Four is an unlucky number for Hyundai i20 Cross
HYUNDAI i20 CROSS
Base price: $27,990.
Powertrain and performance: 1.4-litre petrol four, 74kW/134Nm, 4-speed automatic, FWD, Combined economy 6.7 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 3995mm long, 1490mm high, luggage capacity 326 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Cute and chunky looks, good chassis, modern platform.
We don't like: Modest power, four-stage automatic, doesn't make Ancap grade.
Hyundai New Zealand's new television advertisement for the new i20 Cross is brilliant. Entertaining and heartwarming and all that, but it also deals rather deftly with a couple of tricky i20-issues.
Surely you've seen it: father and son arrive in the forest in their i20 Cross to watch Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon do his thing in the i20 AP4 regional-rally car. Apparently they have a premium parking pass. Anyway, son's decked out in Paddon-tribute overalls and has clearly been allowed to dress-up the family Cross in similar fashion - albeit with flaky cardboard, sticky tape and crayons.
Kid meets Paddon, they roll down a gravel road and all the youngster's work peels away at low speed to reveal the showroom Cross.
Hyundai could easily have come a cropper trying to draw parallels between the Cross and any kind of rally car. It has a cool off-tarmac look but is powered by a 1.4-litre engine with an extremely modest 74kW/134Nm, driving the front wheels only... through a four-stage automatic gearbox.
Just as well Paddon's wearing a helmet. Unlikely he's smiling much.
But the tone of the telly-ad sits perfectly with the Cross. It suggests a connection between road-car and rally-machine, so feel free to make fun of the i20's meagre rally-stage potential. But don't expect a big laugh... because Hyundai NZ's already embraced self-deprecation in a big way.
Is the Cross really bad enough to warrant ironic consumption this early in the piece? Truthfully, no. It's an all-new model on a rigid, all-new platform. It has a sportier look than the previous tall-boy hatch, build quality is impressive and the chassis tackles corners with aplomb.
That's true even of the wannabe-rally Cross model, which has raised 20mm-raised suspension and some pseudo-off-road body stuff including chunky grille, nudge bar, skid plates and wheel-arch mouldings.
The Cross rides on decent Pirelli rubber and proved itself very capable in the corners during our test time. The standard i20 hatchback would no doubt be better still, given that it's lower and ever-so-slightly lighter. But let's face it: we're not talking about an, ahem, motorsport machine here so small degrees of difference don't really matter. The Cross does the job admirably well.
What is doesn't offer is a lot of performance. Hyundai's 1.4-litre engine produces the same power as a Holden Spark microcar, but it has to haul a car a whole size larger. It's easy to point at rival cars that also stick with four-stage transmissions, such as the Toyota Yaris and Suzuki Swift, but in reality it's not good enough for a brand new model with modest power output.
The i20's self-shifter is smooth at steady-as-she-goes urban speeds, but at open-road velocity the combination of poor power-to-weight and paucity of ratios sees the little Hyundai struggling to keep pace on hills and winding roads. The chassis is very good at keeping momentum up, but ultimately it's hard to accelerate out of tight corners with so little to draw upon. No, we're not insisting the Cross offer paddon-pleasing levels of response. But even for very ordinary driving, that four-speeder can be frustrating.
There's no solution in sight. The new Turkish-built i20 is a very European-focused model, so while it's available with some pretty sweet-looking engine options over there, including a 1.0-litre triple and 1.2-litre four, they're manual-only. The 1.4-litre is very much the second-tier choice and yes, Euro-buyers only get the four-speeder too.
The rest of the Cross package is pleasant without containing too much in the way of surprise-and-delight. Interior architecture is neat but very conservative and what may surprise buyers is the lack of any meaningful display/touch screen. Just a little monochrome readout for radio stations, cellphone pairing and the like. That's pretty surprising in an age where sub-$20k city cars have big colour displays with phone-projection technology and sat-nav.
The Cross still gets a reversing camera though, thanks to Hyundai's signature placement of a tiny display in the rearvision mirror. Other driver-assistance equipment includes lane departure warning, hill-start assist and tyre pressure monitoring for the 16-inch rubber. But no autonomous braking - another 2017 must-have that seems to have passed the i20 by.
Indeed, the i20's recent four-star Ancap rating has been greeted with shock and woe, but in fact it should have been no surprise. Hyundai NZ admitted the new car wouldn't get any more than four when it launched the car to media in December 2016, because it lacks that autonomous braking/driver assist technology now essential for a full Ancap score. Expect more of the same from budget cars under the new crash (or avoiding a crash) regime.
Hyundai's Ioniq EV got the full stars in the same Ancap round, by the way.
If its any consolation, Hyundai isn't alone in its powertrain woes. Sister brand (although also a rival brand in NZ) Kia is about to launch its latest Rio small-car, based on the same platform as the i20... with the same 1.4-litre engine and four-speed gearbox.
There will also be an SUV version of Rio, but early indications are that unlike the i20 Cross, it'll have a different body shape and a different powertrain - probably with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Wait and see.