Sometimes it takes fresh competition to highlight the positives in what was already a good enough existing product. A case in point was the Hyundai i20. Launched in the higher price range of the B+ segment, the i20 was considered expensive in 2009. It was priced uncomfortably close to entry-level sedans and was already attempting to woo a small segment of the hatch buyer.

It was not until competition (read like the Honda Jazz) launched its own cars in this segment, that the i20 began to come into its own and clocked a steady growth in sales. The i20's rationale and better value overall suddenly became all too obvious. It was the more practical alternative – as spacious and as fully loaded with premium features as the sedans it was priced next to.

Hyundai has given the i20 a mid-generation facelift and has used the opportunity to reposition the hatch's value package, again. Smartbuy had posted pictures of the new i20 facelift from the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. This review of the car has been done after an extensive test drive.

New iTeration

The facelift is not extensive, but manages to give the i20 a fresh appearance. The change is more evident at the front than the rest of the car. New headlamps adorn the two sides of the reworked, slimmer bonnet grille. The headlamps exude a very European flavour and also give the face-lifted i20 a fresh introduction that brings it into the fold of the same fluidic design philosophy that all of Hyundai's new products now sport.

A simpler, slimmer bonnet grille with a single slat in black, off-setting the oval, chrome Hyundai logo in the centre is more pleasing. The other change that brings the new i20's look more aggression is the large airdam and the triangular fog lamps in the redesigned front bumper. In fact, the redesigned i20 is now longer overall by over 50mm largely due to the change in the front bumper.

From the side the face-lifted i20 looks identical to the outgoing model. Turn indicator LEDs in the door mirrors, the familiar grab handles and the strong crease of the tornado line catch the onlooker's eye at the sides. The gradually rising shoulder and the glass area remain the same. At the rear of the face-lifted i20, the overall features continue to resemble the previous model. The bumper has been slightly redesigned with new reflectors positioned to again refer back to the fluidic design of the other models. While the tail-lamps overall design has been carried forward, the combination has been reworked to give it a more modern and structured appearance. Overall, the exterior redesign has been a low-budget, yet cost-effective job, giving the new version a fresh look.

Cabin

While the restyling effort was at least fairly evident on the outside, inside the cabin of the new version i20 the changes are less apparent. The same layout of the dashboard and centre console has been carried forward. The centrally mounted info display located on top of the centre stack has also been retained. The hexagonal surround for the audio system and auto airconditioning controls in the centre stack is there too sporting a new shade of grey.

I was driving the 1.4-litre petrol engined, automatic transmission version of the new face-lifted i20. The chrome gear-shift lever and chunky steering too have been borrowed from the previous version, but the wheel is now wrapped in good quality leather. In the new restyled i20, the seats feel firmer and the squabs are now nicely angled to offer better support. The instrument cluster looks similar to the previous model, but the backlit colour and the design of the gauges themselves have been changed.

Loading up its cars with features that competitors in the segment do not possess is a very Hyundai trait and the i20 facelift gets the same treatment. Depending on the trim variant, buyers can get auto headlamps, automatic rain-sensing wipers, six airbags, automatic airconditioning, lane change indicators, rear-parking camera and display, in cabin rear view mirror, 2-DIN audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, clean air cluster-ioniser, smart-key with push button start etc.

While some of these features already give the new ‘iGen' i20 an edge over bigger sized rivals, it takes it one step further with more tech like the electro-chromic cabin mirror (for cutting out high-beam glare) and the heated and electrically foldable door mirrors.

Performance

The i20 variant I was test driving was the 1.4-litre Gamma VTVT petrol engine mated to the four-speed automatic transmission of before. The 1,396cc engine produces a maximum power of 100 PS at 5,500 rpm and a peak torque of 13.9 Kg-M at 4,200 rpm. The engine is very quiet and refined during the regular driving cycles, but gets a bit ‘buzzy' when I stomp on the pedal and the four-speed auto gearbox gets into a tizzy trying to find the right slot for meeting my demands.

Hyundai has also tweaked the 1.2 Kappa, the other petrol engine, with the addition of a dual VTVT – its version of variable valve timing and control. The result is a marginal boost in power to 84PS at 6,000 rpm. The 1,197cc engine manages to produce a peak torque of 11.6 Kg-M at 4,000 rpm. This engine is paired with a five speed manual transmission.

The other engine option that is also available is the 1.4-litre U2 CRDi diesel engine. The four-cylinder 1,396cc engine is the most torquey of the trio generating 22.4 Kg-M between 1,500 to 2,750 rpm. It produces a healthy 90 PS of power at 4,000 rpm. The engine is mated to the same 6-speed manual gearbox.

The rear wheels get disc brakes now in the ABS variants. The suspension has been carried forward and so the ride is very similar to the previous i20, which essentially means that it is very oriented towards city driving. Drive over clean tarmac and it is almost premium sedan like both at the front and rear.

Put over small potholes, manholes and bad road patches and the new restyled i20 manages to soak up much of the impact. The best part is the reassuring ‘thunk' that you hear, instead of a rattle.

The steering is light and breezy in slow traffic and tight city roads. But it lacks feel and feedback at high speeds on the highway. There is no shakiness or vagueness on the straights though. It is clearly oriented towards making city driving easy and comfortable.

Bottomline

ARAI rated fuel efficiency of the new i20 petrol (1.2 Kappa Dual VTVT) is 18.5 kmpl, the diesel variant (1.4 CRDi) is said to deliver a mileage of 21.9 kmpl and the automatic transmission variant (1.4 ltr petrol) is rated to give 15 kmpl. During my test drive (mostly in city) the automatic variant returned only about half the rated mileage.

The new i-Gen i20 is available in 12 variants. Petrol variants range from Rs 4.73 lakh to Rs 6.66 lakh, diesel variants range from Rs 5.96 lakh to Rs 7.44 lakh and the automatic variant is priced at Rs 7.67 lakh.

The new i20 will incite a fresh round of price-to-feature competition, especially since there is no imminent new launch in the segment.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Keywords: Hyundai i20

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