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Clash of the hatches

What happens when the new Hyundai i20 diesel comes up against the Fiat Grande Punto? Sumant Banerji finds out...

autos Updated: Jul 18, 2009 00:02 IST
Sumant Banerji

When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second and when you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour — so Albert Einstein explained relativity. When we wanted to take the new Hundai i20 for a test drive, we thought we would take a leaf out of his book. So we got the best diesel hatch in town, the Grande Punto, and raced the two cars for a perspective.

Punto’s good Remember Hyundai’s unconventional, snub-nosed Santro that evoked extreme reactions? They did something similar with the i20 as well, but within limits. This car is distinctly Korean in parts but can pass off as European but for its H badge. It’s got a great shape, easily the most attractive from the Hyundai stable till date.

However, the i20 somehow falls short of the award-winning aesthetics of the Grand Punto. With its proportionate body structure, cute headlamps, prominent grille and beautiful alloys, the Punto is a head turner.

Interiors: i20 has a lead
Many cars have a nice hood but are messed up inside or vice versa. It’s ditto with Punto. Once you step inside the car you may be underwhelmed. The problem is not with the quality of the interiors but the fit and finish. The seats are a little too stiff for the long haul and the rear seats can’t be flattened for extra storage space. Though there are features like steering-mounted controls, automatic air conditioning, etc, it doesn’t feel like a Rs 6 lakh-interior.

The i20, on the other hand, stays true to the promise of being a premium hatch. Inside, the car feels just like any other big car with a huge dashboard, dual tone interiors and integrated music system. Further, it offers a sunroof as an add-on. There is also that subtle attention to detail like an AC inlet in the glove box.

Engine : It’s a deuce
The Fiat comes with the award-winning 1.3 litre multijet engine, which is common for most cars today. The engine is known to be quick and frugal, with good torque. The strengths of this car, however, are its handling and manoeuverability.
But now though it seems to have finally met its match in Hyundai’s 1.4 litre gamma diesel engine. The i20 Korean engine is a true performer both in the city and on the highway. The car zips till you are well past 140 kmph. The only grudge is the little noise at high speeds.

Fuel Economy: deuce again
It’s a real close call here. Both cars are frugal to the core, a good thing considering India is getting so obsessed with diesel. The i20 returned 15 km to the litre in the city with the AC on and 18 kmpl on the highway. The Punto is as efficient on the highway and even goes a kilometre extra in the city.

and the winner is...
Fiat has priced the Punto in such a manner that its top variant is around Rs 10,000 cheaper than the i20’s base variant. But the latter comes loaded with such a range of features that a feature-to-feature comparison is not fair. Some things like six airbags, dual disc brakes at the rear and sunroof are available only in the i20.

For a more balanced comparison, one has to equate the Punto Emotion (Rs 5.57 lakh) with the i20 base model Magna (Rs 6.20 lakh). What you get for the Rs 60,000 extra is a more powerful performer, better ergonomics, driveability and, of course, resale value. We wish the i20’s engine was made in India as that would bring the price below Rs 6 lakh. Now, that would be quite a deal.

On the other hand, if you are happy with a no-fuss economical drive, the Punto is just fine.