Adjectives aside, the new Elite i20 from Hyundai is an all-new car, designed and engineered to take on the biggest global brands in the ultra-competitive hatchback market. We give it the thorough road test treatment to see how the new i20 stacks up.
Hyundai Motor India is on a roll. Following on from the strong success of all its recent launches, including the Xcent compact sedan and the Grand i10 hatch, the company seems to be tasting success with every consecutive model it launches. And why shouldn’t it? Hyundai’s formula of stylish, well-equipped cars at prices which make them great value is appreciated by customers the world over, and especially so in India. However, while the formula might appear fool-proof for the most part, Hyundai’s cars have met with their fair share of criticism, notably pertaining to their ride and handling characteristics. But the company has responded to these criticisms positively, and the new i20 has been incubated and developed in Europe.
Design & Engineering
Note the blacked-out C-pillar.
While the new i20 measures the same from end-to-end at 3,995 mm, the wheelbase has been extended by 45 mm, which in theory should translate into more cabin space. However, while the cabin remains spacious as ever, the extra 45 mm in the wheelbase has been taken up fore of the bulkhead, resulting in a reduced front overhang. This not only helps the looks and proportions of the new i20, but has benefits in the handling department too, as we found out.
Another significant design detail is the blacked-out C-pillar. We’ve seen cars with blacked out A- and B-pillars, but the blacked-out C-pillar seems to be a new trend, intended to make a car look longer than it is. This design highlight works reasonably well on the i20.
Of course, the overall design of the new i20 is from Hyundai’s Fludic 2.0 school of design thought, which sees more angular lines and sharper creases replacing the flowing, swoopy lines of Fluidic 1.0. the jury’s undecided on which looks better, but to my eyes, the new Elite i20 looks more modern and advanced design-wise than its good-looking predecessor. It is, to use a cliché, more “European-looking”. The yawning front grille flanked by the slim wrap-around headlamps does leave a lot of vacant space, especially since the front grille appears flat and one-dimensional, but the rest of the new Hyundai i20’s design appears almost perfect. The rear is spot on, with gorgeous tail-lights and s smartly-styled rear bumper which conceals its bulk admirably well, helped no doubt by the reflectors on the lower bumper, which is another Hyundai design trademark.
Gorgeous tail lights really add panache to the new Elite i20. 16-inch wheels are on the Sportz (O) and Asta variants. Standard wheels are 14 inches.
Under the skin, Hyundai has stuck to what it knows, and the new i20 gets the familiar set-up of McPherson front struts with a torsion beam rear axle, and gas-filled shock-absorbers all around. The electric power steering is carried forward too. Braking is handled by discs at the front, with the rear wheels using drum brakes. In the older i20, the diesel variant had rear disc brakes, as did the now-discontinued 1.4-litre petrol version.
The other two engines have been carried forward practically unchanged as far as their hardware is concerned, but the software has been reworked in the interests of fuel efficiency and drivability.
Interiors & Comfort
Evolution rather revolution seems to be Hyundai’s mantra with the Elite i20, and the cabin too bears a similar design template. It all seems familiar in its layout, and retains its straightforward and easy to use character. Plastic quality is better than before, and the rubberized buttons feel nice to use.
The Asta variant we tested comes with all the gizmos customers expect today, including Bluetooth connectivity, steering-mounted controls for audio and telephone, USB and aux-in slots. However, one feature we’re not entirely convinced about is the 1GB on-board storage for the stereo. Why does one really need it? And if tiny flash cards can hold up to 128 GB of data, why not offer more storage to the i20 customer anyway?
This is the most spacious rear of any hatchback currently on sale in India. New i20 has rear AC vents as well.
Coming to the seats, the spacious cabin can accommodate 5 adults in reasonable comfort, and the rear AC vents on the Magna variant onwards make the cabin a comfortable place to site in, especially on a hot summer day like we experienced in Jodhpur. The dual-tone seat fabric is stylish, and appears hard wearing and grime resistant, which is always nice. I found the front seat cushioning to be slightly on the softer side, but many customers prefer it that way, according to Hyundai’s customer clinics.
Quality of materials is excellent, although still feels little less premium than new VW Polo. Asta variant as tested gets two 12-volt sockets.
Performance & Handling
Like I mentioned earlier, one of the core criticisms levelled at Hyundai is that its cars aren’t as dynamically accomplished as some of the competition. With the new i20, the company has worked at resolving the car’s ride and handling.
The new i20's body control and ride quality are vastly improved over the previous generation, but steering is far from feelsome.
The Elite i20 displays better body control and a more composed ride than the earlier car. The 16-inch alloy wheels work to smother many road imperfections, but the suspension remains a little noisy, especially when negotiating large potholes and sharp ruts. The i20’s handling was supposedly honed in Germany, including on the famed Nurburgring race circuit, but the i20 is far from being a hot hatch. The ride is still tuned towards the comfort end of the spectrum, and body roll is present, albeit to a lesser extent than what we’re used to. The biggest improvement in the i20’s handling characteristic is that the tendency to pitch and bob, especially over undulating surfaces, has been greatly reduced. This improvement in body control pays dividends in comfort as well, all the while making the driver feel more confident from behind the wheel.
Steering response remains disappointing however, and while nowhere near as shabby on the previous i20, still does nothing to inspire confidence at speed. The new i20 does have better feel around the straight-ahead position, but as you apply lock, the feel deteriorates and feels quite artificial, almost like a gaming console. Keen drivers will feel slightly disappointed, and will find cars like the new VW Polo and Fiat Punto Evo much better to steer.
Another functional feature are the brakes, which provide adequate retardation, but not much tactility, and as you drive the new i20, you learn to judge braking distances more visually, and rely less on the feel through the pedal. In sum, the new Hyundai Elite i20 still has some way to go before troubling the class benchmark, even though it is vastly improved than before.
Of the two engines, the diesel provides the more engaging drive. The torque its puts out is almost double what the petrol engine manages. The diesel i20 has 90 PS and 220 Nm of torque, while the petrol has only 83 PS and a positively weedy by comparison 115 Nm of torque. The best part is Hyundai has tuned the diesel motor to provide better low-rpm throttle response, and a more gradual torque curve, which has helped drivability immensely. This engine pulls strongly, and the 6 gear ratios in the diesel are well matched to the engine’s torque. Sixth gear though is very close to 5th, and Hyundai could have made the 6th ratio slightly taller in the interests of fuel economy, particularly during a highway cruise.
By comparison, the petrol motor feels practically gutless. First and second gear on the petrol are quite short, which disguises the engine’s lack of grunt, but third feels too tall, and you notice a drop in performance which can be disconcerting in city traffic. As a result, you tend to use the second gear more rather than shifting up, as it is almost impossible to potter around town in third gear in the petrol i20. The petrol i20 tries to compensate at higher rpms though, and you can accelerate briskly when you use boot-fulls of throttle and all the revs.
It would be unfair to grade the petrol i20 poorly however, since the reason Indian customers are lumped with weedy engines is more because of short-sighted government legislation rather than any will on the part of car manufacturers to provide more powerful engines. Forced induction is oen way to go, but Hyundai’s small-capacity turbo-petrol engine is still a year away at least, and might prove too expensive for India (although HMIL has a reputation for aggressive cost management).
The new i20’s mileage isn’t a deal-breaker, but Hyundai cannot claim class honours here. In our test, we managed to get 16 km/l in the diesel i20, with a mix of highway and city driving, including some gently rolling hillside. This figure is good, but not class-leading, but it is unlikely to give buyers sleepless nights either.
Hyundai has dumbed down the Elite i20 safety features in the interests of costs. Sad.
Hyundai had set a benchmark for safety with the earlier i20, which was the only car in its class to offer 6 airbags. Indeed, it was one of the car’s talking points, and had pointed a few customers in its direction. Safety isn’t a major concern for a large majority of Indian car buyers though, and this time Hyundai has reduced the number of airbags to reduce costs. In fact, the base Era and Magna trim versions do not get ABS or airbags, with the Sportz and Sportz (O) offering ABS and a single, driver’s-side airbag. The top-end Asta is the only variant to offer a second airbag for the front passenger. The Asta is also the only variant with a rear wiper as well, which is cost-cutting taken a little too far in my book. A rear wiper is a basic safety feature which hardly costs much, and I was hoping that a manufacturer like Hyundai would take the lead in being safety-conscious.
Hyundai tasted unexpected success with the previous i20. Many thought it to be an ambitious product for a car manufacturer with a history for cheap and cheerful hatchbacks, but with the i20 Hyundai proved it could do premium with alacrity as well. And how it sold! So much so, that Hyundai had to shift its export production to Turkey, given the kind of demand the i20 had in India.
With the new Elite i20, one can fairly expect Hyundai to enjoy much of the same success, and it isn’t hard to see why. The car is better in almost every aspect, with a new, more grown-up look, a better-finished interior, and substantially improved dynamics. Sure, it isn’t perfect, and keen drivers will probably look to other cars, while certain features like the 1GB onboard music storage seems superfluous, with little real utility. I’m also a little disappointed at Hyundai trimming away the safety features which lent the previous model so much credibility, but these are small quibbles.
However, the new Hyundai Elite i20 promises a lot, especially in the way it looks, and this will appeal to many customers. On the outside, it is a genuinely stylish and well-built, premium-looking hatch. Inside, it has the most spacious cabin of any premium hatchback car on sale in India. These two factors alone will win it many fans.
The new petrol i20 is priced from between Rs 5 – 6.6 lakh, ex-showroom, while the diesel is priced between Rs 6.2 – 7.8 lakh. Hyundai is charging a premium of Rs 1.2 lakh for the diesel, variant to variant, which means the on-road price difference will be almost Rs 1.5 lakh. However, the diesel remains the better car of the two, no question, with better drivability and better fuel economy.
Ultimately, Hyundai has built on its traditional strengths, while curtailing some of its flaws, and therefore there is no reason why the new i20 should not be successful.
VW Polo, Fiat Punto Evo, Maruti Swift