Road tests

New Hyundai i20 2020 review

Is the new Hyundai i20 a real rival to the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta in the supermini class?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Verdict

Hyundai’s new i20 is a serious contender like never before. The cabin is disappointingly dull but this is also a car with an entertaining, accomplished chassis, a smooth and efficient powertrain, solid in-car tech and some appealing finance offers. It’s practical for the class, too. So if you’re in the market for a new supermini, this should definitely be on your shortlist.

If you’re currently scrabbling to recall the outgoing generation of Hyundai i20, we won’t hold it against you. The Korean brand’s most recent supermini was a pretty anonymous creation, lost in a class where the benchmarks for driving dynamics (the Ford Fiesta) and cabin space and quality (Renault Clio) are extremely hard to beat. But prepare yourself for a shock: based on this first drive of a full UK-spec car on British roads, the new Hyundai i20 is a very convincing proposition indeed.

In theory this i20 sits on a developed version of the previous car’s platform, but you’ll find it hard to detect any connection at all, such is the difference from behind the wheel. Indeed, this model has been engineered with the forthcoming hot i20 N in mind, featuring the input of former BMW M Division man Albert Biermann, now head of R&D at Hyundai-Kia. And it shows.

This will come as a surprise to anyone who’s driven the outgoing i20 - and who can even remember doing so - but the latest version is every bit a proper Fiesta rival in the way it handles and steers. There’s still not a great deal of communication from the front wheels as you load up the inputs, but the reaction from the front end is there all the same - direct and positive, and accompanied by precious little body roll. 

The six-speed manual gearbox (which decouples the engine to improve economy) is pleasingly smooth to use too, so find the right stretch of road and there is entertainment to be had. Should you wish, you can flick the car into Sport mode for this, improving the throttle response a little. But like most of these systems, it’s a switch we’d rarely find the need to use.

Under the bonnet, regardless of your choice of trim level, is a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, boosted by 48-volt mild-hybrid tech that takes energy that would otherwise be lost under braking and then feeds it back through to assist with stop/start, acceleration from rest and efficiency when cruising.

The overall output looks relatively modest - 99bhp and 172Nm - but in practice it works extremely well. The engine is a bit of a gem on its own, frankly, running extremely smoothly up to 3,500rpm - by which point its best work is already done. Factor in the MHEV assistance and you end up with a powertrain that has a sweet bubble of torque from barely 1,400rpm and which is quite capable of living up to its suggested gearshifts to cruise around town in sixth.

When the motor cuts in and out (and it does), you’ll only really notice it if you see the rev counter dropping to zero. There’s no shake or judder at all, even as the engine fires back up again, and once you’re cruising along, any three-cylinder hum fades away to the point where wind noise from the side mirrors and tyre noise drown it out. Regardless of price point or car size, this is one of the smoothest MHEV systems we’ve yet encountered.

The trade-off for the impressive body control is a firmer ride than you’ll find on many of the i20’s rivals, but there’s still enough complexity in the damping to soothe out most surface imperfections, and it cushions nicely over speed bumps. We do suspect, however, that our entry-level test car’s 16-inch alloy wheels were contributing a little extra tolerance here; check how posher i20s feel on 17-inch alloys before being seduced by their more extensive equipment lists.

The entry point, SE Connect (£18,595), has a reasonable level of kit anyway, we’d argue. You get the eight-inch touchscreen, a crisp 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors (plus a rear-view camera), and electrically adjustable heated side mirrors.

Move up to Premium (£20,795) and you get LED headlights and tail-lights, folding side mirrors, automatic wipers, climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, and a front arm rest - plus those 17-inch alloys.

Top-spec Ultimate trim weighs in at £22,095 and includes a contrast-colour roof, keyless entry and start, a wireless charging pad for smartphones, blind-spot collision warning and a Bose premium sound system.

Biermann’s input has helped to transform the i20 into a real driver’s supermini, then - and we applaud that. But sadly, it has not quite extended to making the cabin a special place to spend any great amount of time. It’s not that the basic design isn’t functional and smart enough; our entry-level SE Connect model had straightforward rotary controllers for the heating and ventilation, plus a decent eight-inch infotainment screen mounted sensibly high up on the fascia.

The build quality feels tight, too, with no major creaks or rattles. And there’s space on board for four six-footers, plus a 352-litre load bay that’s among the larger in the class.

No, it’s the perceived quality and finish that let the side down a little, for the dashboard has pretty much the full gamut of black and dark-grey plastics, few of them matching and not all of them containing any discernible texture. 

The likes of the Fiesta manage a fake leather grain here, a flash of chrome or slice of piano-black finish there, just to break up the monotony. Even Hyundai’s i10 serves up a bit of colour. But there’s none of that in an SE Connect i20, and the overall effect looks bland and cheap. On this score, at least, Hyundai’s offering is still a notch behind Ford’s - and it’s shown the way comprehensively here by the current Clio, our class favourite.

There’s better news on the pricing front, though. Hyundai’s initial representative PCP offer looks expensive on paper, at £244 pounds per month compared with the £175 you’ll pay for a mild-hybrid Fiesta on comparable terms (36 months and around 8,000 miles per year). But then, the deposit on the i20 is just £2,000, whereas Ford asks £5,333 - so over the full term, the Hyundai will cost you almost a thousand pounds less.

Model:Hyundai i20 SE Connect 1.0 T-GDi 100PS 48v Hybrid
Price: £18,595
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque: 99bhp/172Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 117mph
Economy: 54.3mpg
CO2: 118g/km
On sale: Now

Most Popular

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini
LEC MINI Electric
MINI

LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini

The conversion sees the Mini’s A-Series engine replaced with a dinky electric motor and a 20kWh battery for a range of 70 miles in the city
10 Jun 2021
New Toyota Land Cruiser 300 revealed with six-cylinder petrol and diesel power
Toyota Land Cruiser - front
Toyota Land Cruiser

New Toyota Land Cruiser 300 revealed with six-cylinder petrol and diesel power

Six-cylinder engine line-up and clever new suspension tech for the new large Toyota Land Cruiser, but it’s not destined for the UK
9 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
New Genesis G80 2021 review
Genesis G80
Genesis G80

New Genesis G80 2021 review

Is the new Genesis G80 a worthy competitor in the executive saloon segment?
9 Jun 2021
Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features
Audi S5
Audi

Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features

Almost every car in Audi’s line-up has received a tweak, with major updates including Amazon Alexa integration and a Sonos stereo
11 Jun 2021
New Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet 2021 review
Mercedes E 300 Cabriolet - front
Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet

New Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet 2021 review

The soft-top Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet gets the same updates as the saloon and estate variants
10 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
New 2021 BMW X4 facelift arrives with new look inside and out
BMW X4 - front tracking
BMW X4

New 2021 BMW X4 facelift arrives with new look inside and out

The updated BMW X4 line-up gets a new look and now comes with hot petrol and diesel options
8 Jun 2021
New 2021 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe breaks cover
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe - front
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe

New 2021 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe breaks cover

The new second-generation BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe adds four-door coupe style to the 4 Series range
8 Jun 2021
New Vauxhall Grandland SUV unveiled with fresh design and tech boost
Vauxhall Grandland - front action
Vauxhall Grandland X

New Vauxhall Grandland SUV unveiled with fresh design and tech boost

The heavily facelifted Vauxhall Grandland family SUV gets Visor design cues and plug-in hybrid power
8 Jun 2021