Urgh, I’m just going to come out and say it. The Hyundai i20 has been one of my least favourite hatchbacks of all time.
On a functional level, it is largely flawless. But It has never excited me, not even once. Except for that one time when I stood beside the i20 WRC rally car at the Paris Motorshow. And that’s been a great tactic, using the world rally stage to cultivate not just the handling and dynamics of their cars ala i30N and i20N (as well as their passenger cars in general). But also to surround their hatchbacks with some cool, some edginess, and dare I saw a modicum of desirability. Enter the new i20, a third-generation arriving at a time after the marque has sold 106712 units since 2009. So a fair fan base after all.
‘Sensuous sportiness’. Groan. The marketing department has gone to town with the above-mentioned term describing the aesthetics of the new car but I’ll concede that it at last has a bit of aggression in its DNA. Our test car is a Fluid so comes with 16-inch alloys where the entry-level Motion gets 15-inch wheel covers. The i20 overall is 10mm longer than the car it replaces, and 41mm wider. There’s 88mm more rear legroom as well as improved luggage space. You now get side repeater lamps, a shark fin antenna to add to that exterior appeal. Hop aboard and you’ll encounter a 8-inch infotainment system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, as well as a digital instrument cluster and multifunction steering wheel. The Fluid model is further gifted with interior mood lighting and air vents and USB ports at the rear. A rearview monitor is standard across the range.
Safety gets a notable bump with a reinforced body featuring more high-strength steel, then there are six airbags on the Fluid models where the Motions gets dual. Isofix comes standard as does ABD and EBD. The new i20 is now more aerodynamic with a drag coefficient that’s been shaved from 0.35 to 0.33. You can have an i20 in one of six colours – but if you insist on a two-tone scheme those only come in red or white. There are four different seat coverings between the models too so Hyundai has given you a fair amount of customisability.
Under the bonnet you have three engine choices, a 3-cyl 1l turbo (90kW/172Nm), naturally-aspirated 1.2l petrol (61kW/115Nm), and the naturally-aspirated 1.4l (74kW/133Nm) unit mated to a 6-speed automatic (for the NA engines), manual (5-speed in the NA, 6-speed in the turbo) or 7-speed DCT ‘box (in the turbo). We drove the range-topping turbo model with DCT around a very wet Cape and indeed there was plenty of shunt under my right foot and an entertaining chassis under my bum. The driver’s seat is grippy enough and overall I’d have to concede that I enjoyed my time at the helm of this third-time-lucky generation.
Personally, I’d opt for the 1.4 model with an auto box that can be had for R305k which feels about right for what is ultimately a B-Segment hatch. Yep, it’ll be taking on the mighty VW Polo directly, with a really aggressive marketing campaign featuring Tiktok challenges, popup partnerships and music activations. But the market wants a worthy challenger, not a hip one so luckily for Hyundai, they have one in the new i20. Mind you, the model I mentioned is a Motion spec unit so loses out on alloy wheels and a fair amount of toys, so by all means if you’re flush – go for a Fluid i20 instead.
FULL HYUNDAI i20 RANGE PRICING
1.2 Motion manual – R275 900
1.4 Motion auto – R305 900
1.2 Fluid manual – R289 900*
1.0T Fluid manual – R330 900*
1.0T Fluid DCT auto – R355 900*
*Two-tone paint can be specced for an extra R5k
**Includes Hyundai’s 7-year/200 000km warranty and 4-year/60 000km service plan.