Like all the best coming-of-age parties, reports Iain Robertson, the innocuous, smaller member of the family blossoms into something worthier and makes you wonder why you had not noticed its gentle maturing process over the years.
Credit for i10’s existence lies at the door of the Japanese ‘kei-class’; a tax-friendly, parking-friendly but fairly basic mode of city transport. It was inevitable that the South Korean car industry would follow in the footsteps of its Japanese ‘neighbour’. In fact, the forerunner to the current i10 was the Atos model in 1997, which was typical of the breed and a bit of an ugly duckling to be quite frank. The first examples of the i10 appeared in 2008, which satisfied practical, 3.5m long, ‘first car’ needs and soon developed a sound reputation in the UK, off the back of the government’s scrappage programme.
Unveiled at last September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the latest, third generation i10 has grown marginally in every direction but managed to remain well within the maximum 4.0m length for the sub-compact class at just 3.6m. However, every single design element is altered comprehensively for this newcomer, starting with an excellent interior, in which the most obvious feature is the touchscreen atop the dashboard, flanked by an attractive instrument binnacle and a textured dash panel.
Featuring upmarket tactility, a neat centre console, complete with charging pad for smartphones, highlights premium grade connectivity that has never been available at this level before. The cabin presents a pleasant amount of airiness and good space for four adults, with a fifth at a pinch, even though the boot capacity is a modest 252-litres, which can be expanded by flopping the rear seat backrests onto their bases. In fact, the i10 is among the roomiest in the class, despite a lack of steering column reach adjustment, which does compromise the driving position a little, but it also features plenty of small item storage slots. It is unpretentious and business-like but slightly lacking in charm, if being really critical.
Externally, the former ‘cuteness’ of the i10 has been sharpened into a more dynamic form that features stylish slash marks and angularity to its frontal aspect and a distinctive upwards kink to its rear three-quarters view, the model denomination now embossed within plastic mouldings on the rear pillars and the option of a black roof in the current style idiom. When the optional 16.0-inch diameter alloy wheels are specified, it gains an even more sporting appearance. It is around 40mm lower than before and 20mm wider. Overall, it is a clean and largely unfussy design, possessing a muscularity to its flanks that adds beguilingly to its attractiveness. This baby has grown-up.
Designed, developed (in Germany) and built in Turkey, the significantly more youthful appeal of the i10 is supported by a choice of 1.0-litre, 64bhp three-cylinder, or 1.2-litre, 81bhp four-cylinder petrol engines. A further choice of 5-speed manual, or 5-speed automated-manual transmissions, both of which can feature ‘idle-stop/go’ technology, with an interesting ECO pack availability that features adjusted gear ratios, four seats and 14.0-inch wheels intended for enhanced frugality, shows that Hyundai understands its place in the cityscape.
However, at a posted one tonne kerbweight, the new i10’s packed agenda is not exactly among the lighter of its rivals, a factor for which you can blame the high specification. Yet, the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2 benefit from weight savings, despite taking somewhat different swipes at the sub-compact sector. With the choice of two, non-turbocharged engines, the i10, while not slow is not really that zesty out of the blocks either.
The 1.0-litre will crack the 0-60mph sprint in around 14.3s, its automated transmission stablemate taking a further 2.7s to reach the same speed. The punchier 1.2-litre manages it in 12.3s (auto: 15.5s) but all models emit over 101g/km for the present (standard) £145 annual road tax bill. Top speeds are given as 97 and 106mph respectively, whether in manual, or auto-box forms (both are 5-speed units). Yet, they are competitive in fuel economy terms, returning Official Combined figures under the latest WLTP ratings of up to 56.5, or 55.4mpg respectively (manual figures only).
Any issues related to the performance deficit are soon forgotten on the open road, where surprisingly superb driving dynamics are the order of the day. A fluent ‘big car’ appeal is delivered with pitch and roll-free stability, allied to a pleasing suspension compliancy. Quick steering, with a positive feel at the helm is matched by an almost Gallic ride quality, the well-damped set-up absorbing road surface imperfections with an unexpected level of insouciance. The car’s brakes and clutch weighting are nicely balanced and supplement the more upmarket appeal. Grip levels are excellent but the i10 lacks a ‘fun’ edge. Chuck it into bends and the responses cannot match the more typical liveliness of many of its competitors, almost as though the ESP system is curbing and dumbing down the potential. Mind you, switch it off and you might be disappointed, as insufficient power makes push-on understeer more prevalent, while throttling-off mid-bend incites whip-crack oversteer…better leave it ‘on’.
There is a price to pay for the much-improved Hyundai i10, as it is no longer the sub-£10k joy-giver it used to be. Prices start at £12,495, in SE 1.0i manual form, rising to a hefty £15,495, for the Premium trim 1.2i auto, to which you need to add £1,000 for the Tech Pack, £550 for metallic, or pearlescent paint finishes, with another £500 for the optional black roof. A fully-laden i10 is tagged at disturbingly just shy of £18,000, which is a king’s ransom for a car so small.
However, it is the inclusion of SmartSense active safety and driving assistance features, as well as the vastly improved levels of connectivity that are the measures of i10’s coming of age. No car in this class has featured as much driver-orientated equipment as Hyundai has managed to incorporate, as part of a broader realisation that small cars have a vital role to play in the future of transportation. Of them all, the Hyundai app that comes with the new i10 will prove to be the most engaging, with a multitude of features to provide maximum enjoyment.
Forget the nuggety, city car roots of the i10, the new model is now just a downsized family car and much the better for its transformation. It could make a good ‘pool car’ for companies that need such transport options and first deliveries should commence at the end of this month.