► CAR drives all-new city car
► Fresh i10 more sophisticated than ever
► Good enough in a dying city car market?
Remember when city cars were ten a penny? If you think they still are, let's look at the cars that have been culled of late. The Vauxhall Adam, Vauxhall Viva, Suzuki Celerio, Renault Twingo, and combustion-engined versions of the SEAT Mii, Skoda Citigo and Smart ForFour have all been put out to pasture.
That simultaneously makes the all-new Hyundai i10’s job easier and more difficult – sure, there’s less competition, but does anybody actually want to buy these cars at all? Especially as larger models, like superminis, are available for just a little bit more money.
Despite other car makers leaving the city car scene, Hyundai is certainly still giving it a good go. The new i10’s the wild child to its rather staid and sensible predecessor, at least in appearance.
The trim levels run to four rungs, there are three engines, and manual or automatic transmissions to choose from. There is also loads of customisation – by Hyundai standards – but also a fairly juicy price tag. Is it worth the dough, or should you just opt for a supermini like everybody else?
What’s new with the i10?
Under the skin, not a great deal. You don’t need to be too clever with the mechanicals of a city car. While there are three engines to choose from. A non-turbo 1.0-litre triple, a 1.2-litre four-cylinder, and a turbocharged version of that 1.0-litre. They're all petrol, and provide 66bhp, 82bhp, and 99bhp respectively. The turbo 1.0-litre is only available with N Line cars.
Electric power steering, McPherson strut/torsion beam front/rear suspension and a five-speed manual gearbox complete the package. There’s nothing ground-breaking, but nor is there anything behind the pace.
The real changes are to the body and the interior, where Hyundai’s styling team’s gone wild – with impressive results. The chunky front grille houses honeycombed LED daytime running lights, ahead of a suggestively straked bonnet and swept-back headlights, and smart alloy wheels on higher trim levels.
Add in a couple of genuinely excellent new colours – Aqua Blue is right up our street, and it's exactly what the doctor ordered to make a Hyundai desirable against the likes of the Fiat 500.
N Line spec cars are distinguishable from regular i10s in the way of a bespoke N Line front grille, complete with N Line badging, LED lamps, and three red stripes on the front. We're not sure what those red strips are about either.
Any good inside?
Someone on Hyundai’s team saw what Mercedes was doing with its seamless dual-screen set-up and thought ‘Yep, our i10 needs a piece of that.’ The resulting dashtop housing encompasses an eight-inch infotainment display – the biggest in the class – and traditional dials. Okay, it’s not as sleek as an A-Class, but it’s very grown-up and avoids the cutesy-wutesey interior design so many of these little cars are usually saddled with.
Elsewhere, there’s a hexagonal motif on the dash panel and door tops. Plush it is not, but it’s well-built and nicely designed – the equal of anything in the class, even the VW Up. N Line cars get bespoke gearknobs and steering wheels. Think M Sport for your gran and you're about there.
As for space, it’s exceptional – four six-footers will fit in here, and comfortably, too. In fact, with the front passenger seat set comfortably for this 6’3 tester, there was more than enough space for someone of the same size to sit behind – without even having to press knees into seatbacks. The back windows also roll all the way down, which is a rare treat for a car of this size.
Strictly speaking, the i10 is a standard five-seater – but we’d advise against trying to squeeze anybody but the slimmest of adults three-abreast on the rear bench.
The 252-litre boot is one of the biggest in the class, too, though there’s little in life as unnecessarily irritating as a manually-operated parcel shelf.
Our test cars were all specced to the gunnels, so that eight-inch display provided both Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone services, as well as live sat-nav with weather, traffic, parking and even fuel station information.
There’s even a Bluelink app, capable of locking and unlocking the car, viewing vehicle status, sending directions directly to the nav or finding where it’s been parked.
Drivers of top-spec i10s will also be treated to toasty bums and hands thanks to heated seats and steering wheel, as well as a wireless charging pad, reversing camera, all-round sensors and projector headlights. Not a bad kit roster, though you’d hope as much for a car that, fully-optioned up, costs £17,545…
How does it drive?
Let's kick things off with the sportiest one - the new N-Line. It's a three-cylinder turbocharged 1.0-litre triple making 99bhp and 127lb ft. Fact fans take note: it'll crack the industry standard 0-62mph time in 10.5seconds - four seconds quicker than the slowest i10 with the 1.0-litre non-turbocharged engine.
As with a lot of three-cylinders, it sounds funky, especially when you're really pushing it all the way out to the redline. By the time you've reached the heady heights of 7,000rpm the notes have long transformed from dull monotone to violent shriek. You can even induce a bit of wheelspin when shifting from first to second - try doing that in the 66bhp non-turbo.
Let's address the elephant in the room. This ain't an Up GTI competitor. It's more than 1.5seconds slower at the 0-62mph sprint, and nowhere near as entertaining. But the i10 N Line feels a bit more grown up than an Up. For instance, the i10's triple makes peak power at 1,500rpm, meaning you don't need to cane it to make meaningful progress.
The N Line also benefits from chassis changes. The usual kind of thing, increased spring rate, longer rear bump stops and new rear shock absorbers. The results are that, unsurprisingly, it's stiffer than the regular car. It changes direction quickly, and feedback is strong through that N branded steering wheel too.
Hyundai expects most buyers will opt for the naturally-aspirated 1.0-litre. This offers up 66bhp and 71lb ft for a 0-62mph sprint of 14.6 seconds and a top speed of 97mph. That’s slightly slower than the 59bhp VW Up, despite a modest power advantage. Blame gearing.
While the 1.2-litre four-cylinder acts as a halfway house between the turbo'd and non-turbo'd 1.0-litres. It makes 82bhp and 87lb ft.
The five-speed gearbox is pleasant-enough. You won’t mind stirring it to get up hills, past traffic on motorways or keep it in the power band around town. There's also a five-speed automated manual. Opt for this and the non-turbo 1.0-litre’s 0-62mph sprint leaps up to 17.3 seconds, making it one of the very slowest cars you can buy today. What an honour.
On the road, the least powerful 1.0-litre is gutless but acceptable for this kind of car. The true indicator of how out of depth it feels out of town is how much throttle it takes just to keep it going at motorway speeds – three-quarter inputs just to maintain 70 are not very reassuring.
The 1.2-litre offers near-identical economy in real terms, and though it doesn’t feel much faster the difference is noticeable at higher speeds. It would be our choice.
It handles neatly enough, with feather-light steering but loads of grip from those skinny tyres. Around town, where this car’s at its best, that’s not a problem, and you’ll enjoy good visibility – especially to the rear three quarter – and those high-tech safety aids. Just don’t get too angry, as even on top-spec cars the horn is laughable.
What about that AMT?
If you value your sanity, do not buy the AMT. Standing for automated manual transmission, we truly thought this type of gearbox was on its way out. This gearbox alone would be sufficient to take the i10 from a four-star car to a one-star car.
It’s laughably slow and jerky to shift, up or down. It’s possible to smooth things out a little by lifting off slightly, but it’s so unpredictable that it’s very difficult to modulate this. You can take manual control if you wish – via the shifter, not paddles – but that doesn’t speed matters up.
This lack of urgency presents itself at roundabouts, where you can wave goodbye to slipping into small gaps in traffic, and on inclines, where changing down sacrifices so much momentum that it often requires yet another shift.
If you need a small auto, buy this car’s predecessor with its thirsty but competent four-speed torque converter. Or, set yourself on fire. It’ll be more fun than attempting a commute with this AMT.
Hyundai i10: verdict
The i10 is one of an increasing number of Hyundai models that won’t put you straight to sleep. It’s stylish and desirable, a feat that’s difficult to pull off at this end of the market. The updated interior offers class-leading space and some big-car kit that will make downsizers feel more at home, too.
Opt for a 1.2-litre manual – or even the 1.0-litre if you rarely step out of the city – and you’ll enjoy a very good city car indeed. Hyundai’s ownership package is reassuring too, with good dealers, a five-year warranty and great reliability record.
The sticking point – until we know more about financing – is the cash price. Top-end i10s rival the brilliant VW Up GTI for price. And the i10 N Line even surpasses it in terms of cash.
Even for lower down models, it’s a tough sell against the Up, which drives and handles better, though it does so with a reduced equipment roster in comparison.
As keen drivers, we’d opt for the Volkswagen every time. But there’s little shame in coming a close second.
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