Hyundai i20 review: carries all your gear, not enough gears
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
- Good handling and ride
- Up to date on infotainment now
- Impressive cabin and luggage space
- Breathless powertrain
- Looks pretty underwhelming
- All-new model around the corner
Sometimes a car feels like much more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes things just don’t seem to come together as they should.
The latter was the case for Hyundai’s i20 supermini when it was launched back in 2017. It was a reasonably attractive small hatch on a then-new platform, with city-friendly dimensions (just under four metres long) and pretty decent steering and handling.
There was even a “Cross” SUV version, with 20mm-higher ride height and chunky styling addenda.
But while European models got some nice engines, including a 1.2-litre four and 1.0-litre triple, they were manual transmission-only and that ruled them out for New Zealand. Instead we got a pretty modest 1.4-litre, matched to a four-stage automatic transmission.
Fast forward to 2020 and a facelifted i20 is here. The Cross model is gone, presumably because Hyundai NZ now has other, more modern baby SUVs to offer – like the Venue.
For the i20 hatch, there are new front and rear bumpers and mild interior tweaks, including the addition of a touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
But that same 1.4-litre engine and four-speed automatic remain. Which is a shame, because in Europe there’s now even more choice, including a dual-clutch automated transmission to go with those 1.2 and 1.0 engines.
So the story remains the same in terms of performance: the 74kW engine really struggles to propel the i20, even though it’s not a big or heavy car (just 1193kg). The space between ratios is large: it seems to hang onto first forever, but when the time comes to grab second it still feels like somebody’s just hooked a garden trailer on the back.
A four-stage automatic isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for a small, cheap car. The problem is that the i20 isn’t all that cheap: at $26,990 it’s competing against Suzuki’s wildly popular Swift (including the brilliant RS three-pot turbo with a six-speed automatic or the new hybrid), or Kia’s closely related Rio GT Line – which is cheaper and boasts the 1.0-litre triple/six-speed dual-clutch combo the i20 so desperately needs.
And deserves, as it happens. The chassis is still pretty good. Being a European-focused model it doesn’t skimp on the rubber, with Pirellis all-round. It steers with authority and feels impressively rigid on Kiwi backroads. But then the powertrain starts wheezing and spoils things again.
It’s a decent experience for passengers; the teeny tiny 15-inch wheels look comical but ensure a good urban ride. The cabin is no-nonsense, with dark tones and some hard plastics, but as well made as you’d expect of a Hyundai.
The phone-projection system brings the i20 up to date on infotainment, although I could not for the life of me get it to retain a connection with my Android phone. You could blame the phone, but it was and is working fine with other cars.
Rear-seat space is good in the i20 and it has a decent boot by supermini standards, with 301 litres – a good 60l more than a Swift.
So it’s decent in parts but feeling pretty dated in others and that’s no surprise, because Hyundai already has an all-new i20 waiting in the wings (pictured above). It’s been on hold since the Geneva Motor Show was cancelled due to Covid-19 in March – but knowing it’s there does put the current i20 into context.
ENGINE: 1.4-litre petrol four
GEARBOX: 4-speed automatic, FWD