From its ‘afro-hairstyle’ advertising to a zesty new Coupe model, Hyundai is on an ‘up’ escalator and revelling in its status as a new ‘people’s car’ manufacturer, a factor with which Iain Robertson feels much accord.


If I were Mr Volkswagen, I would be feeling as though my product stance were under a severe cosh. In fact, I would be checking judiciously over my shoulders, to see on which side Mr Hyundai was making his next overtaking assault. I think that I would be most concerned, as resting on the laurels of past successes is not a luxury that I could afford.


While I am sure that the ‘bowl of rice’ economical slump of the late-1990s that afflicted so much of South Korean enterprise, which was also in its relative infancy, did have an impact on the Hyundai Corporation, it did emerge seemingly unaffected by what was happening around it and, in the process, scooped up (rescued) Kia from its recession-hurt malaise. Since then, subtly but not in the least surreptitiously, Hyundai has grown like Topsy, employing only the very best of people from the design, engineering, financial, sales and marketing sectors.


Its stated aim, supported by its Chaebol (family-based), traditional tribal backdrop, which employs only the highest and most honourable oriental principles, is to serve its customers and to ensure that it presents only the best products available, at competitive prices. It is a high aspiration, yet the company is achieving it with a strength of purpose that ought to be the envy of every carmaker in the world.


Making automotive products for the broadest cross-section of world markets is an exciting prospect and the latest i20 model range, supplemented by the i20 Coupe (about which I shall not dally here), is a prime example of how ‘doin’ it right’ is the only positive sense of direction. Of course, the i20 Coupe is a frippery in many respects, a means by which to present a three-door variant of a cooking model in a sexier and potentially more appealing mould. I shall reserve comments until after I have driven it for a longer period. At this moment, my jury is still ‘out’, deciding on the superficial appearance, which is not exactly up my ‘strasse’.


On the other hand, the regular 5-door hatchback is a genuine little charmer that I know will not only appeal to existing i20 customers but will also attract the ‘growers’ from their smaller i10s, perhaps a few ‘downsizers’ from their former i30s, but also a decent raft of ‘drifters’ from a plethora of other brands too, not the least of which will be VW customers, to whom brand loyalty is little more than a passing fad.


DSC_1813_editedThe new i20 presents a decent package in Premium SE guise. Hyundai can spot a vital niche in the market. It is very good at it, even though its hopes for success with Veloster (an intriguing coupe, with two passenger access doors on the left side of the car, which was heaps more thoughtful than BMW’s Mini Clubman with two doors on the driver’s side…feeble) were dashed by a genuine ‘lack of consumer interest’. All the same, I liked it. I also felt that it had a place in our market; clearly, I was wrong.


DSC_1814_editedAnyway, back to Hyundai’s cognitive powers, the company realises that frugality, zero taxation, lower pollution and cost-effectiveness are the greatest priorities in its most popular model line-ups. While I have touched on value-for-money with Hyundai before and I do feel that even this i20 Premium SE 1.2 Manual is on the sticky side of £15k, the market does seem to find it ‘acceptable’. Yet, most important to our British aging population is a product that remains accessible in all respects. Older duffers do not want to lose in-car gear. They want a moderately high specification for their cash, even though (increasingly), the actual investment is minimal, being offset against fixed monthly payments using a PCP, or private lease scheme, that is underwritten by the carmaker, or its favoured finance house.

DSC_1815_editedAdmire the pretty pictures, because the i20 is a modestly tasteful compact car. It offers a moderately spacious interior that is stitched together proficiently, with a decent stereo, upmarket switchgear and plenty of desirable equipment, it more than meets muster. I am sure that Hyundai apologises for the iPhone holder and its associated electrical ‘plumbing’ that upset the dashboard balance but you will probably have a personal solution for clamping a mobile, or sat-nav device, into your car, which will look every bit as inconsiderate and ugly.


It drives exceedingly well. Pleasant suspension damping provides a good ride quality, while the handling envelope, if not exciting, is certainly more than up to the class average, with a decent turn-in, light body roll but no crashiness. If there is one notable difference, despite its Teutonic design and core engineering language (all carried out in Frankfurt, while the car is also built in Europe), it lacks the harshness of VW product suspension media. In many ways, the driver of the i20 feels mildly cosseted, almost as if the carmaker genuinely cares, aided in no small part by the longer wheelbase and the new, lower platform. In the big, bad corporate world, ‘care’ is a rarity, so you ought to relish it.


The performance from its eager 1.2-litre engine (81bhp) is class adequate (although the Polo 1.2i does outgun it, thanks to its turbocharged grunt), despatching the 0-60mph sprint in a slightly yawning 12.8 seconds, before running out of steam at 106mph. However, Mr, or Mrs, Molehusband will seldom dip into its power graph, so it can be best described as satisfactory. Its Official Combined fuel economy is given as 55.4mpg, although a regular 45-48mpg is eminently attainable, while CO2 emissions have been pegged at a fairly high 119g/km. The Koreans have been quite poor at slipping their figures into sub-100g/km territory and this 1.2-litre mid-range unit proves it again, sadly. It equates to a £30 annual VED rate, which is more than affordable.


Conclusion: Although it sounds like a cliché, the vastly improved Hyundai i20 is a most positive step in the right direction. Well-equipped in this mid-range specification, it is a desirable motorcar, with one hell of a lot going for it. It is a good looking small car that avoids the overt stylishness of some of its rivals, even though the Coupe variant does appear to be trying too hard (as I stated, more on which soon). Roomy, with a good choice of power units (a less punchy 1.2i, much zestier 1.4i and a punchy 1.4TDi), a decent boot (bigger than a stock Focus) and fairly inexpensive to live with, it answers everyman’s automotive requirements. Hyundai is the ‘people’s car’ of the moment.