In the current financial climate it’s fitting to heed the advice of a particular South African car rental company that all one needs is "no frills, no fuss, just good value." This maxim applies quite aptly to the first of Hyundai’s i-range cars available locally, the diminutive i10.
The South Korean auto giant was a fringe player in the late 1990s locally with its quality products and healthy specification all wrapped up in some rather odd styling.
A decade later Hyundai is an established player in South Africa, and the styling department finally seems to have figured out how to actually use a set of French curves when designing too.
With its i10, Hyundai aims to blend Korean build quality and small-car packaging skills with some chic Eurocentric styling. Does it work?
Though the range has recently been extended to five models (1.2 power and an ABS/airbag equipped range-topper) our test vehicle was a modest 1.1 GLS spec.
Employing the rental car mantra of no frills, no fuss, just good value, the i10 is about as well appointed as an economy class seat on a West African airliner.
You get air-conditioning (a key feature no less), electric front windows and sun-visors. The radio/CD front-loader is optional. Trip computer? You must be joking? Airbags? Only on the 1.2 GLS in HS spec.
These budget design principles extend to the exterior styling too, with 14-inch steel wheels (alloys are optional) and a pair of the most oversized door mirrors you’re ever likely to see on a city car.
Dimensions are parallel parking-friendly, with the i10 only 3.65m long and 1.59m wide. The proportionally substantial 2.38m wheelbase is configured in the interest of ride quality.
Powering the i10 is a 1.1-litre, fuel injected, single overhead-cam engine. Featuring a decidedly under-square, long stroke architecture (77mm versus 67mm bore) it’s engineered to deliver as much torque as possible from the modest capacity. On paper it produces 49kW at 5 500r/min and 99Nm at 2 800r/min.
Yes, we think it’s odd that Hyundai could not broach the 50kW and 100Nm thresholds, but the Orient’s numerical superstitions are a world of mystery – you’ll never find a building with a fourth floor in Seoul, for instance.
On the inside
The i10 might have a product name which could pass for something produced by contemporary technology leaders Apple, but inside it’s a very run-of-the-mill affair.
In an era of interior ergonomics which have become frightfully too digitised for most drivers older than 40, the i10 is a throwback to manually operated simplicity.
The centre console houses three ventilation dials framed by a similar number of pushbutton controls for the AC and demister. Oh yes, there’s a hazard light button right at the top of the centre console – that’s it.
Hyundai’s i10 instrumentation binnacle is large, featuring a white central speedometer, flanked by a vertical crescent-shaped rev counter, with everything clearly legible even when the steering is adjusted to its highest angle setting.
There’s nothing much to get excited about inside the i10. The perceived feel of quality leaves one in no doubt as to discipline of the Indian labour force who assemble these i10s in Chennai, at a standard quite unfathomable for their local car industry.
One area the i10 does not feel budgeted is space utilisation. The boot is a relatively generous 144l (compared to the Kia Rio’s truncated 120l and even Toyota’s Yaris T1 at 136l) and even four-up, a Jozi-Parys daytrip is entirely within reason.
The boot has its own surprises too; featuring a false floor which is perfect for accommodating soaked wetsuits or muddied riding gear. At the bottom of the hatch loadspace is a full-sized spare wheel - which shows some sensible thinking by Hyundai’s product planning department with regards to local conditions.
On the road
City cars generally do not enjoy a particularly happy lifecycle in South African conditions. High-altitudes, dusty environments, and long distances are not their forte.
With the i10 you may assume the N1 right-hand lane to be strictly off-limits. It only has 49 kW on tap from its single-overhead cam, 1.1-litre engine. With a tare mass of only 915 kg with a 35 l tank of fuel onboard, it’s entirely capable for family commuting though.
If you’re a strict statistician when it comes to purchasing decision, the 0-100km/h number is around 15 seconds. The i10 tops out at 152km/h, which is purely academic.
Economic fuel consumption is a key decision primer for buyers in the i10 market segment, and here the little Hyundai returns stellar figures – averaging just above 6 l/100 km.
With a proportionally long wheelbase, MacPherson struts up front and an assembly line-friendly torsion beam at the rear; the i10 rides with a sense of curious decorum. For such a small car with such "economy-minded" tyres, the damping is excellent. Steering is accurate, yet not fidgety at highway speeds – the bane of many power-assisted city cars.
The blend of plush ride characteristics and neat handling make the i10 fun to drive. Only the centre-console mounted gearshift detracts somewhat, with its notchy quality and inaccurate throw.
Despite not being ABS assisted the brakes are fine. Then again, when you need ABS assistance it’s usually critical, and you have to ask yourself whether you’re an accomplished enough cadence braking expert to get the i10 slowed down in time.
In the wet not having ABS – even in something as light as the i10 – is a liability, no question. In the dry though, it does not always dramatically shorten stopping distances; the issue is keeping the wheels turning and yielding optimal steering control for collision avoidance.
For local buyers, who were raised on a hellish diet of aged Citi Golf, Toyota Tazz and Uno pseudo city-cars, the i10 represents a welcome departure of the cheap and nasty R100 000 stereotype.
Neatly styled (it doesn’t look like a box on wheels or an oversized jelly bean) and surprisingly fun to drive thanks to a willing 12-valve powerplant and sorted damping, the relatively capacious boot and interior space nearly clinch the deal for i10.
Safety conscious buyers will lament the lack of airbags and ABS. I must confess - travelling on the N1 with an airbag void steering wheel staring back at you is quite disconcerting in this day and age. You can now buy up to a 1.2 GLS HS spec which includes airbags, ABS and a 55kW engine for R123 900…
Kia’s Picanto is smaller, yet sports a driver airbag for R106 995, yet from there on out the five-door competition is vastly more expensive; the entry-level Yaris and Peugeot 107 are priced at R120 400 and R122 320 respectively.
For R102 900, which includes the epic 150 000km warranty but no radio, the i10 GLS is a very accomplished little car and great buy.
C segment ride and handling with A segment dimensions
Impressive levels of perceived build quality
Five-speed ‘box akin to mixing up a bowl of custard
Lack of airbags and ABS