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Hyundai i20 1.2 Comfort Roadtest

A replacement for the Getz, the i20 enlarges Hyundai's supermini mix of space and value.

This car is made to a standard, rather than a price

"He's that young man what drives all them cars," announced a comfortable, char-womanly person to her friend. "Come 'ere, an' talk to us," she demanded, grabbing my hand with what felt like a welding glove. "I was jus' tellin' Edie - that's a nice little car what you've come in tonight." I seem to recall that at the last meeting in the village hall, the same woman looked at me, sniffed and walked away.

I found out why. "What you've come in tonight is much better than that bloomin' great thing you turned up in last time. I remember I said to Edie, look at that bloomin' great thing, I said." Not an F430 Scuderia fan, then.

The car that had won such acclaim and a telling squeeze from my new friend was the Hyundai i20. Designed in Germany and a successor to the Getz, the i20, is, like its predecessor, calculated to win the hearts and minds of the Edies, Berts and Freds of this world, and is bound to win the Worthing 'Nice Little Car of the Year' award.

But it is longer, lower and wider than the car it replaces, and at first glance looks like a Corsa, which should also endear it to a more youthful audience. The Getz was the best-selling Hyundai in Britain, and with its appeal to a wider market, the i20 promises to attract even more buyers, helped in these recessional times by a price tag that across the board shows a considerable saving when compared to any of its mainstream rivals - especially equivalent Fiesta or Corsa models.

For example, the entry level 1.2-litre Hyundai i20 3-door Classic is stickered at £8,195. The equivalent Fiesta is £8,514, and the like-for-like Corsa, £9,370.

I drove the mid-range 1.2 Comfort 5-door, which is yours to drive away with five years' warranty for £9,445. The similarly specified 5-door Fiesta 1.25 Style+ is £10,765, and the 5-door Corsa 1.2 Club, £10,574. And the Ford and the Vauxhall have only three-year warranties.

So, as with all things Hyundai, value in the i20 is endemic. And value appears to be the keyword, not cost. This car is made to a standard, rather than a price, and that much is reflected in the Comfort specification of the test car. Features include air-conditioning, side and curtain airbags, iPod and USB ports, a trip computer, coloured seat panels (very chirpy), active head restraints, a CD player, audio controls on the steering wheel, and glove-box cooling. In other words, it's a very complete little car, with just enough modern features to tick the right boxes for a younger buyer.

And all i20s built from February 2009 onwards will come with ESP as standard, albeit at a very slight premium - £200. Thus all models will go up in price by £200, but all will be fitted with ESP.

And if mums or dads are reading this, they might care to take account of the fact that Hyundai's aim is to make the i20 the safest car in the supermini segment: witness the active head restraints, curtain airbags, and soon, the ESP system. Youngsters are rather prone to having accidents - all the statistics point to that fact - and being a father, I know towards which car I would be inclined to steer my son. I wonder if he will notice if I replace the M3 poster in his bedroom with a picture of a nice red i20?

The Engine Proves Itself A Willing Accomplice To A Bit Of Red-Line Motoring

The i20 Comfort can also be specified with a 1.4 petrol engine (with or without auto), or a 74 PS diesel engine, offering 64 mpg on the combined cycle in return for a £1,000 premium on the asking price. But with 51.4 mpg on the urban cycle and a VED-friendly 116 g/km carbon footprint, the 1.4 diesel might, in the long run, prove the cheapest buy.

Even so, the 1.2 petrol car, as tested, will hardly set the Chancellor's tills ringing. A combined fuel-consumption figure of 54.3 mpg equates to a CO2 rating of 124 g/km, which will soon fall into the new VED Band D, at £90 per annum. Insurance should be comfortably cheap: the 5-door 1.2 Comfort has an ABI rating of Group 3E, which means no problems for youngsters.

With a modest 77 horsepower, and a peak torque of 119 Newton-metres, the 1.2 Hyundai engine has to work for its living. Fifth gear is fine for motorway cruising, but no good for open-road overtakes. Fortunately, the little 5-speed 'box is light and crisp, so cog-swapping is about as undemanding as the process can be.

According to the stop watch, the 1.2-litre engine will power the i20 to 62 mph from standstill in 12.9 seconds; but that's largely academic, as is the rated top speed of 103 mph. There's not much point in buying a car that majors on economy, then thrashing the nuts off it. But having said that, in intermediate gears the engine proves itself a willing accomplice to a bit of red-line motoring, when the horsepower is at its peak, and this 'nice little car' bares its fangs. Well, gums, really, but certainly it feels a lot more punchy than the snapshot performance figures might suggest.

The i20 rides on an entirely new platform - unsurprising since it is larger than the Getz - for which the suspension and handling characteristics were tuned on European roads, to appeal to European drivers. This is no GTi, or even a GT, but the combination of broad track and a comparatively light kerb-weight result in a handling package that does justice to its European aspirations.

All Models Have A Height-Adjustable Driver's Seat

The rear torsion-beam suspension does several things: it contributes both to the agile handling, and to an unexpectedly high level of ride comfort, and it also tucks itself away, to make room for people and parcels. Indeed, for a supemini, the i20 is remarkably comfortable, and, throttled back, the noise levels would be considered acceptable in a larger, more expensive car. This is helped by low NVH levels (Noise Vibration Harshness), which have been achieved as much by engineering as by lining the bonnet and bulkhead with recycled Levis.

Thanks to the low-slung torsion-beam rear suspension (once championed by Ferdinand Porsche) the 5-door i20 will easily accommodate four adults, although their luggage may have to find its own way. But for normal shopping duties, the Hyundai's 10 cubic-feet boot is larger than many in its class, and with the rear seats folded, the space expands to more than 37 cubic feet, which is just about class-leading.

The seats are large and Teutonically firm, which is good for posture, and long-haul comfort. All models have tilt and reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and a height-adjustable driver's seat, and such is the range of adjustment that very few drivers are likely to feel anything but perfectly at home behind the wheel.

The bright-red test car had red panels inset into the seat fabric, and the effect cheered up what could so easily be an anodyne interior. I suspect that in terms of overall ambience, Hyundai has steered a careful path between making the interior grey-market-conservative - no point in alienating your existing customer base - and youthfully funky, in the manner of the new Ford Ka. Adding the coloured seat panels was a master stroke: a neat compromise. And the digital panel, set in a sweep of the fascia, will provide youth with a virtual window on 21st Century instrumentation, and older drivers will like the way it gives off a nice orange glow in the dark - like a small and informative electric fire. The rest of the dashboard is just a dashboard, and nothing springs to mind in the awe and wonder department.

I drove the Hyundai in London; I drove it on motorways; I drove it along country lanes. I drove it quickly; I drove it slowly. I drove it during the day; I drove it at night. And not once did I ever encounter a weakness. Objectively, and within context, I could not fault it. Subjectively, and given that I don't much care for smallish cars, I would rather have found something to dislike, if only to support my contention that small cars are generally dull and boring.

But it's not - dull and boring, that is. But it is very ordinary in the sense that it satisfies, with value and pleasant styling, all the fundamental demands of basic motoring. It has no vices or idiosyncrasies, it's easy to drive, handles well, is clearly very safe, can be parked on a sixpence, will stretch each pound in every direction, and will probably prove to be as reliable as a tin-opener.

On top of that, it's a totty magnet. Well it is if you've reached that stage in life when middle-aged spinsters coyly blag a lift in your nice little car. "Come on Edie, there's room for annuver. I'm sure this nice young man won't mind droppin' you off first."

Posted on 26.01.2009 by Graham Whyte
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