As a land obsessed with hatchbacks for three decades, it takes a special kind of understanding to crack the difficult Indian market.
With millennials wanting to talk to their cars more than driving them, it also puts manufacturers in a tricky position of juggling value with performance and technology. But, that is precisely what Hyundai’s expertise has been in ever since it entered the hatchback space with the Getz. The third-gen i20 is a long way off from that humble transporter. Almost identical to the European spec i20, this is as current as the iPhone 12 and one look at it leaves no doubt about that. Sharp design with cuts, creases, the requisite amount of chrome and LED. Add a large glass area to not compromise on everyday practicality and you have the perfect recipe to take the great Indian hatchback story into its next chapter!
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The radical changes on the exterior include actual growth in dimensions besides next-gen styling. A longer wheelbase and width has liberated more space on the inside and coupled with a low beltline and a quarter glass on the C-pillar means that there is plenty of room and light in the cabin of the new i20. Step inside and the steering wheel and 10.25in touchscreen with Bluelink plucked straight out of the Creta set the tone for a modern cabin. Look closer and you’ll also see an all-digital instrument cluster with a rather basic monochrome MID in the middle of the speedometer and rev counter, but it’s all very clearly presented and well laid out. There are loads of features to fill up the marketing ppt but the ones that really matter should be the air purifier with an AQI readout that also changes its LED colour from red to green, depending on the quality of air inside the cabin. A segment first is also the superb-sounding 7-speaker Bose audio system and although it lacks a centre channel speaker on the dashboard like on the Creta, it is well tuned and calibrated to sound large, spacious and with plenty of punch, thanks to the boot-mouned subwoofer. The amplifier for the system rests under the passenger seat and coupled with wireless Apple CarPlay and Androud Auto, the i20 can make light work of trafficated city commutes.
The seats are supportive with gentle bolstering but it does give seat ventilation a miss, with the aim to save some costs. My test car was the 1.0GDi Turbo petrol with iMT and as such, it’s not offered with the some extras that you get on the Asta (O) package that’s combined with the DCT gearbox. Hence, a sunroof and some driving safety nets like Vehicle Stability Control and Hill Assist Control get omitted on the iMT but everything else is almost identical. Rear parking sensors with a high-resolution camera is helpful, as is the cooled glovebox and the USB charging points both for the front and rear passengers. There’s wireless charging also if you don’t want to mess with wires and the 10.25in touchscreen handles all the functions swiftly. A unique and useful addition is the ability to connect two Bluetooth devices simultaneously to the infotainment system where one device could be used for phone calls and the other is used for music streaming. The system also gets OTA updates for maps via its built-in eSIM that comes with a bundled 3-year subscription which also includes SOS services in case of an emergencies. The Bluelink app is comprehensive and provides alerts and a handy visual representation of your cars vital parameters along with setting up geofence alerts, speed limits, real-time traffic and vehicle tracking and some basic voice commands for navigation and climate control. Simply put, all these features are still out of reach for most carsa segment above the i20.
A steering that adjusts for both rake and reach and a height adjustable driver seat hint at a car’s intentions and the i20 certainly is being pitched at enthusiasts, at least in this turbo petrol guise. Generating a healthy 120bhp in an ultralight hatchback like this can yield more smiles per city miles than performance cars that need to be handled with care. The iMT adds to the engagement factor and the little 3-cyl engine is tuned for mid-range grunt that is addictive and even initial turbo lag is minimal and can be masked if you stay busy on the iMT. The advantage of an iMT here is that it will hold its revs until you change gears and the joy of a clutchless manual cannot be express enough in peak hour traffic as well. It likes to rev freely and even has a bite in its sound at the top of the rev range, egging you to stay in a lower gear and zip through traffic. It may not be a Polo GTi level of hot-hatch but it certainly is more than lukewarm! It’s a fun car, aimed to make everyday commutes just a bit more exciting and it excels at doing that. Thankfully the ride hasn’t been stiffened to an extent where it becomes uncomfortable to sit in and it absorbs bumps and potholes with ease, softening the blow inside the cabin. Even insulation is pretty good, letting the Bose audio system shine through with clarity and authority. There’s also a hint of ambient lighting in select parts of the cabin but no sound mood-lighting like on the Kia Sonet.
The iMT’s tendency to roll back on inclines takes some deft footwork though so if you’re eyeing the i20 for a novice driver, the DCT might be a better transmission option to go with.
What really acts as a downer though is the cabin colour, which is a big expanse of black plastics without any break. Depending on the exterior colour variant, you do get copper or red coloured inserts on the AC vents but overall, the modern looking dash design is just lost in plain black, textured black, gloss dark grey and more black. Even the quality of some plastic bits is suspect and Hyundai may have cut some corners here to accommodate for more headline grabbing features. It’s not a deal breaker though and once on the move, you may not even notice it but the i20 is clearly not as well-finished as the Polo TSi when it comes to quality of materials and fit/finish.
If you’re looking for an absolute cutting-edge hatch in terms of both design and tech, the turbo-powered Hyundai i20 is it. It looks almost futuristic with its frameless grille, snazzy 16in alloy wheels and the Z-shaped tail-lights that make it unmistakable for anything else on the road. That adds to its street cred and on the inside it pampers you with goodies that are relevant, practical and indulgent at the same time. It’s performance can’t be termed as scintillating but is certainly more fun than premium hatches of the past at anywhere near its price point. It may not be the most affordable hatchback in its class, but Hyundai has thrown in enough value in terms of creature comforts to justify the price tag, if those kind of things matter to you. The fact that it’s destined to be a sell-out is testimony to the the product team’s selection of kit that is spread across the different variants. Choose wisely and you might just even call it a steal!