Launched: 2021 Hyundai i20

While our entire automotive market is shifting towards SUV’s, bakkies, crossovers and other lifestyle-mobiles, companies like Hyundai are still breathing new life into the once-popular hatchback segment. We test-drove their refreshed i20 on a cold and wet Cape Town press launch.

As is customary with Hyundai S.A. presentations, their detailed A.V. assault included a breakdown of recent South(ern) Africa sales. Large sedans and 2-door vehicles like cabrios, coupés or 3-door hatches are still taking damage in a market that increasingly favours practicality and value over style.

With that in mind, there’s still hope for the 5-door hatchback because it not only offers good versatility but also enticing prices for entry-level buyers; or those who can’t quite stretch to a new SUV yet. On top of that, these hatches are starting to straddle the gap to all-wheel drive vehicles by providing the basis for some crossovers… or imitating them.

Think Figo Freestyle, Vivo Maxx, Cross Polo, the short-lived i20 Active or other little critters who were put on stilts and given an extra layer of plastic edging.

This new 2021-model Hyundai i20 isn’t quite that, but we couldn’t help noticing another detailed slide informing everyone of *drumroll please* a slight increase in ride height. And as the caretaker of an ageing sedan whose driver uses it like a farm bakkie, I can’t stress enough that we need extra ground clearance in Nam/ZA!

Right. A slightly more obvious change is the new design of the vehicle. Hyundai has gifted the fresh hatch a slightly angrier facial expression with the sort of tapered aggression (and flared side vents/pods) which are all the rage nowadays. In my humble opinion, the Korean execution looks quite unique.

Move around to the rear end and you’ll find that it’s also more detailed than its predecessor. The rear light clusters feature another en-vogue item, a continuous vertical bar, as well as Peugeot-like swoops on each corner; complete with i20 logos. Just like the Peugeot.

The interior also got a jab in the arm with the biggest highlight being a digital gauge cluster. Although it’s not very customisable, you’ll have to spend multiples of this car’s asking price to get this modern feature. Even then, most manufacturers will either charge you extra for the privilege or bleed your wallet for a bigger, nicer version thereof.

The digital gauge cluster is standard in the new i20. Yes, even the base model.

Typing of which, below you’ll find a short table with drive-train and trim choices; some of which have been carried over from the previous model. The big sales chief Stanley Anderson beamed with pride when he confirmed that the new range’s prices are almost identical to those of their forebears; but with vastly superior spec.

1.2 Motion MT1197cc i-4 petrol5-speed ManualR275,900
1.4 Motion AT1368cc i-4 petrol6-speed AutomaticR305,900
1.2 Fluid MT*1197cc i-4 petrol5-speed ManualR289,900
1.0 TGDi Fluid MT*998cc i3 turbo-petrol6-speed ManualR330,900
1.0 TGDi Fluid AT*998cc i3 turbo-petrol7-speed DCTR355,900

*available with contrasting roof colour for R5,000

Hyundai ZA also admitted that they’re aiming for a chunk of the VW Polo’s pie piece, and they certainly seem to have the right ingredients to do so. The looks, spec and power all make for a tasty recipe although I do have to note that the lower dashboard plastics felt a little low rent; when compared to the Germans.

As for driving the newbie, we did our best to sail through a fierce Cape winter storm and the little hatchback performed admirably. We only had the 1L turbo-petrol three-pot underfoot – in both DCT and manual guise – of which I certainly preferred the latter. The DCT felt lame and confused in anything but “S” mode.

Getting the most from the punchy 90kW motor is best done with the crisp six-shot manual ‘box whose ratios were nicely stacked to either coast at motorway speed or buzz around a wet mountain pass with vigour. Grip levels and ride comfort were both highly commendable while wind and tyre noise were acceptable.

Depending on the chosen model, the new i20 offers sufficient convenience and luxury features for its passengers while slightly larger dimensions (especially width) ensure enough comfort for four to five passengers. Seat material ranges from cloth to artificial leather; with red piping or decals for higher models.

Buyers get the choice of six exterior colours: white, silver, black, metallic grey, dark metallic blue and a maroon-metallic red. An optional black roof (for R,5000 extra) is available for the first or last colour choice on vehicles ordered in “Fluid” trim. Although it may attract extra heat, I found the stark contrast to be a pleasing visual effect.

In closing, it seems that Korea is serious about giving their i20 models a fighting chance as these latest models have gotten many worthwhile upgrades or additions without inflating their prices. As always, the company ships each new unit with their 7-year/200,000km warranty and a 4-year/60,000km service plan.

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