Price is not the same thing as value: that's what Hyundai is counting on customers understanding as it launches a facelifted version of its i20 supermini.
Two things have worked against the little i20 to date: age and the price. When it was launched here in early 2011, it was already 18 months old. That age showed against the competition in terms of style and dynamics; yet it wasn't exactly cheap either, costing up to $26,990 for a top-specification version.
The new i20 is fundamentally the same car underneath, so don't expect a sportier drive or more refined ride. But it certainly looks sharper, with a new bonnet, front guards, grille and bumpers.
Blink and you might mistake it for a Toyota Yaris, which is not a bad thing.
Though prices are unchanged, Hyundai has loaded a lot of extra equipment into the car.
The entry-level GL has gained a few nice touches, such as a more sophisticated vehicle stability management (VSM) system, Peugeot-style power folding mirrors, tinted glass, steering wheel-mounted controls and a trip computer.
But it's the flagship GLS that makes the big gains, with reversing sensors, automatic headlights, cruise control with a speed limiter, climate-control air conditioning and the fashion essential for today's motorist: bright LED daytime running lights fitted to the lower bumper. That adds up to a lot of sense for a premium of just $1000 over the GL.
So the i20 is now a much more appealing showroom proposition, even if it's not necessarily a better car to drive. In some respects it's worse, as the electric motor-driven power steering has an inconsistent feel through open-road corners.
The chassis is still very soft and the automatic transmission is only a four-speed unit in a segment that now boasts five and six-speed rivals.
However, those opting for the manual version now enjoy a six-speed gearbox that's a vast improvement on the five-speeder fitted to the previous car.
Sure, the Indian-built i20 still seems a bit old-hat compared with the likes of the Suzuki Swift or Ford Fiesta. But Hyundai argues there's a market for a car in this segment with a higher seating position and larger glass areas than the super-mini norm.
There's no expectation that the i20 will rocket to the top of the class: indeed, it's currently placed sixth in sales, in a segment ruled by the Swift, Yaris and Ford Fiesta. But with 454 registrations so far this year (mostly of the previous model), i20 sales are still up 139% over last year.
- David Linklater
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