Whether you blame scrappage schemes or acclaim the Koreans' increasing engineering savvy, there's no denying that the Hyundai i10 is the UK's most popular small car, with nearly 24,000 sold here in 2010.
Hyundai has recently facelifted the i10, and added an eco-friendly Blue specification level to the range. The headline figures are 99g/km CO2 and 67.3mpg combined economy. Blue is short for BlueDrive, Hyundai's environmentally friendly technology set, but you can be Blue in any colour you like from the i10's palette of hues. CAR drove a white one.
Hyundai i10 Blue: first impressions and interior
The i10 Blue must be the most basic eco-spec car on sale today, retailing at £9195. Approaching the i10, you reach for the remote locking keyfob and find yourself plipperless. Deploying the key in the lock, you open your door to reveal a tidily-designed but basic grey 'n black, plastic 'n cloth interior, where door mirrors are adjusted by hand and the (non-folding) key goes in the ignition just like 20th-century cars did. Lay your palms on the plastic steering wheel and shift knob and reminisce about your favourite holiday rentacars of yesteryear.
It's not all austerity measures though, with a six-speaker, single-CD audio system offering the relevant ports for your MP3 player, air-conditioning and electric front windows. Instruments and console light up blue - perhaps a bit too brightly so in the case of the centre-console LCD display's backlighting, which can overwhelm the black text on the display and glows like a budget clock radio.
In the rear, you can squeeze three passengers across the back bench, but the middle inhabitant will be on intimate terms with their neighbours whether they wish to be or not. However, two passengers would find the i10's rear seating has enough headroom for six-footers, and is acceptable for legroom. In van-man mode the i10's seat
base tumbles forward and the flat-folded seatbacks yield 910 litres of utility space. The boot is just 225 litres in conventional configuration.
Hyundai i10 Blue: the road test bit
Hyundai's 998cc twin-cam, 4-valve 'Kappa' triple provides a modest 68bhp at a rather lofty 6800rpm, while 70lb ft of torque is served as a starter at 3500rpm. Revving it hard would sound like the best course of action, and is ably facilitated by the smooth five-speed manual transmission and light clutch action.
Around town, the i10 Blue plays nicely with other traffic, and deploys its automatic Intelligent Stop and Go (ISG) party-trick faultlessly during the course of our test. The engine sounds an enthusiastic three-cylinder thrum but doesn't overwhelm the audio, and the usual eco change-up indicator will have you amused by its optimism at times. Low-speed manouevrability is fine for parking and visibility is good for a modern NCAP-friendly bunker.
You won't be slaying repmobiles on the motorway, but wind and road noise suppression is better than we expected, and the i10's gearing puts the engine at peak torque in fifth gear cruising at 70mph. Select a suitably relaxing playlist on your MP3 player and remember to downshift before trying to pass lorries or tackling steep inclines.
On B-roads the i10 rides nicely enough on its 13-inch low rolling-resistance Hankooks, but those same tyres mean that you won't be seeking to part-ex your hot hatch at a local Hyundai dealer. Understeer is the order of the day, and that holy grail of steering feel is missing from the electrically-assisted steering.
However, the gearchange and aforementioned enthusiastic three-pot engine mean that a country drive in the i10 may raise a smile, and doesn't feel like undue punishment for an open-minded driver. ABS and (the optional £365) electronic stability control should take care of any back-roads over-exuberance, or loss of traction in inclement weather.
The Hyundai i10 exceeded our (admittedly low) expectations as good basic transport. There is a bit more to the little Korean car's current popularity than scrappage incentives and generous warranties.
Whether the i10 Blue is the right model for your needs is another matter. For congestion-charge avoidance and zero road tax the i10 Blue wins. But we can't help thinking that the standard 1.2-litre four, which still offers a low 108g/km of CO2 and 61.4mpg may be better.
You'll gain 17bhp, 19 lb ft, lop 2.6 seconds off the 0-62mph time, add 14-inch wheels and the convenience of remote central locking, and pay £400 less for better 'Active' spec. Or find £150 more for the top-of-the line i10 1.2 Style (the interior featured in our photo gallery).
Either way, Hyundai has a strong contender at the value-for-money end of the city car class.