Channelling Rover’s worst moment: Hyundai i20 Active first drive, CAR+ May 2016

Published: 29 April 2016

► We drive the new Hyundai i20 Active
► Crossover based on existing five-door
► Outdated interior lets the i20 down 

Oh, how future generations will look back on the Rover Streetwise (2003-2005, RIP) as a far-sighted piece of automotive visionary thinking. Today’s case in point: the Hyundai i20 Active.

A new addition to the i20 range amongst a package of revisions for 2016, this so-called crossover is based on the existing five-door but glories in a visual makeover that modifies over 50% of the exterior. From the moustachioed front bumper to the pseudo skidplates, it’s a surprisingly attractive transformation, further flattered by the 20mm ride height lift. Nicely done.

Sadly, such plaudits abandon all onwards travel plans at the door handles. Unique metal pedals and raised seating differentiate the Active, but in disheartening contrast to the ruggedly handsome outside, the inside is like some kind of retro ’90s plastics party, filled with generic shapes and uniformly finished in ‘black hole’. Blue illumination set to stun is not the best compensation for this; good job the instrument brightness adjuster is easily located. 

Hoping it might win it all back from behind the wheel? Sorry. There’s zero steering feel and the suspension seems poorly damped – thumping into bumps yet rolling round corners at the merest hint of enthusiasm.

The single engine choice, a 98bhp turbo triple, quells this spirit by lumping its efforts into a mid-range wodge that leaves you lagging at the lower end and hanging at the top, an experience compounded by a horrid gearbox; the oddly offset gate making it all too easy to select third instead of first, while anything to do with second requires such a firm hand you might be tempted to use both.

All told, there’s a decidedly budget feel about the entire thing – unusual for a modern Hyundai. Neat niche design does not a holistic ownership proposition make. That Rover may have a lot to answer for.

The specs: Hyundai i20 Active 100 T-GDI

Price: £15,225
Engine: 998cc 12v turbo 3-cyl, 98bhp @ 4500rpm, 126lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 10.9sec 0-62mph, 109mph, 58.9mpg, 110g/km CO2 
Weight: 1181kg 
On Sale: Now

Love: Hyundai’s Streetwise looks great

Hate: Bland interior, forgettable drive

Verdict: Stylish lifestyle projection but it’s a mirage

Rating: ***

Read more from the May 2016 issue of CAR magazine

Interior was surely signed off on a Friday afternoon. Just before Christmas. In the dark. By an owl

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count