The i-catching i10

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Superminis seem to have grown with each successive generation, to the point where many are too big – and too expensive – for those 21st century car buyers who both want and need a genuinely small car. Small, that is, in terms of attributes such as physical footprint, fuel consumption, environmental impact and price, but big on space, real-world performance and driving enjoyment.

Which is why Hyundai’s i10 – taking up the minimum amount of space in Hyundai showrooms country-wide from the end of July – is the perfect car for the times. Times when you want a car that provides bang for the buck, punches above its weight, and represents dynamite in the smallest of packages. And while trotting out the metaphors and clichés, we might just add another one: what matters is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Enough of that. What does the i10 actually have to offer? Well, like all of Hyundai’s new iSeries cars it is designed and built under the credo of ‘Innovation, Intelligence and Ingenuity.’ Which means it combines great design, the latest technology and cutting edge production methods which enable Hyundai to bring quality cars to market at an affordable price. The i10, in particular, epitomises these traits and its hit our shores at exactly the right moment to meet pent-up demand for a truly affordable solution which is not just a bare-bones appliance.

One of first things buyers will want to know is the price: just R89 900 will buy the five-speed manual version and another R99 900 is enough for the four-speed automatic. Once the retail price has been happily digested, the next visual stimulant will in all likelihood be the distinctive design, with styling which is strongly Eurocentric.

The result is a small car with unusually elegant proportions: the sheetmetal flows effortlessly around the tapered headlights, a boldly-proportioned air intake adding a sense of purpose to the nose and the fenders and bonnet rise gently to the base of steeply angled windscreen for a wedge-shaped profile which is modern and youthful.

The rear wheelarches curve outward to accommodate the generous rear track and a subtle roof spoiler adds an element of sportiness while disguising the fact that the luggage compartment is surprisingly generous.

As in front, there is a modest rear overhang (a wheelbase of 2 380 mm is the longest in the segment) contributing to cruising stability without sacrificing the agility that is an essential quality of an urban runabout. Fourteen inch wheels with full wheeltrims are shod with 165/60 rubber and contribute to a low-slung, ground-hugging stance.

A medley of six vibrant exterior colours is offered and the i10 stands out from the crowd in any of them.

The i10 is powered by an uprated version of the proven 1.1-litre four cylinder petrol engine which is configured to combine spirited performance with low fuel economy and emission levels. The unit develops 49 kW of power at 5 500 revs/min and torque of 99 Nm – a figure unmatched in the 1.1-litre category – at just 2 800 rpm.

The generous torque has allowed Hyundai to use relaxed gear ratios without sacrificing flexibility and the powerplant’s zest in the urban environment is matched by an ability to merrily keep pace with the traffic flow. Hyundai dealers are expecting prospective customers to search for the ‘1.3’ badges after the test drive, but this is very definitely a 1.1-litre powerplant. Part of the secret of its willing performance is that it is equipped with the latest in electronic engine management and is fitted with a low-friction single camshaft cylinder head, controlling three valves per cylinder.

In fact, minimising drag between the engine and the front wheels was a key design target and reducing mechanical losses through the drivetrain, rack and pinion steering (which is electrically rather than hydraulically assisted), and the cooling and charging systems has contributed to excellent overall efficiency. According to in-house tests, the three-pedal version of the i10 will use just 5,7 litres per 100 km when cruising at 100 km/h in fifth gear on the open road. Local tests suggest overall consumption in mixed driving will remain below six litres per 100 for a range of almost 600 kilometres from the 35 litre tank.

Listing all the i10’s features would be a time-consuming affair and in the interests of saving that precious resource – and possibly paper too – suffice to say that the specification level is generous. Some of the key items are a height-adjustable steering column, transponder immobiliser, central locking, electric front windows and air-conditioning. A radio/MP3 player with USB mini-port and four speakers is available as an option.

Dashboard architecture alludes to the practical layout of a mini-MPV and the gearlever – whether it be a four or five speed type – is just a hand’s width away from the driver’s reach thanks to it being positioned high up and integral with the hangdown centre section. A trio of clearly-marked rotary dials and a selection of buttons are intuitive and accessible.

With the gearlever high up in the centre console and forming part of the dashboard architecture, the area between the driver and the passenger seat is liberated to create more living space. It is a first for this segment and adds to an airy ambiance. But the sense of spaciousness is no illusion: there’s an abundance of legroom front and rear and more elbow room than any reasonable person could expect too. With the tall roof, those fond of headgear will also feel at home.

Getting the best out of the available space is an essential part of small car design and it is obvious that Hyundai’s engineers have excelled in this regard. For example, both front seats are height adjustable, and the backrest angle controls are positioned on the inside, enabling the driver to conveniently reposition the front passenger’s seat angle if necessary.

The 60/40 split backrests also fold down to create a low and flat floor. The standard luggage compartment measures 225 litres (VDA method) below the luggage compartment cover and above a floor which reveals a full-sized spare.

But the i10 isn’t just about MPV-like versatility and cabin space to rival D-segment rivals. Its stand-out feature in the segment is a premium car aura of quality and careful attention to detail, and even the subtle lighting for the compact instrument binnacle adds to a sense of class not normally associated with micro-cars. The overall fit and finish would do far more expensive cars proud and Hyundai has achieved something special with the i10: it’s an affordable car that doesn’t feel or look cheap.

Chassis underpinnings consist of tried and tested systems. Macpherson struts in the front and coil springs coupled with a torsion beam axle in the rear ensure the ride is supple and the passengers travel in comfort. Brakes are a mix of discs and drums and are more than capable of bringing the i10’s 900-odd kilograms to standstill in double-quick time.

We believe that the timing of the i10’s introduction couldn’t have been better,” says Hyundai’s Marketing Director, Stanley Anderson. “People are starting to think about Supercompacts in a different way and the i10 enables people to manage their motoring costs more efficiently without sacrificing comfort and space.

“The i10 has already won a number of significant awards in India – where it is built and where we will source our cars from. It made what was a pretty much a clean sweep of the recent Indian Car of the Year awards and if there was an award for cuteness we’re pretty sure it would’ve won that too.

“Making the i10 an even more logical purchase is Hyundai’s famous 5 year/150 000km manufacturer’s warranty. Any manufacturer who offers such an extensive warranty must be confident in their product, and so it is with the Hyundai i10,” concludes Anderson.