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Hyundai i20 Comfort 1.2 5-door

Click to view picture galleryMore for less — the Korean way
  as Hyundai launch their new i20
  supermini range of three- and five-
  door Ford Fiesta-sized hatchbacks,
  priced from just 8,195

THE i20 REPLACES HYUNDAI'S LOWER COST GETZ 3/5-door hatchback range. The sales propositions to own the new i20 are many: high specification, relatively low price, latest fuel-efficient and low-CO2 engines, good predicted residual values and, of course, Hyundai's well promoted five-year warranty. On the downside, to obtain those items, an owner will have to live with bland styling, some low rent interior trim and whether, in terms of brand value, it is better to own a slightly more expensive new Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Toyota Yaris or VW Polo?

Given the credit crunch, which is decimating retail sales and downsizing company car and fleet drivers into smaller cost-effective vehicles, the i20's price, warranty and build quality has to be considered as it is around 1,000 cheaper than its mainstream rivals and, according to Hyundai, better equipped as well.

The entry level i20 1.2-litre Classic starts at 8,195 for the three-door with a five-door costing an extra 450. Hyundai expect 60% of i20 sales to be three-door versions; the 1.2-litre petrol engine to be marginally the best seller, followed by the 1.4-litre petrol unit. The upcoming 1.4-litre diesel engine should account for 25% of registrations — mainly business users.

Despite the low price, all i20s are equipped with air-conditioning, six airbags, active head restraints, remote locking, electric front windows and an AUX-in socket and the unique-in-this-class five-year unlimited mileage warranty.

The mid-range Comfort model — expected to be the best seller, and starting at 8,995 — adds 15-inch alloy wheels, body colour door mirrors and handles, electric rear windows, full iPod integration, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system.

Flagship of the i20 range is the Style, equipped with 16-inch alloys, climate control, part-leather upholstery, metal-look facia and front fog lights.

There is plenty of new technology under the bonnet too. The i20 debuts with two new petrol and diesel engines, starting with an advanced 77bhp 1.2-litre petrol unit with a CO2 rating of just 124g/km (that's around 15g/km less than similarly-sized petrol engines from rivals) capable of returning 54.3mpg on the combined cycle.

Next up in the petrol range is a 99bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine borrowed from the i30. In the i20 it returns 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and produces 133g/km — better that some rivals' 1.0-litre engines.

Meeting the demand for low-emission, high economy diesel power, the i20's all-new CRDi engines both have a 1.4-litre capacity and offer 74 or 89bhp power outputs. Emissions and fuel economy figures are competitive — just 116g/km and 64.2mpg for the 74bhp version and 118g/km and 62.8mpg for the larger-wheeled 89bhp model. This places both i20 diesels in band 'B' for VED, meaning a tax disc charge of 35 a year. Company car drivers will find they are taxed for benefit-in-kind at just 13% — offering significant savings for those wanting to downsize.

Whether it is a main family car because it will cope with two teenagers/adults in the back, especially if it's a five-door model, or whether it is a reliable and cheap to run second car or tax efficient easy-to-park commuter transport, the i20 has lots going for it.

Yes, the new Fiesta is a better car, looks great, drives well and is the market leader, but the i20 is cheaper, better equipped and roomier and has a longer warranty. The i20's styling is ordinary, the interior in places is a bit low-rent — with hard plastics and brightly-coloured cloth seat and door inserts on some models — but it drives really well.

The ride is very comfortable and the handing predictable. The steering gives no real feedback — on the 1.4-litre petrol five-door, top-of-the-range Style model with larger wheels it felt quite heavy at low in-town speeds. The larger wheels also compromised the ride quality on hard-surfaced frosty roads.

Pick of the bunch is the 1.2-litre petrol, five-door version in Comfort specification priced at 9,445. It has a lively, free-revving all-aluminium four-cylinder engine which is almost as strong in real-world performance as the 1.4-litre. The published 'combined' cycle fuel consumption figure for this engine is 54.3mpg. In freezing cold real-life conditions, with two up in the car and driving quite quickly, the actual fuel return was still a very good 44.3mpg.

The five-speed gearbox is very slick and the gear ratios well sorted to make the best use of the engine's power, particularly its limited torque. True, it gets a little 'thrashy' on motorways but for most driving conditions it is fine. The Comfort specification is well thought out and having an on-board information computer for all models is a great idea.

The i20 has a lot in its favour, including price, interior space, comprehensive equipment, a strong engine, comfortable ride, positive handling and a long warranty. Against that, the ordinary styling and some poorer quality interior fittings and finishes are easy to overlook. The Hyundai i20 cannot be ignored by the cash-strapped (or just plain sensible) new car buyer. It's a tough world but that makes this car an easy choice as an affordable set of wheels. — David Mile

Hyundai i20 Comfort 1.2 5-door
| 9,445
Maximum speed: 103mph | 0-62mph: 12.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 44.3mpg | Power: 77bhp | Torque: 88lb ft
CO2 124g/km