2014 Hyundai i20 Elite – A Generation Ahead

The Hyundai Elite i20, in one sentence – A big leap over the first generation version in most areas, and consequently one of the best premium hatchbacks in India today. For more, buckle up and dig right in.

Premium is one word that Hyundai India went to great lengths to convey about their latest ride in town, the i20 Elite B+ segment hatchback. From embarrassing us motoring scribes with a welcome fit for royalty, with garlands, a live band and all that pomp, the location of the drive was a revelation in itself, for its sheer magnificence and opulence. The cars and us were housed in the statuesque Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur, and if that gave us an inkling about what was to follow, the car didn’t disappoint.

Styled on the lines of Hyundai’s Fluidic 2.0 philosophy, the i20 Elite looks quite European. In fact, take away the slanted H badges and you’d be hard pressed to guess the Orient from the Continent. And, this isn’t surprising given the fact that the i20 Elite’s design comes straight from Hyundai’s European design center, situated strategically at Rüsselsheim, Germany.

A mix of taut European lines and Oriental flair, east meets west in a delectable symphony on the i20 Elite, with the car’s design neither too understated nor too extravagant. While looks are subjective, the associated imagery should help you decide whether the i20 Elite floats or sinks your boat. In our opinion though, the Hyundai i20 Elite finds the sweet spot, in other words the car’s design adopts a please-all, offend-none form factor and does grab its share of eyeballs on the move, especially in the electric blue shade.

The i20 Elite’s wheelbase, at 2,570 mm, is extended by 45 mm over the previous generation i20, while the width, at 1,734 mm, is greater than that of the outgoing model by 24 mm. The larger dimensions translate into additional room on the innards, making the i20 Elite the largest car in its class.

The scooped out front seatbacks, work in tandem with the longer wheelbase to deliver better leg room for the back seaters. Short overhangs at the front and the rear do their bits to emphasize the car’s sporty design – Hyundai has big plans for the i20 Elite at the WRC – while the floating roof with the blacked out C-Pillar is a new trend that will catch up with other automakers very soon. How soon? Think, Tata Bolt.

A particularly gorgeous design highlight on the i20 Elite are its tail lamps, which are suffused with LEDs that look particularly fetching in the sun down hours. Attention to detail is of high order. Things such as a front underbody cover that protects the nether regions of the car, quite literally, and the rubber beading between the hood and the body up front, which keeps the panel gap tight, convey thoughtful European engineering that this car packs in. If you like the finer things about an automobile, the i20 Elite will make you want to take things to the next level, which is test driving it.

Moving in, the car’s keyless entry means that the switch on the door handle is all it takes to gain entry to the beige interiors of the car. Sunlight reflecting off the acres of beige on the i20 Elite’s interiors will be an issue for some, but in sunny Rajasthan with the temperatures hovering close to the 40s, all the beige suffused with black trims, surprisingly proved to be no distraction.

In fact, the airy, beige-black heavy ambiance on the inside of the Elite i20 is something that endows the car with a premium-ness that one has now come to associate even with budget Hyundais such as the Grand i10. The beige dashboard may turn out to be a dirt magnet though.

The plastics on the inside of the car exude quality and so does the patterned seat fabric that feels premium. The front seats of the i20 Elite are firm, supportive and wrap around their occupants quite well.

The control stalks and the leather clad three spoke steering feel great to touch and operate, with a high degree of tactility.

The air conditioner is a chiller and the automatic climate control makes life pleasant in the cabin. Storage units in the car are dime a dozen, from a spacious cooled glove box, to the nice driver and passenger armrest that encloses a storage bin.

It must be said that the armrest is one of the better designed units, with support both for the driver as well as the front passenger. This little feature will improve long distance comfort by a big margin. The doors have space for bottles and a few knick knacks.

The boot loses some volume though, with the 285 liter capacity being 10 liters smaller than the outgoing model. The 60:40 rear split does pull one back in the i20 Elite’s favour, greatly adding to the practicality quotient.

Build Quality

The build of the Hyundai i20 Elite is an area that conveys lightness, yet exudes quality. For instance, the front doors, though light, open in three steps while the rear doors do the perform the same operation in two. While the doors don’t shut with a heavy thud, the quiet yet re-assuring thump that emanates from the door shutting in the i20 Elite makes one appreciate the reassuring build of the car. Other parts of the car feel well put together and when Hyundai says, un-compromise, through its marketing campaign for the i20 Elite, the company means it.

Slipping into the car’s front seat, finding a comfortable driving position is a breeze, with the steering adjustable for rake and reach, while the driver’s seat gets 3 adjustable modes – fore-aft, recline and height. The control pedals are well spaced and the dead pedal proves to be a useful addition on long, out-of-town jaunts.

Visibility out of the windscreen is quite good with the only limitation coming on the flanks, where the chunky C-Pillar can cause some consternation during tight parking maneuvers. That said, the large wing mirrors do a great job in covering objects on the flanks and rear of the car. The inner rear view mirror get a premium, electro-chromatic function with a built in reverse parking camera display, which is much more intuitive than say a rear view camera displaying onto a screen situated elsewhere.

The i20 Elite is offered with two engine options, the 1.2 liter-4 cylinder Kappa petrol that outputs 82 Bhp-114 Nm, and a 1.4 liter-4 cylinder U2 CRDI turbo diesel that outputs 89 Bhp-220 Nm. The petrol motor gets a 5 speed manual gearbox while the turbo diesel engine makes do with a 6 speed gearbox.

We sampled the i20 Elite with the petrol motor first. The Kappa2 petrol engine of the i20 Elite comes with variable timing at both the intake and exhaust valves. Peppy and responsive, the Kappa2 petrol motor likes to be revved and is more than adequate for city traffic conditions. The highway is a different matter altogether, and swift progress necessitates keeping the motor above 3000 rpm.

Well matched gear ratios and a slick, positive shifting gearbox makes working the gearbox a pleasure despite the shifts being on the longer side. With petrol engined cars making a major comeback, the i20 Elite in petrol guise is bound to see plenty of buyers, and the Kappa2 engine will keep most of them satisfied by its peppy performance. The motor revs all the way up to 6,750 rpm before the limiter kicks in.

Above 5,000 rpm, the engine emits a raspy note that some will enjoy while others may not. We liked the note though. Among other things, expect larger displacement engines to be offered on the i20 Elite in international markets as the engine bay has plenty of room to squeeze in bigger motors. With Hyundai’s ongoing effort in the World Rally Championship, a hotter Namyang (N) badged version of the i20 Elite seems very much on the cards.

Coming to the turbo diesel engined version of the i20 Elite, the diesel powered car is easily the pick of the lot, for it offers a superb blend of performance, drive-ability and fuel efficiency. Drivers of the first and the i-Gen i20 Diesels will be particularly enthused by the fact that the turbo lag has been reduced to be a bare minimum on the Elite i20 Diesel, and this major change makes the engine highly tractable.

City driving is now a breeze and so are high speeds on the highway as the motor has bagfuls of torque available right from 1,500 rpm. Decidedly, acceleration in between the gears is strong, especially considering the closely spaced 5 ratios of the 6 speed gearbox. The slick shifting gearbox’s sixth ratio makes for relaxed cruising, with the i20 Elite Diesel doing 80 Kph at a leisurely 1,500 rpm. 100 Kph is notched up at 2,000 rpm while 500 more revolutions will take you to an indicated 120 Kph.  The evenly spread torque also means that the i20 Elite Diesel is capable of pulling away strongly, from about 60 Kph in top gear, and that speaks volumes about the car’s drive-ability. Expect the top speed to be in the whereabouts of 180 Kph considering how cleanly the U2 CRDI motor revs.

While we didn’t test the car for fuel efficiency, the i20 Elite Diesel promises to be a highly fuel efficiency mile muncher, especially with the 6th, overdrive gear in tow. The diesel motor is a very refined operator with noise, vibration and harshness levels quite well damped. Revving up to about 4,800 rpm without any drama before the limiter comes along, the diesel motor feels more like a petrol in terms of seamless response and refinement. Apart from the mild diesel whirr that can be felt on the gear lever, there’s very little vibration that comes through in the steering and the clutch pedal. Consequently, the i20 Elite Diesel can stake claim to be the refinement king in its class.

Ride and Handling

This is one department that Hyundai cars of the past haven’t really excelled in. The i20 Elite does takes things ahead significantly, when it comes to the ride and handling department, but is still a work-in-progress, quite frankly. The ride on the i20 Elite is much improved over the car it replaces with the suspension thudding away potholes and road imperfections with authority, and this aspect of the car again feels very Euro. The big positive – there’s no bobbing on less than perfect roads and the ride comes across as flat.

While the suspension still can’t hold a candle to that on say a Figo or a Punto, it is quite pliant and comfortable, especially by Hyundai standards. In terms of body roll, the soft suspension set up does make itself evident, with Hyundai choosing to aim for the comfort loving masses than for the corner carving minority. This is one strategy that has stood Hyundai good over the years, especially on pockmarked Indian roads, and there’s no reason why the South Korean automaker needs to fiddle with a set up that has been well accepted over the years.

In terms of handling, the i20 Elite comes across as a neutral handler, let down mainly by the steering that simply doesn’t quite feel connected. While the steering of the i20 Elite is significantly better than that on the outgoing model, the electric power assisted steering, particularly on the turbo diesel engined model, felt inconsistent on many occasions though it did weigh up adequately at speeds. However, the diesel i20 Elite – with the extra weight of the CRDI engine up front – steered and handled better. Make no mistake, there’s something about the car’s ride and handling that makes the i20 Elite more suitable for city roads than zipping at three digit speeds on the twisties.

Though the i20 Elite features the longest wheelbase in its class, Hyundai has upped the ground clearance by about 5 mm, to 170 mm. The increased ground clearance means that there’s no scraping on India’s notorious speed breakers and the suspension acquits itself very well on such occasions. Major safety equipment on the car consists of crumple zones, three point seat belts for four passengers, twin airbags and ABS+EBD. Hyundai has done away with the disc brakes at the rear on the top-end i20 Elite, and yet the braking feels confidence inspiring.

Coming to the features on offer, the i20 Elite misses many bits that were offered on the top-end variants of the outgoing model such as  rear disc brakes and daytime running lights, as well as the six-airbags and sun-roof option. Still missing on the i20 though is an  instantaneous fuel consumption display and speed sensing door locks! However, a few new aspects such as an accelerator over-ride during emergency braking, a stereo with a 1 GB built in memory and 8 speakers, better driveability, a larger, more comfortable car overall and better quality levels all around, mean that the i20 Elite is a better car that the outgoing version, but buyers need to look closely and be discerning enough to notice these changes.

What we think

To sum it up, the Hyundai i20 Elite B+ segment hatchback is a fine car, one that is more refined, more sophisticated and better put together than the outgoing variant. With the i20 Elite, Hyundai has done away with stuffing the car with features and has instead begun focusing on the finer nuances of building a rounded automobile.  At 6.47 lakh rupees and 7.67 lakh rupees for the Asta Petrol and Diesel variants, the car doesn’t come cheap. However,  if you do know your cars, you’re sure to appreciate the little things that make an automobile feel complete. In the i20 Elite, these little things come together to deliver an experience that will satisfy most buyers. Go ahead and test drive one.