Hatch comes with improved cabin, better materials and peppy engine
Buying a car can be a bit like marrying in haste — you repent at leisure if you make the wrong call. A wrong call can be as simple as a car just not suiting you. I’m surprised sometimes at how some people buy what they like as opposed to what they need, buy too large a car, too powerful an engine, too small a boot — I won’t labour the obvious.
We often forget, too, that apart we have to put up with what our motor looks and feels like, especially inside. Up to recently, the utterly bland nature of some interiors would turn you off the idea of having to live with a car for years.
It has to be said that, apart from some absurd scantily clad entry-level models, things have improved a lot. That’s because people won’t stand (or sit) for drab old cloth and dull plastic fascia any more.
Some manufacturers got the message sooner than others and majored on their interiors being far more pleasant places to spend your commute/shopping/family time.
Interior design and styling have taken on substantial significance in the narrowing bandwidth between automaker’s unique selling points. They realised, or have been made to realise, that people insist on a lot better, especially with the emergence of so many super-smart small SUV rivals to the traditional hatchback.
I’ve had my words with some distributors here down the years after describing models’ interiors as ‘bland’. One of those in my line of fire was the previous-generation Hyundai i20 hatchback.
The i20 is one of many models in a crowded small-car market that accounts for a big number of motors bought here every year. That is to say the i20 is purchased by people who would otherwise buy a Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo, Honda Jazz, Kia Rio, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 208 and so on. I felt, at the time of my previous test of the i20, that its interior did not compare favourably with many of those.
So it was with some added degree of interest that I tested the latest i20.
In two-tone launch edition mode, it certainly looked the better of the latest makeover. I think the dark roof and white body of my test car created an optical illusion to make it look lower to the ground than it was, but this gave its looks a certain dynamism. Overall design is sharper, cleaner and much more modern. No grounds for divorce on that front.
But could the cabin design team transform the inside? The simple answer is no. Transform is probably too strong a word, but they have given it a great shot of modernity. This is so much better, brighter, more driver-focused, with far better materials, excellent seating (I can vouch for that in particular) and a sense of style and freshness about the whole set-up.
This is a spacious cabin, even the rear-seat room is decent, while there is great headroom despite the outer ‘crouched’ appearance. The boot was surprisingly spacious boot.
Credit where it is due; the focus on what I’d call design practicality, inside and out, is paying off.
Take the central display. Curved for easier sight for driver, it is a good example of the everyday sensible mix of touchscreen and manual buttons. It is the larger of two screens; the other with speedometer and tank level indicator is vividly clear and visible through the steering wheel, which itself is nice and small and tilted away from the driver.
There was a sense of lightness about the drive, though steering feedback never felt woolly and the engine, even when revved hard, did not betray a coarse note. It consumed 5.4litres of petrol every, 100km which I think is excellent. Sometimes these smaller engines can be thirsty.
There was a bit of tyre/road noise, which involved turning up the radio volume; not a major criticism but not a great idea.
I have to say I was surprised at how fiddly it was to click in the front seat-belts. It’s to do as much with where the receiver slot is located than anything else but it is definitely one of the few negatives in the cabin. It’s the first time I can remember complaining about such an issue.
The i20 is now a car with a bit of real personality. It ticks new boxes. It was always a decent drive. Now it’s got a swing of style to go with it. I don’t see too many i20 owners changing their supermini partners any time soon.
From €17,245. Launch Edition tested (2-tone roof), €19,695; 1.2-litre petrol, 5spd manual, €190 tax. Equipment includes 16in alloys, 10.25in cluster display, TFT screen, wireless phone charging, wide range of driver assist systems and warnings (forward collision avoidance assist, etc), air con, electric/heated door mirrors, park distance warning, cruise control.