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Hyundai turns on the style – just a little – for its third-generation Polo chaser

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The previous generation of the Hyundai i20 proved that a meat-and-potatoes kind of supermini could sell well even in style-savvy Europe.

But that was 10 years ago and this is now, and in that time Hyundai has become quite a different company. It has long moved away from bargain-basement cars, and that’s paying dividends. Its sales are flying at the moment, the firm posting year-on-year growth in sales and market share.

A kink in the i20’s C-pillar styling is more impactful on higher-grade cars, where it’s picked out in chrome. It aligns nicely with the rear window and cleverly mirrors the shape of the tail-light.

As part of that evolution, the kinds of cars Hyundai sells has also changed: 75% of Hyundai Motor UK’s 2023 sales were SUVs. In other words, that means that the i10, i20, i30 and Ioniq 6 put together account for just 25%.

So where does that leave the i20 hatchback, which has just had a mild facelift for 2024? In Europe, at least, it’s no longer the important model that it once was. And to an extent, that’s reflected in how limited this update is, with some mild visual changes and a rationalised engine line-up.

The i20 may no longer be the driver of sales that it once was, but superminis still have an important role to play in keeping people mobile and building brand loyalty. And anyway, there’s often something joyful about a small, simple and relatively light car.

The i20 line-up at a glance

The most notable change for the facelifted i20 is the thinning out of the powertrain line-up in the UK. It has been reduced to just one engine: a 1.0-litre turbo triple, with either a normal six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. It's unclear whether the Hyundai i20 N hot hatch will make a return.

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There are three trim levels: Advance, Premium and Ultimate. Advance is somewhat meanly equipped, while Ultimate could be quite excessive, but Premium offers a nice middle ground.

DESIGN & STYLING

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hyundai i20 review 2023 02 cornering rear

The current, third-generation Hyundai i20 is a product of a transitional period in Hyundai design. It’s more style-forward than its very conservative predecessor, but compared with the much more out-there looks of the new Kona and Ioniq models, it’s relatively tame.

At 4040mm in length and 2040mm across the mirrors, the i20 is a typical size for a modern supermini, if fairly wide. Its mechanical layout is similarly conventional, with front-wheel drive, transverse-mounted engines, strut-type front suspension and a torsion beam at the rear.

Twin ‘character lines’ in the bodyside create a bit of depth of surface in the front door and visual interest in the rear one, where they overlap. They also add ‘wedge’ (a sense of inclination) to the car’s profile, which designers love.

When this generation of i20 launched, the big news was that it would be available with a 48V mild-hybrid system. This consists of a 48V lithium ion battery and inverter (which forms a roughly briefcase-sized unit carried under the boot floor, where the spare wheel well might otherwise be), plus a belt-driven starter-generator hung off the engine.

This electric motor only ever assists the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine for short bursts under acceleration, but it’s claimed to contribute to a running efficiency gain of up to 4% compared with a non-hybridised i20. That makes for up to 55.4mpg on the WLTP combined test, and that figure is the same whether you go for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or new ‘intelligent’ six-speed manual.

The gearbox’s ‘intelligence’ stems from the electronic clutch: the pedal has no physical connection to the clutch mechanism. Instead, a sensor sends signals to an actuator which does the work. The benefit being that the car can declutch and switch off the engine while coasting, without any input from the driver.

When the i20 was facelifted for 2024, the mild-hybrid engines were removed from sale in the UK (they remain in other markets), leaving just an unhybridised 1.0-litre triple that can be combined with either a normal six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Visually, the facelifted i20 gets revised bumpers front and rear, some new 16in and 17in alloy wheel styles and a few new exterior and interior colours.

INTERIOR

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hyundai i20 review 2023 10 interior

The i20’s predecessors have typically had fascias that seemed simply laid out rather than ‘designed’. It has never been a car to seem at all ‘loaded’ with technology. How quickly things can change.

Some early low-spec versions have analogue gauges, but most i20s have a fully digital instrument screen integrated into a flight console-like panel that passes behind the steering wheel rim and meets up with the central infotainment touchscreen to make one sweeping, dominant installation.

It's possible to set the digital gauge cluster to a trippy display with cubes that fill up as you speed up, but thankfully the standard layout has two clear round dials.

The digital instruments are bright, simply rendered and clear, and the infotainment system is equally simple and easy to use, so even those suspicious of the creeping adoption of digital technology in mainstream cars have little to fear from either. That’s helped by the generous allocation of chunky, solid-feeling switches and fittings for the climate and infotainment, as well as things like the drive modes.

The rest of the cabin is likewise a surprise in places. The i20 feels big for a supermini – specifically, wide. Even larger adults sitting side by side can easily avoid brushing shoulders, elbows or knees, and there’s plenty of room for them to sit one behind the other in reasonable comfort. The boot is averagely sized – 352 litres is up on the Vauxhall Corsa’s 309 but down on the Renault Clio’s 391.

There’s a fine driving position that’s quite low and dead straight, though a bit more steering column adjustment wouldn’t go amiss. The front seats are a touch hard and have less lateral bolstering than some might like. This isn’t really a sporty hatch, though, as we’ll come to explaining, so just a little bit of support may be enough.

The i20’s dashboard is decorated with horizontal ribs – a feature also to be found around the door handles, air vents, speaker grilles and elsewhere. They’re the kind of embellishments that someone who liked an earlier i20 or even a Pony or Getz (remember those?) might consider superfluous. But they do work to give the new i20’s driving environment just a smattering of sensory intrigue, which is very welcome. There’s absolutely nothing else to play to the tactile senses here: not a soft-feeling moulding anywhere and – with the exception of some optional yellow accents – a very limited palette of interior colours.

However hard, the car’s plastics do promise to wear well. They’re not too reflective, they don’t mark up under fingernails and they don’t seem to show the dust or grease much.

Hyundai i20 infotainment and sat-nav

hyundai-i20-review-2023-19-infotainment

Which infotainment system is fitted on your i20 depends on the trim level. Advance gets a smaller, 8.0in screen flanked by some chunky shortcut buttons. It’s quite basic but works well thanks to big target icons and a customisable split-screen ‘home’ display.

Premium and Ultimate benefit from a 10.3in screen with a row of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons underneath. The interface looks prettier and comes with built-in connected navigation. Compared with the very best, there’s a bit too much input lag but, other than that, the graphics are crisp, it’s easy to navigate and the navigation system is very astute in avoiding traffic.

Both systems require a USB cable for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Hyundai’s standard six-speaker stereo sounds slightly tinny, but you get a more powerful Bose system on top-grade cars.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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hyundai i20 review 2023 23 engine

The facelifted Hyundai i20 losing its mild-hybrid engines is certainly an odd move at a time when there’s a constant drive for lower emissions, but the question here is whether it matters much to the driving experience.

It’s been a while since we tried a mild-hybrid i20, but everything we said in our original 2021 road test about the electrified car still applies to the unelectrified one, so it’s safe to conclude that the difference was never very big.

The i20 is likeable enough, but I’m not sure it forges a properly memorable identity for itself. It lacks the handling vivacity of the Fiesta, and while it’s pretty comfortable, it’s certainly no Polo.

Even with some electric help, the 1.0-litre turbocharged triple doesn’t make the i20 the smoothest or most refined car in its niche, nor the most slick or drivable, nor (quite) the most frugal, nor the keenest accelerating. But it does cover all of those areas sufficiently well as to allow none to be counted as a significant weakness. It also begins to feed into a sense of balanced versatility for the i20 – of ease of operation, ampleness of performance, unobtrusive pleasantness of character and creditable efficiency – that makes it hard to seriously criticise.

The car defaults to Eco running mode with every restart. That it doesn’t remember your last selected mode is a slight annoyance, because Eco desensitises the accelerator pedal to unhelpful effect. Flick the car into Sport, though, and the engine responds more smartly and in more linear relation to pedal inputs.

The three-cylinder engine borders on noisiness when it’s loaded up and working hard, particularly at low revs. Occasions to work it like that were made more frequent in our manual test car by the long-feeling gearing that you’d expect of an economy car. As a result, you make plenty of use of second and third gears around town and save sixth for the motorway.

As is often the case with manual Hyundai and Kia models, the gearchange is the highlight of the drivetrain. It's light but with enough feedback and snaps delightfully between gears.

RIDE & HANDLING

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hyundai i20 review 2023 24 action front

The i20 may be a big supermini, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly heavy one out on the road. It handles fairly smartly and with a modicum of agility, through medium-paced steering that may lack the ability to engage much but also stops well short of any major transgression.

The suspension also feels like something of a moderate in its tuning priorities. It holds the car usefully tautly when negotiating roundabouts around town and tackling quicker bends out of town. Body control is more troubled by more complex tasks, though.

The i20 is far from the best-handling or best-riding supermini. Then again, this small, relatively light hatchback still feels fundamentally right in a way that most crossovers don’t.

The i20 is a little bouncy and choppy-feeling when disturbed at speed, while the ride can become hollow-feeling over sharper edges and coarser surfaces. So in neither its damping nor its isolation does the car have much finely honed polish about it and handling precision is perhaps worthy of only passing praise.

Comfort and isolation

The soundness of the driving position and the provision of plenty of space even for taller drivers form a strong basis here. You don’t expect the last word on seat comfort in a supermini, but for its kind, there’s very little to complain about in the i20.

It rides comfortably and quietly enough on most urban roads, fussing a little more than a bigger, heavier family car might as you negotiate speed bumps and other bigger inputs, but not intrusively so. Visibility is typical of a supermini and pretty good in most directions.

Wind noise is fairly well controlled, and the i20 recorded 63dBA of in-cabin noise on the smooth Tarmac of the Millbrook bowl and at a 50mph cruise, which beats what we registered in nearest-equivalent versions of the current Renault Clio and Toyota Yaris and levels with the Volkswagen Polo (although that car was tested in more challenging, wet conditions).

Assisted driving notes

Even range-topping versions of the i20 do without adaptive cruise control, which feels a little mean when many rivals do offer it at least on some versions. Then again, we know from other models that Hyundai’s adaptive cruise control isn’t the best, so maybe it’s not the greatest loss. Normal cruise control is standard on all trims. Premium adds parking sensors and Ultimate adds blindspot monitoring.

As with other Hyundais, the lane keeping assistance and – for the facelifted version – the overspeed warning can be quite intrusive. Thankfully, both are relatively easy to turn off. The lane keeping assistance has a dedicated button on the steering wheel. The overspeed warning needs to be turned off from the assisted driving menu, but that can be mapped to one of the configurable shortcut buttons. Unfortunately, you can’t map the speed warning directly to a shortcut button.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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hyundai i20 review 2023 01 cornering front

If you’re looking for reasons why Hyundai UK has dropped the mild-hybrid versions of the i20, then cost would be a good bet. For whatever reason, the i20 is looking like quite an expensive supermini, as not even the entry-level Advance sneaks under £20,000. Tick all the option boxes on an Ultimate with an automatic gearbox, and price sails right past the £25,000 mark.

At least the options policy feels sensible enough. Advance might be a little bare, but Premium comes with the bigger screen, heated seats, climate control and parking sensors, which makes for quite a rounded spec for a modern supermini.

Hyundai has long stopped being a budget brand, but its warranty remains attractive. While five years isn’t the longest around, it’s still very good and, unlike with other manufacturers, it doesn’t come with a mileage limit.

Fuel economy, whether with one of the older mild hybrids or with a pure-petrol version, is quite typical for a turbocharged three-cylinder with long gearing. On a motorway cruise you might see 60mpg, which isn’t too far off the Toyota Yaris Hybrid. However, if you want to make any sort of progress on give-and-take roads, you’ll need to dial up some revs, which sends the economy plummeting to the low 40s and even into the 30s. If you do a lot of miles in town, the hybrid options in the class (the Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz and Renault Clio Hybrid) are unbeatable.

VERDICT

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hyundai i20 review 2023 27 static rear

The third-generation i20 builds incrementally on many of its predecessor’s strengths, as well as showing a few signs of development in more intangible areas.

It’s a small car of very evident practicality and efficiency. It has a roomy, hard-wearing and well-provisioned cabin and an unobtrusive, easy-to-operate road-going persona. It also shows greater ambition than its forebears as regards design appeal and technology, although quantifying just how much ‘emotional value’ Hyundai has succeeded in adding here is quite the balancing act.

Steady gains for a versatile runabout still lacking some personality

Its driving experience is nicely rounded if not quite viceless. Some rivals manage to balance comfort and sportiness a little better, or offer more of one or the other. The engine, whether hybridised or not, also lacks some low-down punch.

At its price point, there’s little reason to choose the i20 instead of options like the Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia or Toyota Yaris because it doesn’t really stand out in any way. Equally, there’s nothing objectionable about it whatsoever. It’s just a pleasant small car and it’s reassuring to have the choice.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Hyundai i20 First drives