When the original i20 was launched in India in 2009, Hyundai had very conservative expectations. Designed primarily for the European markets, the car was made here and exported. The Korean carmaker only wanted to exploit India’s low production costs. However, the premium hatchback segment was opening up and customers were waiting for a car that was stylish and offered more features than small car and the i20 fit the bill perfectly, helped on by the atrociously priced Honda Jazz. For the last 5 years it held its position well but was in the need for an overhaul. So we now have the new i20 that Hyundai insists is ‘elite’. But is it? We find out:
More aggressive but it will divide opinions
The original i20 was a curvy car with no rough edges. With the new car, the designers have gone the other way. There are similarities but the car looks a different animal. The biggest change is the significantly larger hexagonal grille that dwarfs almost everything. It also gives the car a slightly upright stance that is sure to divide opinion. The headlamps are proportionate but the fake silver eyebrow at the top looks a bit tacky. The missing LEDs and the big fog lamps is a disappointment. The other change is the new tail laps that remind you of the Audi Q series. Along with the black B and C pillars, it makes the car stand out.
Feauture-rich interior, but bland infotainment
From the spartan interiors of the Santro, the cabin inside a Hyundai has come a long way. In terms of ergonomics and features, it is now the benchmark. The new i20 gets a clean dashboard layout with all the features you can think of right from reverse parking camera integrated onto the rear view mirror to rear AC vents, dual airbags and a music system with internal memory. The new three spoke steering wheel is built a notch better than the outgoing version. The infotainment system left us wanting as we were expecting touch screens to make their debut in this segment. The wheelbase of the car has also increased but there is no perceptible change in leg room at the back. It is still a good 4-seater and but a squeeze for five people.
Great in the city, so-so on the highway
The car retains the 1.4 litre diesel and 1.2 litre petrol engines with specs intact. The changes manifest in terms of a stiffer suspension and the car holds its line well and irons out the bumps and craters remarkably. More so with the diesel that has more grunt and almost zero turbo lag. However, the steering still feels light at high speeds and the car does not feel as assured on the curves as the new Polo. The petrol with the smaller engine feels underpowered for the highway though it is more than adequate for the city.
The new generation i20 is definitely a bigger and more refined version of the older car. It packs in more features, sports a new face and behaves better on bad roads. With the Polo or Punto, manufacturers have been nervous to risk a new design but Hyundai has taken that plunge to good effect. A few notable exceptions like reducing airbags from five to two queer the pitch somewhat while absence of day time run.
Some of the features that really make the i20 a premium hatchback are only available in the top end variants. It does not boast class leading performance, ride or handling characteristics but with all the bells and whistles the i20 continues to be the top pick for a practical city car.