Our former city car favourite, the Hyundai i10, is replaced by a more grown-up model

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Sometimes, things just work out perfectly. Hyundai could not have foreseen the financial crisis that would coincide with the launch of the previous Hyundai Hyundai i10; nor could it have predicted that unprecedented government incentives would be offered to make small cheap cars appear virtually irresistible.

Had Hyundai still been turning out cut-price mediocrity like the Atoz, it may have resulted in nothing more than a profitable blip. But the Hyundai i10 was different. It was decent enough to look at and to sit in, well made, great value and, incredibly, rather fun to drive.

The original Hyundai i10 was launched in 2007; it replaced the ageing Hyundai Atoz

It was a critical and commercial smash, establishing the steep trajectory for growth that has only just now levelled out – six years on.

Prior to the last Hyundai i10, the brand had been building the Atoz (or Atos or Amica, depending on market) since 1997. In fact, 2014 marked its 17th in production as the model is still sold in India as the Santro Xing.

From a European viewpoint, such a long lifespan hardly seems deserved. Whatever its nameplate, the car was indicative of the downmarket approach the manufacturer took to carve a global niche for itself.

Nevertheless, it was cheap to run, cheap to buy and could seat four adults – all virtues that were transferred to the vastly superior i10.

Now, a second-generation Hyundai i10, not dissimilar to the first, takes up the torch. Significant strides forward in desirability and overall quality have been promised, and they’ll need to be discernible now that others – the Volkswagen Group in particular – have aggressively re-entered the city car segment. The Hyundai i10 was facelifted for 2017, with improved infotainment, a new grille and LED day-running-lights core behind the refresh.

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Hyundai offers its new i10 with a choice of two petrol engines, a 1.0 litre and a 1.2 litre. All come as standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but buyers can opt for the 1.2-litre engine with a four-speed automatic.

A 'Blue Drive' version of the 1.0-litre i10 is also available, which delivers reduced emissions and improved economy compared to the standard version.

So are we looking at a Fiat Panda beater or Volkswagen Up fodder? You’ll know soon enough.



Hyundai i10 rear

Hyundai says that some 31 percent of its buyers choose one of its models primarily because of the car’s styling – two percent above the industry average. Which, if accurate, is no bad reflection on the way its cars look.

The i10 is the first time that the company’s latest design language has stretched this far down the food chain, though, and it’s reflected in a city car that’s rather more stylish than the i10’s otherwise appealing predecessor.

As with the majority of small cars, the i10 follows current front-drive conventionalism

The dimensions are, just about, still city car, but there’s less boxy functionality about the shape than before. The roof is 40mm lower than in the outgoing i10, while the length is up by some 80mm to 3665mm, despite the wheelbase (2385mm) only increasing by 5mm. You can blame an increased front overhang and pedestrian impact regulations for some of that.

Beneath the skin, the platform is all new and, like the powertrain, is designed and engineered in Europe. Built here, too. The engineering centre is in Rüsselsheim, Germany (it’s also the city where Adam Opel made his first sewing machine), and the i10 is built in Ízmit, Turkey.

New it might be, though, beyond intelligent material choices to reduce material weight and cost, you don’t get too much that’s fancy at this end of the market. The i10 has a steel monocoque with MacPherson struts at the front end, and a torsion beam at the rear.

Power for the range comes from a choice of two petrol engines; there’s no point making a diesel for a car this light (the 1.0-litre model weighed 1000kg exactly on our scales) and cheap. Instead, there’s the 65bhp 1.0-litre, three-cylinder thrummer, or an 86bhp 1.2-litre four-pot as an option.

Both are from Hyundai’s ‘Kappa’ engine family and the 1.0 is available with LPG in some markets. When a car costs a little over nine grand, you don’t give it a hybrid system or anything extravagant. It doesn’t use a lot of fuel in the first place, so you just get every ounce you can from the engine.

To that end, the Kappa engine has an aluminium block and head to reduce weight, with cast iron liners. The crank is offset by 11mm, which Hyundai claims is more effective, while conical valve springs are said to be quieter.

Its valves and tappets have a hard-wearing ‘diamond-like carbon’ coating, while piston rings are also given a low-friction finish.

The five-speed manual gearbox hasn’t gone without attention, either. There is a carbonfibre coating on the syncromesh rings, while a lower oil capacity and lower-friction transmission oil than that used in the previous i10 is said to improve fuel consumption by one percent.


Hyundai i10 interior

The i10’s is a functional, robust and relatively spacious cabin that is just about appealing enough to escape the impression of workmanlike dowdiness you might have taken from its predecessor. It’s nothing special, but it's entirely pleasant.

Hyundai is playing by the book and risking very little here. If there’s any deficiency worth significant criticism, it’s a glaring lack of charm of the sort that you respond to in, say, a Fiat Panda.

Rear-seat passengers aren't second-class citizens in the i10

But the equipment count is quite generous, the materials stout, the switchgear feels ready for a decade of use and abuse and you don’t feel short-changed on passenger space. For the i10 – albeit perhaps not for its newly competitive class – this is steady progress. Sitting slightly higher and more bent-legged than you would in some rivals, you’ll recognise this as a more classic, upright city car than a Volkswagen Up.

One or two ergonomic niggles present: you can’t adjust the seat height without opening the driver’s door and there’s no reach adjustment on the steering column. But both headroom and kneeroom are good up front, equally so in the second row, which swallows adults more comfortably than most city cars.

It’s also pleasing to find so much oddment storage in such a small car: good-sized cupholders, bottle holders in the front doors, large centre tunnel cubbies for both rows and a good-sized glovebox.

Your immediate needs are catered for very well, in other words – but they’re met with unpretentious directness, and little convincing style or warmth.

Equipment levels are good with six to choose from. The entry-level S models feature electric front windows, USB and aux connections, a trip computer and tyre pressure monitoring. Air-con is standard on S Air, while upgrading to SE adorns your i10 with cruise control, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, and height adjustment for the driver's seat.

Those interested in the SE Blue will find climate control and start-stop technology fitted, while the mid-range Premium models gain 14in alloy wheels, Bluetooth, hill start control and a leather clad steering wheel. The range-topping Premium SE comes with climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless entry and rear parking sensors.

The facelifted i10 in range-topping trim readdresses the issue of no sat nav as an option by including a built-in 7.0in touchscreen display complete with sat nav and smartphone integration as standard.

Nor does Hyundai even make it particularly easy to mount your smartphone for navigative use. Which means it’s sucker-mounts – together with the ringmarks they leave behind on your windscreen – or nothing.

The Hyundai's stereo system is simple but does the job. Audio quality is adequate in the standard setup – the premium one gets extra speakers for the back doors – and connects with your iPod via USB very neatly.

The big monochrome screen makes it easy to negotiate your music library, too, and the no-nonsense dials are equally easy to tune in to an AM radio station. Which, without DAB even offered, represents the standard of entertainment you can expect in this car.


Hyundai i10 side profile

Students of the city car art will remember a time when the Hyundai i10 dominated this class simply by offering more for the money than the competition could muster.

Plenty of power and flexible performance were among its biggest weapons in overcoming any claim of the Citroën C1 or Suzuki Alto to our affections six years ago.

In the UK, automatic stop-start appears on Blue Drive i10s

For the new i10, life could hardly be more different. In 65bhp 1.0-litre form it finds itself down on power compared with equivalent versions of plenty of competitors – the Chevrolet Spark and the Ford Ka+ included.

The i10 does a lot of things well out on the road. It’s well mannered for something so small and light, with a relatively quiet and smooth engine, a pleasant clutch pedal and a gear lever which, for the most part, is light and slick.

It’s just that the gear lever isn't quite as light or slick as that of the old i10, it seems to us – and it doesn’t take reverse as willingly as it should.

Nobody expects peppy performance in this part of the market. It was a delight to find in the last i10, but you certainly won’t find it in the 1.0-litre version of the new one. Acceleration is quite gentle even at full power.

It’s fine for city motoring but limiting out of town. The Volkswagen Up we tested needs 2.2sec less to get from 30-70mph through the gears and almost six seconds less to hit 80mph from a standing start.

We’ll do Hyundai the courtesy of admitting here and now that the Up we tested wasn’t the 59bhp version this i10 directly competes against; that perhaps stretches the boundaries of fairness and loads the dice against the newcomer a bit.

Hyundai’s 86bhp 1.2-litre i10 addresses the above issues, offering the requisite additional punch to liven the car up a little, but for the kind of price you simply wouldn’t have been asked to pay six years ago.

But the conclusion is the same: somehow, this car just ain’t what it used to be.


Hyundai i10 cornering

The i10’s big asset in this department is how inoffensive it is. How well it copes, for example, when taken out of its comfort zone, plonked on the M1 at a 75mph cruise next to articulated lorries and executive saloons, battered by crosswinds and upset by uneven surfaces.

Bad-handling small cars can suddenly feel very small indeed if they don’t have motorway stability, good resistance to roll and pitch and the easy high-speed touring manners of, say, your average full-size hatchback.

The i10 handles well; there's little fun to be had but it's safe

But the Hyundai has all of the above. Patience-testing performance aside, this car has more than enough ride composure and directional security to make regular appearances on the motorway in rush hour, and on cross-country roads.

The i10’s steering is well weighted: light (just as it should be for something this size) but consistent and predictable when returning to the straight-ahead.

Though it’s quite softly sprung, the i10 doesn’t ride with the compliance of a Volkswagen Up, and there’s a little bit of excitement in the secondary ride you could live without. Nothing that interferes for more than the odd moment, though. For the most part, this car handles with competent maturity.

But the incisiveness we once responded to in the handling mix of the i10 is long gone. The car handles tidily at low speeds, but finds only as much grip around roundabouts and tight junctions as you expect it to, and flatly refuses to engage with attempts at playfulness from behind the wheel.

The i10 coped admirably with the tasks before it on MIRA’s wet and dry handling circuits. As hard as it seemed to actually accumulate enough speed to test them, the car’s tyres provided more than enough grip on both tracks to satisfy any reasonable requirement, and those grip levels were well matched to progressive body control, an intelligent stability control system and a handling balance biased towards stability at the limit.

There are few nasty dynamic tendencies to unearth in this car. Turn the ESP off and you’ll find that gathering understeer is all that awaits you when the road is dry.

In the wet, the i10 can be more of a handful. Its shortness of wheelbase, high roll axis and limited lateral grip makes for quite sudden lift-off oversteer when push comes to shove, which can be hard to recover due to the lack of power and traction up front. But this is common in cars of this type. More to the point, leave the ESP on and you’ll simply never encounter the consequences.

There’s no more fun on offer here than in your bog standard cheap small car, though.


Hyundai i10

No one can accuse Hyundai of losing sight of the qualities that made the original i10 an appealing choice. The new model costs exactly the same as the previous entry-level model.

However, that generation did benefit from having the more powerful 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine at its base, a powerplant economically outpointed by the new three-pot perhaps, but far ahead in the likability stakes. To see it fitted to the new i10, one must select the car in mid-level SE specification.

We averaged 43.9mpg from the 1.0-litre engine while testing, which is pretty reasonable

Return buyers will also be justifiably disappointed to see that no gains have been made in the 1.2-litre engine's frugality or cleanliness. In fact, it's quite the opposite: combined economy has been shortened from 61.4mpg to 57.6mpg, and 114g/km CO2 emissions see the car drop backwards into a higher tax band.

Even by selecting the smaller engine, bargain hunters aren’t guaranteed the tax-free status they would find prevalent in the lower reaches of the Seat Mii or Volkswagen Up range; for sub 100g/km CO2, the i10 Blue Drive must be selected.

Fortunately, the standard spec list makes for a more heartening read. Typically, the basic S trim won’t be the most popular, but it’s worth mentioning that the S Air (with air-con) remains at around the £9k mark.

At mid level SE, from where presumably the bulk of sales will come, the i10 is decently stocked, adding remote locking and all-round electric windows (a thumb in VW’s eye) to the established list.

When it comes to buying an i10 though, it's worth splurging on the 1.2-litre Premium model, thereby gaining pace, kit and a leg up in everyday congeniality.

Expect the i10 to keep more value than an equivalent Fiat Panda, but to lose out to the Skoda Citigo or Volkswagen Up. Servicing won't cost much though, and a standard five-year/100,000 mile warranty should quell any concerns about unexpected bills.



3.5 star Hyundai i10

Hyundai has only ever made one class-leading car as far as this magazine is concerned. It was a cheap, averagely inviting looking city car that ruled its own particular roost, before that roost got colonised by the same players that keep this Korean brand from the lead of every other class we can think of.

It was zesty, pacey, plain but priced to impress. It was the Hyundai i10. May it rest in peace. The new i10 is a different kettle of fish. Smarter looking, richer to the touch, roomier, well equipped and more mature to drive, it’s evidently serious about success in the European A-segment.

It's not the best city car, but it's still very pleasant

But it exists in a space where being outwardly serious about anything is a serious faux pas.

Refined and well mannered but largely charmless with it – and suddenly bereft of the urge and verve that marked out its forebear – the i10 melts away into the middle of a class full of similar offerings.

Unfortunately, for the Hyundai, Volkswagen's Volkswagen Up corners the grown-up and well equipped sector of the market and offers a much better package, overall.

The Hyundai is, in part, a victim of shifting sands in the car market – but also of a telling lack of character and imagination.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Hyundai i10 2014-2019 First drives