Driven: Hyundai's refreshed i20 - Can it take on the Polo, Yaris in SA?

<i>Image: Charlen Raymon/Wheels24</i>
<i>Image: Charlen Raymon/Wheels24</i>
Charlen Raymond

Since 2009, the Hyundai i20 has been a popular sight on South African roads. The car, one of the Korean automaker’s stalwart products, has become a favourite amongst local car buyers and has managed to, since its local debut, attract the 88 000 buyers.

In 2018, Hyundai has refreshed its current i20 line-up locally which also sees the addition of a new Active derivative.

Hyundai refreshes its i20 in SA: sleeker styling, more features

Heading the i20s charge in South Africa, the Active stands slightly higher in its boots than its siblings and does it indeed look the part to see to the needs of those with an active lifestyle.

Changes in brief

For the facelift, the revised i20 range, including the new Active variant that replaces the outgoing 1.4 Sport, sees it adopting a new face. The large grille is bent inwards towards the bottom, and the fog lights have been incorporated into the front panels.

The two grille strips running below atop and below the bigger grille remains, but their presence is just a tad less prominent. The headlights have also been redesigned and on the Active these house LED units that turn with the direction of the steering wheel at night.

Image: Charlen Raymond

At the rear the number plate has been moved to right under the badge and the rear light design is also slightly bigger. The latch to open the boot by hand is also under the badge.

The rear bumper also sees a redesign and a black insert now houses the reverse lights, as well as rear fog lights. Hyundai retained the brake light atop the spoiler.

Motion and Fluid models also see the seats decked in cloth, but the Active’s interior can be specked with either blue or red inserts. Electric windows are standard across the range, except for the three more affordable models that only feature this for the front windows.

                                                                      Image: Charlen Raymond

The multi-media screen features touchscreen technology but to have satellite navigation (with SD card) fitted is a R2500 optional extra. The range also does not come with cruise control as standard.

1.4 Active

Hyundai opted to have the top-of-the-range 1.4 Sport manual removed from the equation and instead replace it with the 1.4 Active. The Active’s design tweaks is immediately apparent to that of its siblings.

Opposed to the standard models’ front grille that has a bending effect, the Active’s grille reaches outward and features horizontal running bars. The front bumper houses big round fog lights, as well as a big, plastic diffuser for a more rugged look.

                                                                   Image: Charlen Raymond

Along the side there are black side skirts and roof rails top the car makes carrying extra luggage a bit easier.

Keen-eyed observers would have noticed that the Active’s design strongly mimics that of the outgoing range and does one wonder why Hyundai have not implemented the same design ethos of the new range on the new model.

Perhaps the outgoing design allowed for better implementation of the “active” look. And though it’s not a train smash, the new leader of the pack should have led the charge from a design perspective, as well.

Kudos to Hyundai, though, the Active does not look out of place amongst its siblings. 

Gravel and tar

Across the entire range, Hyundai fitted the cars with McPherson struts for the front suspension and a torsion beam axle at the rear. This aided the cars with good road holding characteristics and gave it a compliant ride quality over various surfaces.

First up was the Active. Powered by a 1.4-litre engine (74kW/133Nm), the car had to first deal with the notorious Franschhoek Pass, and thereafter a good gravel strip that lasted for roughly 40km.

On the gravel the Active had no problem relaying its power to the road and the front-wheel drive system did well to keep power in check. The six-speed manual gearbox felt smooth and did the cogs engage without hassle or strain.                                                                        

Sliding about was virtually non-existent (thanks in part to the rain that hardened the ground) and respectable speeds could be achieved. Hyundai said it improved the i20’s road holding and it shows; despite the Active’s 170mm ground clearance.

Sound insulation is also very good but the roof rails does create a bit of wind noise at speed.

The other model available for sampling was the 1.2 Fluid, fitted with a 1.2-litre engine (61kW/115Nm) and five-speed manual gearbox. Obviously not as spritely as the Active, the car’s on-road dynamics reminded very strongly of that of the Hyundai Grandi10.

Image: Charlen Raymond

Nippy reactions and light steering feel all contribute to a relaxed experience from behind the wheel. Out on the N2 the car maintained its momentum without hassle - of course, it didn’t carry a load - and did well to scale the Franschhoek Pass on the return leg of the launch.

During spirited driving the car was akin to exhibit strong tendencies of understeer, but driven with modulated gusto and steering input around bends proved to be the driving style of choice. 


The revised Hyundai i20 range will see the car continue to be a strong pillar in the automaker’s local line-up. The value-for-money proposition it offers compares strongly, and at times even betters, that of what its rivals can conjure.

Against its regular rivals, like the Volkswagen Polo and Toyota Yaris, the i20 makes is well positioned.

The Active will probably be the more popular model in the range but those keeping their budgets in check will not be left discouraged by choosing one of the other models. There is a case to be made for the revised Hyundai i20 and it certainly makes a very strong one.

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