise its game and offer cars that are the best in class. The i20 artfully achieves this at the upper end of the B-segment with a ‘right-sized’ car positioned where premium quality and modern design meet.
This approach is apparent all the way along the value chain and the point is made at the very first acquaintance with the car: the key remains hidden inside an upmarket fob (which includes a separate boot release) and flips out at the touch of a button.
As an encore, owners will find further peace of mind in a 5 year /150 000 km warranty and a 3 year/60 000 km service plan.