FIRST DRIVE: Hyundai Atos
Author: John Oxley
Hyundai has come out with a more conventional body style for its latest Atos - this is the third generation - and it should result in wider sales of the Korean-designed (and Indian built) mini car - especially since pricing is highly competitive.
Although based on the same platform and drive train as sister company Kia's Picanto, the Hyundai Atos comes over as a more sophisticated vehicle, with slightly more interior space thanks to a more upright rear window, and a high standard of fit and finish.
At the same time styling follows much on the Getz theme, enabling a family resemblance that has to have a carry-over effect to the smaller car.
Stanley Anderson, Hyundai SA's general manager marketing, says the Atos will be targeted at both ends of the spectrum, from first-time buyers through to those looking for an economical car to see them through their retirement.
At the same time the car has not been skimped in terms of its specification, with air conditioning, power steering, front electric windows, a 54/50 split fold and tumble rear seat arrangement, boot spoiler complete with high level brake light, and central locking all standard.
What's more there's a four-speed automatic version to complement the standard 5-speed manual unit, as well as a cheaper auto version without air conditioning.
Styling is more traditional than the outgoing Atos, with three box styling and a neat front end.
The Getz-like grille is a fixed item separate from the bumper and its front riser, so in the event of an accident the bumper can move without damaging the grille.
The bumpers are designed to re-form at impact speeds of up to 4 km/h without showing any damage, while their rubber inserts are detachable and can easily be replaced if nicks and dents are encountered.
There's a rear window demister and wiper, and mud flaps all round.
Big polycarbonate lights are featured at the front, with "jewel-like" taillights at the back.
The rear tailgate is big and opens quite high - but not quite high enough for a normal male, who would have to bend slightly to load the car.
But loading is made easy by those flop-forward and tumble seats - the latter without removing the adjustable rear head restraints.
With the seats folded down, the new Atos offers an impressive 989 litres of cargo carrying space.
The Atos is still high and relatively narrow, like all Atos before it, but the proportions are such that this doesn't appear as pronounced as before.
You do notice when you get inside the car, however - two broad-shouldered men will sit in quite intimate comfort, although they won't have any problems with headroom, or legroom if the seats are pushed back.
At that point, however, the rear seat legroom diminishes somewhat.
But then, this was never designed as a commuter car for rugby prop forwards - instead it is more likely to carry one mother and her kids, or an older couple set for a visit to their grand-children.
In that role it proves superb. The power-assisted steering makes the car light to park but gives excellent on-road "feel", while the chunky styling assists parking no end - you can see all the car all the time.
On the road the 43.3 kW 1.1-litre engine impresses with its sprightliness and flexibility, and is much livelier than the 1-litre engine it replaces, while on the open road it is well able to conquer the national speed limit.
However, the engine is a trifle noisy at full tilt - although that may well be a feature of the almost total lack of wind noise, exceptional in a vehicle of this class, and spoiled only by a whisper (becoming a howl at high speeds) from the mirrors.
Handling, again not a vitally important issue for this market segment, offers a safe and reliable setup that sees mild understeer at highish speeds, and an element of body roll that will probably be enough to deter its target market from doing anything silly.
Ride quality, is good, and the brakes, with ventilated discs up front and self-adjusting brakes at the back, well up to the job, thanks to MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear axle.
The car comes standard with 5J x 13 steel wheels, shod with 155/70 R13 tyres.
Inside the car one is impressed by the smart styling. The dashboard is well-finished and modern, with the instrument panel recessed in front of the driver, and containing a large speedo flanked by fuel and temperature gauges, plus the requisite "idiot" warning lights.
There's a digital clock, and the two outside mirrors can be adjusted from inside the car, albeit manually.
There's a proper flop-down glovebox, plus map pockets in both doors and behind both front seats, as well as cupholders front and rear.
The front seats are comfortable and quite form-fitting, with fore-aft and recline adjustment.
Those in the back will find the rear seat squabs are quite deep, giving better-than-expected thigh support, and all seats are designed to protect passengers from sliding forward (provided they're wearing their seatbelts) in an accident.
Three seat belts are fitted in the rear and two in front, the latter with height adjustment.
The new Atos comes with the latest in safety features, including side impact beams, and crumple zones in the front which also force the engine under the car and away from the passengers in a serious accident.
For those who like detail the Atos has a 12-valve 1 086 cc four cylinder inline power plant which delivers 43.3 kW at 5 500 r/min and 89.1 Nm of torque at 3 000 r/min.
The engine management system (EMS) includes a self-diagnostic function for simplified repair and maintenance. Fuel tank capacity is 35 litres.
The Atos is introduced with a standard 3 year/100 000 km manufacturer warranty. Service intervals are 15 000 km, and a maintenance plan is optional.
A built-in radio/front loader CD costs R1 750 extra, while alloy wheels are R2 000.
1.1 GLS Manual (aircon - R69 900.
1.1 GLS Auto - R74 900
1.1 GLS Auto (aircon) - R79 900.