Oh and we’ll have to drive smaller cars too. For most of us, including myself, that’s a scary thought. Small cars are slow, cramped and just sitting in them wipes 20 points off your CQ (cool quotient). But oil price, credit crunch and climate change realities can be pretty persuasive. Even Americans are talking about ditching their F150s for ‘God have mercy on us’ European Fiestas. After living with Hyundai’s new i10 though, things may not be so bad after all.
In the metal
For starters, it doesn’t look that ridiculous. A height of 1550mm makes it quite tall, but it’s also relatively wide at 1595mm, helping to avoid the anorexic, game-viewing minivan look of some of its rivals. The front end’s shut and crease lines are fussy in execution, but the detail design shows more maturity than most. There are swept back headlights, Hyundai’s new iSeries corporate grille, large lower airdam and neatly integrated fog lamps. Ok, so it won’t get you drooling or your friends insanely jealous, but it’s also not likely to feature on You Tube’s 50 funniest rides either.
What lies within
Getting in is easy, the seating position is high and visibility is excellent. That’s all thanks to the i10’s overall height. More plaudits go to the packaging experts who’ve maximised the available interior volume to create a spacious cabin for four. You could fit five, but there are just two seat belts in the rear. Even the designers get a pat on the back for not messing up the dashboard design, which is both simple and sensible. The dash-mounted gear lever is well positioned, the steering wheel has a tactile hard sponge feel and Narcissus-spec side mirrors are usefully large for such a small car – all good. The only team who’ve let the side down are the colour and trim guys, who deserve a good ear-flicking for deleting the colour palette from their software and choosing to carry on in monochrome. So you get three white ventilation rings and a white speedometer amid a sea of hard black plastic. This in a multitude of varying textures, from rippled vinyl to miniature goose bump. Assembly and build quality seem rock solid for the money. Standard features include aircon, turn-key central locking and electric windows at the front. You pay extra for sound. Not exactly full house, but it all works well. Hyundai have been able to price the i10 ten rand shy of the crucial 90 thousand Rand level. Commendable, but selling an iSeries car (apparently the i stands for ‘Intelligence, innovation and Ingenuity’) minus ABS and airbags is downright cynical.
The black and white theme extends to the seats, with light centres and dark bolsters. The material itself appears suitably durable, but will no doubt prove susceptible to stains. The rear seats have a 60/40 split and fold function to extend the smallish boot when required. As for the shallow boot, it has a clever false floor with a removable, four compartment storage bin below – handy for sandy and wet beach gear. Underneath the plastic bin lies a full size spare.
Here’s how it goes
Where the i10 really excels is out on the road. In charge of motive affairs is Hyundai-Kia’s 1.1-litre four cylinder unit which has it’s work cut out hauling the nearly one tonne city car around. Fortunately its rev-happy, 3 valve per cylinder, SOHC engine is up to the task, (at sea-level anyway) developing a maximum of 49kW at 5500r/min and 99Nm at a relatively low 2800r/min. Unlike a lot of similar powerplants, it seldom sounds intrusive when pushed. The 5-speed gearbox is co-operative, the steering very light, but not as artificial as most and the brake pedal feel is excellent. Shorn of ABS, the actual braking times we achieved were less impressive. At 2395mm, the i10 has one of the longest wheelbases in its class. Longer wheel bases aid ride comfort, and this together with a suspension setup that mixes compliancy with firm body control means the i10 is a tidy handler. In fact, dynamically, I’d say it’s one of the best cars you can buy this side of a Mazda2. There’s an unusual fluency and neutrality to the way it goes around corners that belies its nature.
It’s all reduced to this
We’re a fortunate bunch here in the topCar office. Getting to drive the world’s biggest, most powerful cars is an almost monthly occurrence. I’ll admit, no blood was spilt in the fight for the i10’s keys. Yet everyone who drove it came away impressed. It’s more refined than you expect and entertains you in a way that only good small cars can. There’s nowhere near enough power to get you into trouble, so you can really drive the socks off it, just for fun. In isolation, nothing’s perfect, but the combination of steering, handling, pedal action and gearbox works better than most city cars. Sure it’s still no substitute for a big, complex, luxurious and powerful German sedan, but things are changing. The refreshing simplicity, efficiency and honesty of this small package has definite appeal from behind the wheel. Then there’s Hyundai’s standard 5 year/150 000km warranty to consider too. Now if only they could make it more desirable on the outside and add ABS…the small revolution would manifest even swifter.