Facelift refines Hyundai i20

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 07:00 05/10/2012
The Hyundai i20.

REFINED: The Hyundai i20.

The Hyundai i20 Elite.
Fairfax NZ
INSIDE: The Hyundai i20 Elite.

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Statistics, huh? Sometimes they're not exactly what they seem.

At a media function in Auckland recently, Hyundai New Zealand proudly told journalists that sales so far this year of its i20

HYUNDAI I20

POWER PLANT: 1396cc DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine, 73.5 kW at 5500 rpm, 136 Nm at 4200 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front- wheel drive. Six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. McPherson strut front suspension, torsion- beam setup at the rear. ABS brakes, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management.

HOW BIG: Length 3995mm, width 1710mm, height 1490mm, wheelbase 2525mm. H

HOW MUCH: GL manual $25,490, auto $25,990. GLS manual $25,990, auto $26,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Euro-quality ride, improved specification, no change in price.

WHAT'S NOT: Only a four- speed automatic. New power steer system feels a little strange.

OUR VERDICT: The Hyundai i20 needs to step up and perform better for its importer. Hopefully this facelift will allow it to happen.

supermini had increased 139 per cent over the same period last year.

But then it added that those sales - a total of 454 units to the end of August - represented just 6.1 per cent of the Kiwi market's light-car segment, which placed it in sixth position behind the big-selling Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris, and also the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2 and Holden Barina.

That number of sales also placed the i20 in fourth spot in the Hyundai popularity stakes behind the Santa Fe SUV, i30 hatch and ix35 medium-sized SUV.

That's actually not a particularly good sales performance for what is a fine hatchback reasonably priced in the mid-$20,000s. So what's been the holdup?

"For a variety of reasons, we've been limited in what we have been able to bring in," said Hyundai New Zealand general manager Andy Sinclair.

"But now we're confident those issues are behind us, and that we will be able to shift more stock. Our dealers are quite excited about it."

Sinclair said he hoped that more than 600 of the i20s will have been sold by the end of this year, which would take the car's segment share up to around 8.5 per cent.

"And our aim is to get to 10 per cent. As far as I'm concerned, you aim for the stars; and, if you hit the top of the tree, that's OK, too."

Helping things along will be the fact that the i20 has just received a substantial facelift. This has improved the car's level of standard specification, but the new model has been introduced with the same prices as before.

"We're keeping the vehicle in the segment's pricing sweet spot," said Sinclair of the little Hyundai, which retails for between $25,490 for the entry GL manual and $26,990 for the GLS auto.

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There have been some cosmetic changes to the i20's exterior, with Hyundai designers in Russelheim, Germany, further refining the car's lines so they are more in keeping with the Korean marque's so-called fluidic sculpture design philosophy.

The bonnet, fenders, bumper, grille and lights are all new, and the rear features new combination lamps and bumper. The wing mirrors have also been changed so they are now the electric folding type, and there are new covers for the GL's 14-inch wheels and new 15-inch alloys for the GLS version. The top model also now gets LED running lights and fog lights.

It all adds up to a smarter-looking i20, which continues to boast the quite pronounced strake line that runs down its flanks before folding down over the rear wheel arches.

The interior has undergone some minor change - more an increase in standard specification than anything else - and the car now has steering-wheel-mounted controls, one-touch indicators, and an auxiliary audio input that includes iPod connectivity. Climate-control air conditioning is also standard on the GLS.

The most significant changes have occurred under the bonnet, where various powertrain improvements have resulted in 13 per cent better fuel consumption with the manual models and 8 per cent with the autos. Average fuel use for the six-speed manual is now published at 5.3 L/100 km, and it is 5.9 L/100 with the four- speed auto.

Yes, the i20 continues to have a four-speed auto, and as far as I'm concerned that's one of the minor drawbacks with this car. I actually had quite a debate with Andy Sinclair while driving with him during last week's media event, and his argument was that many of our more veteran motorists - many of whom buy this size vehicle - simply don't want more than four speeds.

They much prefer a transmission to drop down one gear and remain there rather than hunt up and down extra ratios, he claimed. Given that Sinclair comes from a strong retail background, I had to respect that opinion, and it is true that the i20 does have the ability to drop down into third gear and remain there for some time.

But personally, I'd much prefer five or even six ratios in that automatic gearbox, just like the larger i30 hatch has. It just doesn't make sense to me that this Hyundai can be purchased with a six-speed manual while the auto only has the four cogs.

And underlining all of that is the fact that the manual model is a little honey that I personally enjoyed much more than the auto. Maybe I'm not quite a veteran yet.

Another major change is that the i20 now has motor-driven power steering, technology which in turn has allowed the little Hyundai to get vehicle stability management. This is an electronic system that works to combine the steering, stability control and even brakes to help ensure there is safe ride.

It has all helped the car receive a five-star Ancap safety rating, which is the highest possible score for a motor vehicle in New Zealand.

Impressive stuff. However I have to say that the motor-driven power steering feels quite strange. It is speed sensitive, which means it offers the most assistance at lower around-town speeds and the least amount when at speed out on the open road.

It feels a little numb when the car is tracking along in a straight line, but when you move the steering wheel slightly you can feel some resistance there, almost as if the electric system is poised to prevent you from wandering across the tarmac.

Then, during cornering, the steering doesn't seem to want to self-centre once you are emerging from a corner, and it requires you to work to do it yourself. I'm not saying all this is bad - it's just different, and it does keep you quite involved in steering the i20.

I do like the Hyundai i20 though. It's one of those vehicles that might be small on the outside, but which offers superb efficiency of use of available space on the inside.

Designed specifically for the European supermini market, it also has a distinctive Euro feel to it, right down to the firmish ride that I think suits the New Zealand driving conditions.

Shoulder and head room is good, and the environment up front for driver and passenger is as good as any other small hatch on the market.

The base GL hatch comes with keyless central locking and alarm, Bluetooth, glovebox cooling, and newly-introduced UV tinted glass, controls on the steering wheel, a trip computer and the safety of the vehicle stability management.

In addition, the GLS gets a lot more including reversing sensors, automatic headlights, fog lamps, cruise control with speed limiter, climate air, luggage net, and blue lighting on the 'supervision' or instrument cluster.

It all adds up to a vehicle that is a solid performer in the light-car class. Hopefully, the facelift will see more of them made available, so sales can reach the level that the model deserves.

- Taranaki Daily News

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