Photography by Rohit G Mane
Four years is a long time by any standard, but in the fast changing world of the Indian automobile industry, it may as well be a lifetime. From market conditions to models to powertrains and even regulations governing all of the above. Everything is liable to change, and it does too. Sustaining five-digit monthly sales for any particular model in the portfolio therefore isn’t an easy job. Yet, Hyundai India did it. From its launch back in 2014 till recently, India’s largest car exporter has sold at least 10,000 units of its Elite i20 every month.
Of late though that five-digit number has started sliding. Slowly but inexorably, and contrary to expectations the slide wasn’t entirely triggered by the competition upping its game. The slide coincided with news of a new and updated version of this very hatchback. Cosmetically updated and with even more features than the feature-laden hatchback it used to be, the Elite i20 finally broke cover and was launched at the recent Auto Expo starting at Rs 5.35 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi for the petrol variant and Rs 6.73 lakh ex-showroom Delhi for the diesel variant.
So here we are, ladies and gentlemen, introducing the 2018 Hyundai Elite i20.
As headturning as it always was
It’s not the slightest bit misleading when Hyundai presents the new updated Elite i20 as a headturner. It is after all nearly identical to the car it replaces and the old car was certainly a head turner. Of course surgeons at Hyundai who gave the Elite i20 a facelift would love it if you really thought they look worlds apart but the truth is the new Elite i20 is as different from the old one as Superman is from Clark Kent. You’d have to be hawk eyed to be able to spot the differences really.
Head on, there’s a premium cascade design high gloss front grille and projector headlamps with LED DRL. Remove the marketing jargon and you’re essentially looking at a mesh grille and some aero enhancements on the visage. Let’s just say Clark took his specs off. The hat and the suit stay on however with the Elite i20 having retained the blacked out C-pillar and its very European profile. Only, the shiny leather shoes have now been replaced with the red boots as the car gets a fresh new design for its 16-inch diamond cut alloys. The real difference between the old and the new becomes evident only when you look at the car from the back. The taillights are spanking new and even nicer than before, the bumper has been revised and the number plate has been moved up to the boot lid. The end result is a stouter stance when seen from behind.
If the changes on the exterior are hard to spot, barring the inclusion of that 7-inch touchscreen that now dominates the centre console, the interiors of the new car are as welcoming in their dual toned splendour as the outgoing model was. True to Hyundai traditions, the equipment list of course has been updated and the infotainment system now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And that Arkamsys audio system is quite good for a car of this class. The rest remains as it used to be. Familiar.
As with everything Hyundai, there are choices. Choices between engines, transmissions, number of airbags and more. Currently, you can choose between one powered by the tried and tested 1.2-litre Kappa VTVT petrol engine or one that is powered by the 1.4-litre U2 CRDi turbocharged engine. As of now you can only get a five-speed manual with the petrol and a six-speed manual with the oil burner. In the near future there will be a CVT option as well for the petrol Elite i20 but we’ll stick to the here and now.
For our test, Hyundai chose its best selling turbo-diesel variant. The tried, tested and successful 1.4-litre turbo-diesel’s architecture continues unchanged. As does its 89bhp and 220Nm output. But Hyundai has remapped the ECU by shifting a lot of the grunt lower down the rev range for better fuel efficiency and is now claiming a nine per cent improvement. In fact the petrol engined variant is now claiming an ARAI certified 19kmpl while the diesel is declaring 24.4km to the litre.
Back to our test car, the turbo lag remains prominent upto 1800rpm. Cross that threshold however and the i20 pulls nicely all the way to 3500rpm before things begin to taper off. The focus on the mid-range and that tall sixth will ensure that cruising along on those weekend road trips are easier than before, but there’s a cost to it. Thanks to that lag, you’ll need to work its ‘box a fair bit through city traffic or when climbing steep hill sections to keep moving urgently. This also dilutes the overall driving experience.
The chassis, which was designed by Hyundai’s vast R&D resources in Koln, Germany, hasn’t been tinkered with at all, which isn’t a bad thing because it is a very capable chassis. From the old i20 to the Elite, there was a big jump in dynamics. Even though it wasn’t big enough to catch the Polo or the Figo, the gap narrowed significantly. With Hyundai having left the suspension setup of the predecessor alone, the new Elite i20’s dynamic abilities come across as capable but collected and only when you push it really hard around turns do the tyres start squealing. Admittedly, its dynamics aren’t scintillating to induce grins but they’re enjoyable enough for your face to break into a smile. The ride quality is excellent too with the car isolating occupants from the road beneath those alloys quite well. What continues to be a letdown is that electrical power steering unit that doesn’t offer much feeback.
To buy, or not to buy…
That is the question. Depends on where the answer to that one is coming from. If all your car related answers come from an adrenaline laden heart then you’re likely to be heartbroken because you’ll fail to find joy in that lovely Arkamsys sound system or the best-in-segment cluster ioniser in the climate control system that keeps your lungs clean or in the excellent ride quality that saves your backside. You’ll be too busy tut-tutting at its understeer (obviously, it’s a front wheel driven car).
However, if you’ve got your head screwed on right and that’s where the answers come from then things change somewhat. A handsome looking car with a premium feel, high build quality, an extensive equipment list, dual airbags and ABS as standard kit with the option of six airbags, roomy interiors, tried and tested powertrain options and great ride quality. Sure, there are a couple of others that will go around a turn better but this one won’t be far behind. At Rs 9.16 lakh, ex-showroom, for the fully loaded option pack with six airbags, how bad a deal do you think that is?