► Hyundai’s oh-so-sensible new mini tested
► Roomy, refined, affordable, comfortable…
► …but not the most memorable of cars
I don’t think it would be unfair to describe the new Hyundai i20 as an anonymous-looking car. Inoffensive and contemporary (slightly Germanic, in fact) certainly, just not that memorable. I only mention this because the first time I went to drive the 1.4-litre petrol i20 tested here I accidentally walked straight past it in the car park. And then did the exact same thing the following day.
The 2015 i20 looks bolder than the car it replaces but it still has an uncanny ability to transform, chameleon-like, into an invisible background element of any car park or street tableau it’s placed in.
Once you’ve managed to locate it and climb in, it’s a similar story on the inside. There’s nothing wrong with the i20's interior, but airy, spacious and logically laid out as it is, it’s just a bit flavourless.
What does the Hyundai i20 have going for it, then?
Well, here’s the thing. On first acquaintance, it’s easy to write the i20 off as a car from the white-goods school of automotive design: practical, easy to live with, long-warrantied and aimed squarely at people who aren’t particularly interested in cars. Before long, however, its no-nonsense attitude begins to appeal.
Unlike what seems to be the majority of current mainstream hatchbacks, the seats aren’t shaped like they’ve been pinched from a BTCC car but they’re extremely comfortable. Probably not a coincidence. Also bucking the trend, the pedals are positioned properly, you can actually do a blindspot check because you can see over your shoulder, the instrument panel’s legible and the dashboard’s not festooned with graphics competing for your attention.
In the same way that a simple plastic lemon squeezer is probably more rewarding to use in the long run than a fancy Philippe Starck one because it doesn’t mess about and just does the job well, the i20’s a straightforward, down-to-earth hatchback that's good at what it does.
Talk me through the Hyundai i20 range
Four engines: two petrols, two diesels. We’re testing the larger petrol option, a naturally aspirated 1368cc four-pot with 99bhp and 99lb ft. (The other’s a 83bhp 1.2 and a new 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo joins the range soon.) Hyundai claims 51.4mpg combined.
A five-door only, it’s bigger than the previous i20 hatchback and genuinely roomy inside for the class, which includes the usual Fiesta, Clio, Corsa, Fabia and Swift suspects.
What’s the 1.4 petrol Hyundai i20 like to drive?
Unremarkable, but fine. The engine’s incredibly quiet on tickover and once you get going there’s a curious damped quality to the power delivery, as if every input from your right foot has to be approved by a computer sub-committee before it reaches the engine. Performance is entirely in keeping with the i20’s straight-down-the-middle vibe: brisk enough not to feel sluggish without ever feeling outright quick.
Both engine and gearchange are silky-smooth, and so is the ride quality. Opposite of the interior plastics, which are deliberately rough with a uniformed, unvarying texture across nearly every surface that makes you feel a bit like you’re sitting inside a milk carton.
The plastics feel like they’ll last forever but I’m not so sure of the rest of the cabin. Prod the carpet that covers the transmission tunnel in front of the rear seats, for example, and it deforms as if it’s clad around some kind of loose cardboard underneath rather than solid trim.
There’s no fancy touchscreen in the i20’s dash to distract you, so Hyundai’s got around that by adding a smartphone cradle with attachments for different-sized phones so drivers can be distracted by that instead.
A white good? Perhaps, but a very good one. The only thing the new Hyundai i20 is lacking is a healthy dash of character and individuality. In a class that’s packed with extroverts, that could leave the i20 a wallflower at the supermini party. The sharper-suited three-door Hyundai i20 Coupe due later in 2015 may inject a little much-needed pizzazz into the range, however.