Borrowing some Paddon style

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It is easy to see why the Cross variant features prominently in Hyundai’s push for sales of the new i20 range, as our market is increasingly enamoured with 4x4 SUVs and vehicles that deliver the same style and ride-height. PHOTO: DAVID THOMSON

The latest version of Hyundai's small car, the i20, is offered in both standard hatchback and high-riding semi-SUV guise. David Thomson has been out and about in the latter.

 

What's your favourite new-car television advertisement airing in New Zealand just now? For quite a few folk, Hyundai's clever clip promoting its new i20 Cross will make the shortlist at least.

Surely you know the one: father and son turn up at one of WRC star Hayden Paddon's rally test sessions in a new i20 Cross road car that junior has modified with cardboard and tape to resemble his hero's fire-breathing i20 rally machine; Paddon obligingly abandons his rally car to take the road-going i20 Cross - with junior in the passenger's seat - for a gentle drive, during which all of the cardboard and tape modifications come adrift, revealing the standard vehicle within.

There's a feel-good factor to this commercial that gives it universal appeal. For more knowledgeable motoring types, there's a tongue-in-cheek dimension too, in which Hyundai pokes some gentle fun at itself, lest anyone draws too serious a comparison between the i20 Cross road car and a full-blooded i20 competition machine.

Just so there is no confusion, name and visual resemblance aside, the i20 road car - in whatever guise - has little in common with either the full-blown i20 WRC car, or the i20 AP4 regional rally car that runs in our national championship.

In full WRC guise, the i20 is a fire-breathing 1.6-litre turbocharged 280kW/450Nm supercar, with a six-speed sequential gearbox and one of the world's most sophisticated four-wheel-drive systems. It's built around its roll cage, features carbon fibre as well as steel panelling, and sports competition brakes and suspension.

By way of comparison, the i20 road car is conventionally constructed, albeit on an all-new platform. Its modestly powerful 74kW/ 134Nm 1.4-litre engine and four-speed automatic transmission is a carry-over from the previous i20 and, even for the SUV-like i20 Cross, powers the front wheels only.

It is easy to see why the Cross variant features prominently in Hyundai's push for sales with the new i20 range, as our market is increasingly enamoured not just with fully fledged 4x4 SUVs, but also with vehicles that deliver the style and ride-height advantages of an SUV without the extra cost and mechanical complexity of an actual four-wheel-drive.

The i20 Cross looks the part, riding some 20mm higher than the hatch and featuring plastic body mouldings and an imitation bull-bar and rear skid plate.

Alloy wheels shod with 205/45 R17 tyres are standard fare, as well as static cornering lights, LED running lights, heatedside mirrors and alloy roof rails. The test car gained extra presence through the boldest option on the i20 colour palette, mandarin orange. 

That extra ride height delivers two everyday benefits: first up, easier entry and egress, which both older motorists and those with young families will surely appreciate; secondly, better visibility, which is a handy quality on roads that are increasingly dominated by tall vehicles (be they SUVs, utes, vans or trucks).
Aside from being elevated, the i20 Cross cabin is almost identical to that of the standard hatchback. In look and layout, it is neat, tidy and user-friendly. The majority of trims are hard-touch, but everything is well put together.

The cabin is decently roomy too, with a 60:40 spilt rear seat that allows the boot's 326-litre standard carrying capacity to be further increased. Storage options within the passenger compartment include a chilled glovebox, small lidded centre bin, cup holders forward of the centre bin, and bottle holders in door pockets.

Key standard equipment items include air-conditioning, hands-free Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a six-speaker sound system, cruise control (with a speed-limiter function), auto lights and rain-sensing wipers. There's a reversing camera integrated into the rear-view mirror, and the i20 Cross is also fitted with parking sensors and a lane departure warning system.

This all good as far as it goes, but there are similarly priced alternatives to the i20 Cross out there that provide a centre-mounted colour touchscreen with satellite navigation and smartphone integration as standard. Those rivals also outpoint the i20 Cross in their safety rating, though the i20 Cross' disappointing four-star NCAP result is due in part to tougher assessment criteria that took effect late last year. These criteria require vehicles to have autonomous braking and other active safety features to secure a maximum five-star score, and the i20 Cross' key rivals hold scores earned before this requirement took effect.

In its driving experience, the i20 Cross delivers a mix of the mediocre and very good.

For those considering it as a primarily round-town vehicle, the performance limitations imposed by its modest engine outputs and the inevitably widely spread ratios of its decidedly old-hat four-speed automatic gearbox are probably not too much of an issue; the test car was responsive and acceptably refined during gentle urban motoring.

It also cruised easily enough at highway speeds over flat and gently rolling terrain. But throw a decent hill or two into the equation beyond city limits, and life behind the wheel becomes a choice between a slow slog to the summit, or wringing the engine really hard in the lower gears to maintain momentum close to the open road speed limit.

Extended hill work also impacts adversely on economy; the i20 Cross' 6.7l/100km standard cycle economy return is unspectacular by class standards and in a real-world test that comprised extended highway driving - with trips each way over Dunedin's Northern Motorway and Kilmog -Drivesouth managed a 7.2l/100km return.

On a brighter note, the i20 Cross rides and handles well for a vehicle of its type, with good balance and grip through twists and turns. It's just a shame that the ability to exploit its fine underlying chassis and well-sorted suspension is limited by that lack of mechanical vim.

Overall then, the i20 Cross is mixed bag. It's largely competent for sure, but it feels like a car equipped to a price in terms of both its mechanicals and standard features, and one which falls a little short of the high standards Hyundai delivers across most of its range these days.

Borrowing some Paddon style
At a Glance
HYUNDAI i20 CROSS Overall: ★★★
Design andstyling:★★★★
Interior: ★★★+
Performance: ★★★
Ride/handling: ★★★★
Safety: ★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★
For: Appealing looks, decent ride and handling
Against: Engine and gearbox lack verve
Verdict: An opportunity missed rather than an opportunity taken
Price: $29,990
Engine: 1368cc four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 74kW@ 6000rpm, maximum torque 134Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Brakes andstability systems: Disc brakes with ABS, EBD, ESC, TCS, VSM, LDWS
Safety rating: Four-star European NCAP
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 205/45 R17 tyres
Fuel and economy: 6.7 litres per 100km on ADR combined cycle, capacity 50 litres
Emissions: CO2 154/km on combined cycle
Dimensions:Length 3995mm, width 1710mm, height 1490mm
RATING (3/5)