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Hyundai i10 1.1 Classic Roadtest

As different from the Amica as chorizo is from spam, the new i10 reinforces Hyundai's renaissance.

step-change in quality, performance and styling

If Ferrari devotees are tifosi, and car enthusiasts in general are petrolheads, what do you call Hyundai fans? Until recently, 'screwheads' might have been appropriate, given the low standard of interior fit and finish that has always haunted Hyundais - from the Pony of the 1970s (which was even worse than the Marina, from which it was derived), to the Accent, which has only just been superseded by the i30.

But the 'i' in i30 should stand for 'incredible', such is the step-change in quality, performance and styling when compared to the dreadful Accent. Whereas Accent could be used only in sentences that also contained references to 'scrap' and 'metal', i30 can share a sentence with such words as 'Golf' and 'Corolla' and 'better than'.

And now it's the turn of the i10. As a starting point, the bosses at Hyundai bought examples of the Panda, the Aygo, the Fox, the Maserati Quattroporte and others, and said to the design team "Beat these, and make our car cheaper". OK, perhaps they didn't buy a Maserati, but had they done so, it would have been discovered that the i10 is a lot easier to park.

But its compact size is just one of many 'city car' credentials that are intended to make the i10 a serious challenger to established makes and models, and to double Hyundai's share of the crucial A-segment market. Low emissions, five doors, five seats, and a few 'big car' features increase the Hyundai's appeal, together with a sticker price that gives i10 Classic buyers change out of £6,500.

But first, let's get the laughs out of the way. The 0-62 time of the 1.1 Classic is 15.6 seconds, and the top speed, just 94 mph. So quick, it isn't. But there are not many cars for which the cost of a road-fund licence will go DOWN next year, which it will for the 1.1-litre i10. With CO2 emissions of 119 g/km, it presently falls into Band B, at £35 per annum. But in 2009, the little Hyundai will fall into the new Band C, which means £30 per annum. Unfortunately, it goes back up to £35 in 2010, but the next category (Band D) will jump to £95, so the i10 will still be a bargain.

And because the Hyundai's engine is Euro4 compliant, and below 120 g/km, from 27 October onwards it will be exempt from the London congestion charge. So the i10 is cheap, but not in the way we used to mean.

It's In Diesel Territory, But At A Blue-Cross Price

To add icing to the cake, the combined fuel consumption is a meagre 56.5 mpg, which is derived from an extra-urban figure of 64.2 mpg, and an urban figure of 46.3 mpg. In other words, it's in diesel territory, but at a blue-cross price.

So what is the downside to this fiscal parsimony? Not a lot, considering the Classic is cheaper than a smart fourtwo, and cheaper than even the most basic version of any four-seater car that might be considered a rival. For example, standard equipment includes air-conditioning, front and side airbags, a tacho, electric windows, tinted glass, disc brakes all-round, ISOFIX mountings, and a CD player with MP3 compatibility and an aux port and six speakers. For sure, it's not a limo, but given the £6,495 price tag, there's no shortage of value.

There are also Comfort and Style models, which progressively add such things as 15-inch alloys and remote central locking. For £7,565, the Style also delivers, among other things, rear electric windows, heated front seats, an electric sunroof, rear spoiler, and an underfloor luggage box.

And the Comfort is also offered with auto' transmission, and a calendar, with which to measure the acceleration. All models have the low-emission 1.1 engine, although on the combined cycle, the auto' model delivers eight fewer miles per gallon. Fifteen-inch wheels also increase the fuel consumption, but not by much.

All models will have one thing in common: easy driveability. Indeed, the i10 is such an easy car to drive that I wouldn't be surprised to see it become a popular choice among driving schools. There's no complex technology to master: just three pedals and a five-speed stick. And I have to say that makes a refreshing change. Many of the cars I drive seem to be contenders for "The world's most complicated' and a doctorate in digital fascia management would sometimes come in handy. But the Hyundai is rooted in the analogue age and there seems very little that could go wrong, making the 5-year, unlimited mileage warranty seem almost superfluous.

And all you screwheads are going to be disappointed. The trim level of the i10 takes full account of the company's intention to match established rivals - European and Japanese - in matters of build quality. Try as you might, you won't now find exposed screw heads or sharp edges, or carpets that ruck up when you brake. The roof trim is now made from free-range egg boxes and the switchgear no longer moves if you press hard. The doors 'clunk' rather than 'clang', and the shut lines would not disgrace a VeeDub. Indeed, so confident is Hyundai of the i10's build quality, that the fabled 5-year warranty extends to the interior trim. And this, claims the company, would add '...hundreds of pounds if added to the purchase price of rivals.'

Around Town, The I10 Is In Its Element

A modest 65 bhp is not the stuff of dreams, and the performance figures speak for themselves. But 99 Nm at (for a small petrol engine) a fairly low 2800 rpm, is enough to give the Hyundai fairly crisp in-gear performance. It certainly doesn't feel sluggish and it is only on motorways that the absence of any decent reserve of power is noticed - or rather, worried about. At typical 'fast lane' motorway speeds (which, let's face it, hover around 80 rather than 70), the Hyundai engine is beginning to thrash, and even at the regulation maximum, the quite high noise levels soon get tiresome.

But around town, the i10 is in its element. Light to the touch, and with a positive gear-shift, it delivers a pleasant reminder that back-to-basics, handraulic driving can be enjoyable. In fact, I used in preference to a powerful (and automatic) sports saloon on a couple of trips around town. Call me old-fashioned, but there's pleasure yet in the mechanics of car control.

The i10 is a replacement for the Amica, which ranks as a grey-market staff car in places like Worthing and Solihull. What the faithful will make of it I'm not sure: it is more Emma than Edith, and since the new Agilla/Wagon R has gone the same way as the Hyundai, perhaps we have seen the end of high-rise, sit-up-and-beg cars with castors instead of wheels. I once tested an Amica, and I recall the delivery driver's saying to me: "I took one of these up ter Blackpool yesterday, an' I never needed no crutches after." He lied.

But what the i10 lacks in altitude is more than made up for by space in other directions. I shouldn't want to squeeze five adults into it, despite what it says in the brochure, but four will comfortably go. And with a surprising amount of rear legroom, rear-seat occupants are not likely to suffer hearing loss: your knees finish up nowhere near your ears.

And, of course, the rear doors make a huge difference to the amenity of the car. But more than that, they also add a touch of prestige, and that should endear the i10 to older buyers who are downsizing (on retirement, for example) but who want to retain as many big-car features as possible. Younger drivers might take such features for granted, and are more likely to be attracted by the modern styling, which has a European flavour, and is modestly aggressive in a market segment where small sometimes equates to timid.

Hyundai does not quote a maximum luggage capacity with the rear seats folded, but given that 9 cubic feet is available with the seats in place, it must be around 25-30 cubic feet, or about 700 litres. This limited luggage capacity is perhaps the 110's weakest link, although it does have more space than the Amica. But in most other respects, it is akin to a large car, made small.

That particularly applies to the ride quality. The wheelbase and track have been stretched as far as is practicable, which not only helps to optimise cabin space but also delivers a ride that not so long ago would have been considered good in a much larger car. And with a comfortable ride comes fairly slick handling: again a product of the wheelbase-track equation. And unlike the Amica, which looked threatened by the merest side wind, the i10 is altogether more ground-hugging, although not without retaining a decent amount of room for heads. But not screw heads, I'm pleased to report.

Posted on 07.04.2008 by Graham Whyte
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