IAIN ROBERTSON 

Hyundai i

Hyundai i

As the parent of the South Korean Hyundai-Kia company, writes Iain Robertson, Hyundai has a constant internal battle to strengthen its role, while introducing purposeful new models that service its needs for mass market development.

Apart from Sino-funded PSA Groupe, which has been on a takeover frenzy since the Chinese government, through its Dongfeng car manufacturing business, invested heavily enough to enable both Vauxhall-Opel and Fiat-Chrysler organisations to join its multi-national strength, it has been all quiet on the automotive conglomerates front. Hyundai acquired a majority stake in Kia in 1998, following the latter’s bankruptcy, and together the firms have bolstered their European presence with car assembly plants, design centres and marketing operations, some of which are joint, although the brands remain notionally independent.

Having invested in the best minds and talents from around the world, many of which are of European origin, both Kia and Hyundai have enjoyed incredible growth since the turn of the New Millennium. Together they have ditched the relatively inexpensive but worthy appeal of their earlier production efforts, moving into the more desirable upper segment of the mainstream volume manufacturers. Of course, that also means hiking up the list prices and, while they have remained ‘class-competitive’, neither of the brands can boast ‘class-leading’ status, as they once used to, which is one of the downsides of their desires to be ‘mainstream’. To be fair, the upsides outweigh it considerably.

Hyundai i

Hyundai i

As it happens, former Audi stylist, Peter Schreyer, had been the key instigator for both Kia’s and Hyundai’s upmarket aspirations from the early-2000s. He was replaced by an equal design giant, Luc Donckerwolke in late-2018, the man responsible for enlivening both Skoda and Bentley design presences. It is personnel like these gentlemen to which both brands owe a huge debt of gratitude. After all, shaping a design direction, which results in increases of both showroom and online traffic to the brands, is a key responsibility. Screw-up the styling and the brand might take some time to recover, regardless of the integrity of the rest of the package.

While i10 is the baby of the line-up, Hyundai’s major volume models that include i30, also include the Fiesta-size i20 model range. Although an important second-tier product, it has always been regarded as one that can flex between sub-compact and compact lines, perceived as providing a bit more to some buyers, yet perhaps not quite enough to others. Hence the need for a concentration of design effort and the invention of a novel ‘Sensuous Sportiness’ design language.

Hyundai i

Hyundai i

To be frank, apart from some repositioning of lamps and nattier front and rear detailing, the all-new i20 does not look much different to its predecessor, which suggests other than change-for-change’s sake being unnecessary that Schreyer’s original artwork was more than capable of standing the tests of time. Yet, Luc D’s desire to place his personal stamp on the model is clearly not as essential to him, as it might be to other models higher up the range.

As one of Hyundai’s pillars, the i20 stands for quality, reliability and practicality, all of which are truly worthy attributes. Being built at Hyundai’s Turkish factory, its delights are enhanced by the incorporation of almost every connectivity option, along with an intentional best-in-class ADAS safety package. While it may be a moot inclusion, in light of Boris’s stated intentions to ban all fossil-fuelled motorcar production/UK sales from 2035 (sic.), the revised platform allows Hyundai to introduce mild hybrid, 48V electrification to the model.

Hyundai i

Hyundai i

The i20 has received a comprehensive range of technological enhancements. There are two 10.25-inch screens, consisting of a digital cluster ahead of the driver and a navigation touchscreen, which are combined visually in the dashboard architecture. Both aesthetic and technical solutions convey more stylish proportions, while creating a fresher appearance. The interior space is airy, sculpted and visually strong, which fosters appeal. A notable design highlight are the horizontal blades that stretch laterally across the soft touch moulding and conceal the centre airvents.

In contrast with its predecessor, the replacement i20’s proportions have been made marginally more dynamic, while at the same time ensuring it remains practical enough to navigate and negotiate busy urban areas. Its visual stance is improved by lowering the roof (-24mm), providing a wider body (+30mm) and increasing the length (+5mm), while the wheelbase has also been increased by +10mm, which does not read like much but results in a better proportioned cabin. Boot space, for instance, is now up to 351-litres, which almost trebles in capacity, once the rear seats are folded down. The styling is further augmented by a new design of 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels. An excellent selection of ten body colours that include more intense blue, red and turquoise shades, as well as a black roof option, help to raise the consumer appeal and the intended fresh dynamism.

Hyundai i

Hyundai i

As the first car in its class to be sold across Europe with an upmarket, eight speaker (including a bass sub-woofer) Bose stereo, a bangin’ sound system is an intriguing proposition for UK buyers, who will be largely in their mid-to-late 50s! Mind you, that being the case, I am ripe for the picking and would have no qualms about belting out prog-rock for many hours of the average driving day. The new i20 is also the first-in-class to provide a standard mobile charger mat in the centre console.

Having mentioned the mild-hybrid stuff, the power units include the familiar 1.0 T-GDi in either 97, or 117bhp petrol-turbo forms. The mild hybrid tech can be applied on this engine, either as an option on the lower power version, or as standard with the punchier unit. The 48V system contributes to a 3-4% reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. In terms of transmission, the hybrid is available with either a seven-speed dual-clutch, automated-manual gearbox (7DCT), or a newly developed six-speed Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT), which decouples the engine from the gearbox, while ‘coasting’, thus aiding and abetting fuel savings.

When not mated to the 48-volt mild hybrid system, the 1.0 T-GDi in 97bhp form is available with the 7DCT, or a regular 6-speed manual gearbox. A 1.2-litre, 81bhp, MPi 4-cylinder petrol engine is also available at entry-level, with a 5-speed gearbox.

Conclusion:      Hyundai hopes that its ‘Midas touch’ will be continued in the new i20, which debuts at an otherwise lacklustre Geneva Motor Show in March. One aspect is guaranteed, Hyundai continues to shape up as a carmaker, which remains in doubt for PSA.