What is it?
Let’s not pretend that this new, six-speed manual, 118bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged version of the Hyundai i20 Coupé is related in any way that matters to the steroidal WRC car currently rampaging around the world’s forests and mountains.
In fact, launched last year, the i20 Coupé is unashamedly billed as the sort of car that’ll appeal to drivers after something not only smart-looking and with a bit of entertainment value but also with costs still a chief priority. It’s not going to make you feel like Ari Vatanen, then.
Yet it does have real promise, chiefly because the naturally aspirated 1.2 and 1.4 engines were weak points in the i20’s armour, and this new three-cylinder turbocharged motor, also available in 98bhp and five-speed manual gearbox tune, should solve that.
What’s it like?
The higher-powered engine we’re testing has some zing to it. You do have to rev it to get the best from it, but that’s no hardship as it picks up and delivers real energy when the turbo spools up through the mid-range and even beyond 5000rpm. There’s even an amusingly rorty exhaust burble to enjoy, and while the gearshift is a little mushy, it’s light and easy enough to snick it into the next gate.
What does disappoint is the ride comfort. There’s none of the Ford Fiesta’s wondrous balance of handling finesse and damper pliancy, here; instead (on the standard 17in alloys of our test car) you get a fairly wooden-feeling ride that has the Hyundai jarring heavily into potholes and fidgeting uneasily at high speeds.
The steering isn’t conducive to an enjoyable drive, either. Sure, it has a meaty weight to it that makes for good mid-corner bite, and there’s enough grip from the front end, but there’s no sense of connection and it feels vague in general. There’s just none of the light-footed, corner-hungry turn-in that you can revel in with a Ford Fiesta or Suzuki Swift Sport.
Still, the i20 Coupé is quite refined on a steady throttle, and with a decent driving position and more advanced touchscreen multimedia and nav system than you get in most rivals, there’s clearly still appeal. You even get a reversing camera as standard, on top of the auto lights and wipers, heated door mirrors and climate control that are included, even on cheaper mid-spec Sport trim.
For those designated-driver moments, two average-size adults will be fine in the back behind similarly sized front occupants when they’ve squeezed through the fairly small gap between the door pillar and tilted-forward front seat. You can seat three on the rear bench, but the middle passenger will be disgruntled to say the least.
The boot’s a respectable size – bigger than those of most rivals – and you get a standard variable-height boot floor, as well as the default 60/40 split folding rear seats.
Should I buy one?
Only if you’re tied to getting the lowest possible insurance rating, since the group 11 classification of the Hyundai is usefully lower than that of the Ford Fiesta Zetec S Ecoboost 125 or Suzuki Swift Sport that would be our first choices in the mildly sporting small hatchback fraternity.
It’s also worth pointing out that the list price of the three-door Suzuki is also much cheaper at £1500 less (albeit without a touchscreen system), and both of these alternatives are noticeably faster and vastly more fun.
Simply put, for those who might actively want a sporty-looking car that puts safety ahead of performance and enthusiastic handling, the Hyundai has clear benefits. Step forward parents shopping for their teen’s first car, because Hyundai has answered your prayers.
Otherwise, the Suzuki and Ford, or indeed the Mini Cooper or DS 3 that are also very competitive here, are much more to our taste and likely to be much more to yours, too.