Surprising himself, Charlie Flindt finds stepping down from head-turning luxury to a bottom-of-the-range runaround highly satisfying


After a few months of gloriously excessive road tests, Charlie Flindt steps down to the bottom-of-the-range Hyundai i20 1.2S. But with a well designed dashboard, low insurance and good looking design, he finds himself highly satisfied with this fun drive.

For the opposite end of the spectrum, read Charlie Flindt’s take on the Bentley Bentayga Mulliner “Field Sports”. Could this be the perfect shoot wagon?

HYUNDAI i20 1.2S

If you were looking to explain Hyundai’s meteoric rise from South Korean obscurity to one of the most successful car manufacturers around, you would not have cited its cars’ looks. Reliability? Yes. Value? Certainly. Eye-catching design (and in a good way)? Not really.

Step forward a fellow called Peter Schreyer, who joined Hyundai a decade or so ago and has been working his design magic (he came up with the iconic Audi TT) on the complete Hyundai (and sister brand Kia) range.

We tried out the i20, Hyundai’s competitor in the Fiesta/Polo/Fabia segment, and, following a month or two of road tests that featured glorious six-figure excess, had a go in a model at the very bottom of the range for a change.

Hyundai i20 1.2S

Luggage capacity is 1042 litres.

So what you’ve got is simple: a five-door supermini, with a basic 1.2, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder petrol engine (although its days are numbered and an oh-so-trendy three-cylinder turbo is on the way). Herr Schreyer has modified the bodywork with his magic pen and the old, dumpy, awkward shape of the i20 is gone. This new one is bang up to date and really very fine looking.

The simplicity continues to the interior: the “S” spec has everything you need and nothing you don’t, which makes a refreshing – if somewhat Benedictine – change. So you have good seats, a knob-free steering wheel, rotary controls for the heating (but no air conditioning) and the simplest of radios (with aux input but no CD player). All the controls are light, easy and precise. Special mention should be made of the dashboard, which is the clearest and best designed I think I’ve ever seen. Designers of many of the dashboards available should be forced to settle down in the i20’s driving seat and told, “See? That’s how you do it.”

The old-fashioned 1.2 engine is on the limit of being underpowered, and speedy overtakes uphill can prove a bit of a challenge. For 90% of modern driving, it and its delightful five-speed fingertip gearbox are just fine. It’s a bit heavy on fuel consumption – and the tax band reflects its efficiency. It’s also spookily quiet; at idling speed, you can’t hear it at all from the well-insulated cabin.

Hyundai i20 1.2S

Clear, simple controls.

Open the bonnet and there’s room for a bit of DIY – and that’s a rarity. Not that DIY should be needed, of course. The i20 comes with a five-year warranty and Hyundai has a fine reputation for warranties never being called upon.

The i20 has stopped being the stunning good value that it used to be back in the days before Hyundai became fashionable, but it’s still hugely competitive and its popularity has meant that depreciation is a lot less crippling. Yes, the fuel costs may be high but insurance is low and servicing costs are reasonable. Extra bargains are available as the old 1.2 engine is phased out, too.

There was something enormously satisfying about the i20. It was basic and vernacular but, at the same time, fun to drive. The fact that it is also good looking would once have been a bonus; nowadays, it’s typical Hyundai.


♦ Engine: 1,248cc petrol
♦ Power: 75PS
♦ Max speed: 99 mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 13.6 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 55.4mpg
♦ Insurance group: 4E
♦ Price: £11,755