It may be one of the newer additions to Hyundai Australia's range, but the i20 actually pre-dates a few of the other models. As such, it doesn't bear the company's dramatic "fluidic design" styling that we have seen and admired on the ix35 wagon and i45 sedan. While it mightn't be as extroverted as those cars, the i20 bears a neat, if unremarkable, shape.
The base model Active can be had as either a three- and five-door hatchback; the higher-spec grades come only as a five-door hatch. You'll need to lift items over the slightly high boot lip to make use of the car's 295-litre trunk. The rear seats split and fold, so you can sacrifice passenger capacity for yet more stuff. Under the boot floor lives a full-size spare wheel and tyre.
Standard on the Active are 15-inch steel wheels, with the Elite and Premium enjoying 15- and 16-inch alloy wheels, respectively. Those higher spec models also gain front fog lights.
Like the exterior, the interior is functional and professional. The dashboard is logically laid out and although it's made of hard plastic, it feels durable and of a good quality.
However, there are a few bum points that Hyundai should fix post haste. Firstly, the chrome on and around the automatic gear shifter catches and reflects sunlight with a distracting regularity. And then there's the blue backlighting for the switches, which when set near maximum is as eye searing as a Blu-ray laser.
There's a decent amount of space for this class vehicle, with decent head and shoulder room at the back. The front seats are moderately grippy and finding a good driving position shouldn't be problematic, as the steering wheel adjusts for both angle and reach.
Around the cabin there's a number of nooks and crannies to store various bits and bobs, and the glovebox is chilled when the air conditioning is on.
For an entry-level car, the i20 features a decent number of gadgets and features. All windows feature electric operation, as do the wing mirrors, which, interestingly for a car in this class, also features an electric folding mechanism. Air conditioning is standard across the i20 range, with the range-topping Premium gaining climate control.
Safety gear for all i20s includes anti-lock brakes, seatbelt pretensioners, stability and traction control, and driver and front passenger airbags. It's a shame that only the more expensive Elite and Premium models have side airbags for those riding up front, as well as curtain airbags for all passengers.
Keyless entry, alarm and immobiliser, and automatic door locking are also standard on the Active. The mid-range Elite gains leather on the steering wheel and gear knob, a trip computer with fuel economy stats, a luggage net in the boot and a bag hook on the back of the front passenger's seat.
Go all out for the Premium and you'll also get to enjoy reading lights up front, and leather seats with red piping. Front and rear parking sensors are available for all i20s as a dealer fit accessory. Cruise control, a reversing camera, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers can't be had, no matter the price.
On both the Active and Elite grades, the i20's audio system is partnered with four speakers, two of which are tweeters and all of which are located up front; only the top-of-the-range Premium features two speakers in the rear. Pump the jam up and the four-speaker system sounds passable, but at any other volume there's a serious lack of depth to the sound. Those craving steering wheel audio controls will need to stump up for either the Elite or Premium.
What the sound system lacks in outright quality, the i20 makes up for in features. There's Bluetooth for both hands-free telephony and music streaming, as well as AM/FM analog radio, a CD player, auxiliary jack and USB port. The latter is compatible with both flash memory drives and iPods/iPhones, although it's not immediately obvious how one goes about changing folders or searching through your music library.
To do that, you need to hold down the Tune button for around three seconds and proceed from there. Despite the single line display, USB drive access is quick. The opposite is the case on iPods, where scrolling between albums, artists or playlists is an exercise in patience and frustration. The latter is born not just of the inordinate amounts of waiting involved, but also the fact that it's incredibly easy to rotate over to the next item as you're attempting to press the Tune button.
On previous Hyundai sound systems, direct iPod connectivity required a special cable with both USB and auxiliary connectors; this is no longer the case, as a regular iPod cable is sufficient. And unlike our recent experience with the ix35, the i20 exhibited none of that car's iPod connection issues.
On the road
Fitted with a 74kW/136Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine, the i20 Active is certainly no fireball. The four-speed auto fitted to our vehicle is smooth, but it strangles what little performance there is and the gas pedal needs to be mashed firmly against the carpet for the transmission to kick down a gear. When the engine's revved hard, an awful mechanical din fills the cabin.
If you're happy shifting gears manually, the five-speed manual makes life considerably more bearable, although upgrading to the 91kW/156Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine used on the upscale Elite and Premium is the preferable solution.
The i20 is considerably better at bringing things to a halt, as all models are fitted with disc brakes at all four wheels. It's no cone of silence, but road noise is unobtrusive until you start driving on coarse chip roads. Ride quality is on the firm side, although there's no payoff for enthusiastic driving.
Body roll is decently controlled when driven at moderate speeds, but when you push on through some corners, the car feels as though it's flexing the tyres' sidewalls. The power steering set-up is a bag of liquorice all sorts. Usually light at low speeds, on several occasions when we attempted to wedge the car into a tight parking spot, it became heavy to the point where power assistance had seemingly cut out. At city speeds the steering feels reasonably well weighted, but hit freeway speeds and the power assistance kicks into overdrive again.
During our time with the i20, the car drank at an overall rate of 8.75L/100km. Over a course compromising country roads and free-flowing freeways the i20 consumed petrol at the rate of 7.5L/100km. In the city and suburbs the i20 registered a fuel economy reading of 10L/100km.
The i20 doesn't have the visual flair of its ix35 and i45 siblings, but it is a solid, decently equipped and sensible small hatchback. That you don't have to pay extra for Bluetooth and a USB port is nice.