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Hyundai Atoz+ Roadtest

I remember this time last year, pulling into a lay-by to visit a travelling refectory. It was chocker with big hairy truck drivers and I was driving a Daihatsu Move. I would sooner have been wearing a frock.

Daihatsu were arguably the first to go public with a new concept in cars. A kind of Tonka-sized hybrid that if bigger might aspire to being and MPV and if smaller would attract a mobility allowance. I happened to visit a golf club during the test week and one old Muppet thought it was a golf caddy.

So when it was my turn to drive another of the genre, the Hyundai Atoz+, I nipped down to Homebase to nick a couple of their nice brown bags. Which just goes to prove how wrong you can sometimes be.

What turned up was a lot more impressive and a long way removed from the quirky Move. Similar in dimensions to an average hatchback mini, but with a higher roof line, the Atoz has all the makings of a highly convenient and manoeuverable town car. A compact, economic and flexible people-mover which can be easily converted to a pint-sized pantechnicon, it must be considered as a scaled-down MPV in the sense that it is genuinely multi-purpose.

There is only one flaw in the otherwise neat, new-Millennium town-car looks. " Happen them wheels is nivver owt nor castors ", said our photographer, who comes from Watford. But he had a point. The tiny wheels do threaten to diminish the outward appearance and I can promise you they find every pothole and drain-cover and make cats-eyes seem like tree stumps. Other than that, the Atoz has a neat, fully-integrated design that is thankfully free of the sort of committee touches that plague some small cars.

Having described it as a town car it won't surprise you to learn that, to put it through its paces, I took the Atoz away on a walking holiday in the New Forest. And since I live in Surrey, that involved quite a high mileage and a fair amount of luggage. That latter was accommodated without any need to take advantage of the folding rear seats - they fold once to create a flat load platform and once again into the rear footwell to increase the load volume to 1084 litres, which is about 38 cubic feet.

The high roof-line creates a light and airy interior which makes it feel bigger than it actually is, and the deep windows and narrow posts add to the picture-window feel which introduces a touch of Cinemascope to a country drive. Being reasonably 'normal' in the beam means that driver and passenger are not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder which, no matter how intimate might be your relationship, can be become very irritating on a long drive.

The interior is hardly Conran territory, but neither is the price. Pleasant and functional is about the best way to describe it. I liked the cowled instrument nacelle which keeps the sun off the displays and it reminded me of some earlier Alfa Romeos which were similarly equipped. Some switchgear layouts seem to subscribe to the art-for-art's-sake school of design, whereas the Atoz is simple and straightforward, and. I imagine, much preferred by older drivers who may well form a considerable chunk of the Atoz market, despite its young-and-in-the-family-way marketing stance.

A word here about the price. 6999 on-the-road will get you the entry-level Atoz. A further grand buys you the Atoz+ as tested which adds to the specification a driver's airbag, alloy wheels, radio cassette (as opposed to just a radio), central locking, electric front windows, air-conditioning and front fog lamps. Both models are available with an auto 'box for another 699 or a semi-automatic, clutchless hybrid for a reasonable 470. At those prices you would struggle to find anything else even vaguely similar, except the Daewoo Matiz. The Daihatsu Move and Move+ are respectively both about 300 dearer.

The 1.0-litre, four-cylinder power plant develops a modest 55 bhp, so straight-line performance is not on the agenda. Reaching the magic but meaningless 62 mph will take a theoretical 15 seconds and maximum speed is 88 mph, so motorway driving will take the car close to the limit. But at 70 mph it purrs along happily enough, and the peak torque is just low enough in the rev range to provide a degree of flexibility around town.

Since the Atoz has no sporting pretensions it would be quite pointless to write about the handling and road-holding performance envelope. But I will anyway. In intermediate gears it is quite responsive, rolls a bit on bends and corners and the small wheels are given to tramping on poor surfaces. But I found it pleasant enough pottering around the New Forest and it held its own on the quiet but fast A31 although, If you insist on driving at ten tenths, expect the engine to sound a bit stretched.

Fuel consumption is good but not brilliant. The 44.8 mpg for the 5-speed manual on the EU Combined cycle drops quite dramatically to 38.7 mpg for the automatic version. The air-conditioning will sap the energy as well, so realistically an all-round consumption of about 40 mpg is what you could expect. I actually recorded 42 mpg overall which was for a couple of days in London, then the trip to the New Forest. Whole-life costs look really attractive when you consider the unlimited-mileage, 3-year warranty, the long service intervals, the Group 2E insurance rating and, of course, the lower tier of road tax introduced by Chancellor Brown in the recent budget.

Apart from being a bit stingy in the air-bag department the Atoz offers a reasonable level of passive safety, including and all-round safety cell, box frame side members to absorb energy in head-on impacts, side-impact protection, seat-belt pretensioners and anti-submarining seats. And if you employ acoustic parking methods, the knock-proof bumpers will keep the repair man at bay.

If you fancy adding a touch of glam, Hyundai have just released a Midas Special Edition which has all the Atoz+ features plus a CD player, unique alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and rear head restraints, split-folding rear seats, sill treads and a startling gold paint job. All this is yours for 8599 on the road.

All in all, the Atoz is a nice little car and arguably the best of its ilk. It's a much better buy than ordinary minis of the same price bracket and has just enough flexibility to suit a variety of lifestyles. If you're in that market, put it on your short list.

Posted on 01.06.1999 by Graham Whyte
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