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First drive: Hyundai i20

Date: 25 September 2020   |   Author: Simon Harris

We get behind the wheel of a pre-production version of the new Hyundai i20 ahead of its introduction this autumn.
Standard equipment:
Electric windows and door mirrors, air conditioning, dashboard touchscreen, DAB radio, more to be confirmed
Petrol: 100hp 1.0
Equipment grades:
Seven-speed dual-clutch auto

When I saw the latest Hyundai i20 it was difficult to process that the current model had been on sale for less than six years.

Unveiled at the Paris motor show in October 2014, the second-generation predecessor had barely gained the recognition it deserved when the third-generation model was unveiled for the cancelled 2020 Geneva motor show in March.

That's a pretty tight turnaround for a small hatchback, especially when considering the reduced profit margins when developing compact vehicles.

But it touches on a point that perhaps was the biggest flaw with its predecessor: it wasn't adventurous enough to gain recognition in a sector that often rewards a little quirkiness.

You could point to models like the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, which are successful despite looking as conventional as the i20, but they've both had more than 40 years to establish the name.

Apart from its so-so styling, the previous i20 had much to recommend it. The car had a sophisticated feel inside, and was spacious for a small hatchback. And it came with Hyundai's five years/unlimited mileage warranty, allowing cars to leave service at the end of a typical fleet cycle with some manufacturer warranty remaining, and helping with resale values.

The first major update for the second-generation i20 came in 2018, when a suite of passive safety features were added under the Hyundai Smart Sense banner. Fitted as standard from SE models, it included lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, autonomous emergency braking, driver attention alert, and automatic high-beam dipping.

It's a car that perhaps should have featured more as a contender for top honours in the class.

The third-generation i20 appears to address the most obvious criticism of its predecessor immediately, although the term the company uses - 'sensuous sportiness' - might induce a cringe or two.

The exterior design is a radical departure from what has gone before, and we've since seen with the latest Tucson and Santa Fe that Hyundai is seeking a more distinctive and emotional design language.

The sharp-edged headlamps and grille give the front of the car a more aggressive look, while, being slightly wider and lower than its predecessor, the i20's proportions give it a little more road presence and kerbside appeal.

The car is 24mm lower and 30mm wider than before, while the wheelbase is increased by 10mm, the latter translating to increased interior space, although these amounts are difficult to measure.

Although it has a lower stance, the glass area is slightly larger than before, allowing in more light and increasing the impression of spaciousness.

The interior of our pre-production test car - which, for materials, was not in the final specification - looked far more sophisticated than before, and featured a 10.25in digital instrument panel showing virtual light-faced dials with a 3D shading effect, although the colour changes depending on the driving mode selected.

There is also a 10.25in dashboard screen that, while not connected to the instrument panel in a near seamless Mercedes-Benz fashion is close, and integrated as part of the interior structure.

A range of new connectivity features are accessible through the touchscreen, including Hyundai Bluelink features. Among these are Hyundai live services, which include real-time traffic and weather data, information about nearby fuel stations including fuel prices and parking spaces, and online voice recognition. Further Bluelink services featured in a smartphone app include Find My Car, remote lock services, navigation to local points of interest, vehicle alarm information, and maintenance reports.

Entry-level versions of the car will come with an 8in display screen showing audio functions, but compatible with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, both of which can function wirelessly. A wireless phone charging pad is also available.

The interior is spacious, and Hyundai has also found an extra 25 litres of storage space to add to the boot volume, now measured at 351 litres (more than for the Mercedes-Benz A-Class plug-in hybrid featured on p34-35).

All of those safety features introduced at the previous i20's last facelift in 2018 are in the new model, but it also has more advanced technology to protect occupants and other road users.

Intelligent speed limit assist (ISLA) can intervene when the speed limiter has been set and the driver doesn't respond to the alerts for excessive speed. There is a blindspot alert when approaching traffic might not be seen by the driver, and the autonomous emergency braking function is upgraded to recognise pedestrians and cyclists as hazards as well as vehicles.

There is also a prompt when the vehicle in front begins to move in queueing traffic, and  rear sensors that can warn of approaching vehicles when reversing from a car park space, and also brake if there's danger of a collision. And there is a parking assistance system that can steer the car into a parking space while the driver controls acceleration and braking.

Our test vehicle was equipped with
the latest turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, which on these shores will have a 100hp output plus a 48V mild-hybrid system and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The mild-hybrid system, while not actually powering the vehicle's movement, is said to contribute to a 3-4% reduction in fuel consumption and CO
2 emissions.

It certainly offered ample power in the i20, as well as a good degree of refinement, although our pre-production car was not fitted with production specification sound-deadening materials.

UK pricing and exact specifications are still to be announced, but the new i20 looks a more promising prospect in the sector than its predecessor, and deserves to win Hyundai new customers.



  • Sharp styling
  • Quality feel
  • Need to drive the production version to be sure