Style is obviously subjective, but in the near-range-topping Premium guise tested here, the i20 certainly stands out. There are sharp creases, bold lines and a two-tone roof treatment, plus LED signature daylight-running lights front and back – although the full-width rear lamp treatment already looks dated to these eyes.
This third-generation car is 30mm wider than before and has a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 10mm, which means there’s more space inside. Even taller adults won’t feel short-changed when riding in the rear, despite the roofline being 24mm lower than before.
The cabin looks the part too, with a curvaceous-design, easy-to-use 10.25in infotainment screen that’s backed by online services with a five-year subscription as standard. A full TFT instrument cluster is standard across the range, although the graphics have a very Mercedes look about them, particularly in Sport mode when the dials get a chequered backing that’s pure AMG. Speaking of similarities, the new four-spoke steering wheel wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi.
Oh, and of course there’s more kit than you can shake a large executive saloon at – there’s not much that isn’t standard on this Premium version. Less impressive is the quality of the plastics used throughout, which are either hard and scratchy or hard and shiny. There’s not a soft-touch piece of trim in sight. Not very premium.
Starting the i20 is a bit of a faff as you’ll need both the clutch and brake depressed plus the gearlever in neutral before the 99bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder will fire into life, but once you’re moving, it’s a likeable unit. The electrical assist gives a useful slug of torque at low revs, helping the Hyundai feel surprisingly brisk despite rangy, emissions-friendly intermediate gearing (second runs to 70mph). There’s a characteristically thrummy soundtrack, but the engine revs smoothly and keenly, although it does its best work in the mid-ranges where a useful 127lb ft of twist action is available from just 1500rpm.
A pleasant surprise is that high-tech six-speed gearbox. The shift action is a little notchy, but the drive-by-wire electronically controlled clutch feels natural to use and works well, with the added benefit that it can disconnect the driveline automatically for efficiency-boosting coasting on the motorway – either with the engine at idle or switched off completely.
Yet this feeling of sophistication is undermined by the i20’s firm and brittle ride. At urban speeds the suspension is stiff-legged, thunking and crashing over sharper imperfections, while mid-corner bumps cause it to shake and shimmy. Some of these symptoms could be exacerbated by the Premium’s larger 17in alloys, but not all of them. Bigger, more smoothly surfaced undulations are dealt with more adeptly, but it’s a world away from the plushly damped Fiesta.
It’s a shame, because there’s a decent chassis lurking somewhere underneath the Hyundai. The steering hasn’t got a lot to say, but it’s quick and precise enough to allow easy placement of the car, while grip is strong and the i20 takes on a nicely four-square stance when pushing on. Carry too much speed into a corner and the Hyundai will start to wash wide, but lifting the throttle causes the car to tuck in quickly and obediently. There’s certainly some agility here and the raw material on display offers a glimmer of hope that the heavily breathed on N hot hatch could be a cracker.