A PROPER PRETENDER

Lazi­ness aside, the new Hyundai i20 Ac­tive has a lot go­ing for it.

Sunday Times - - Review - By Thomas Falkiner

Let’s cut to the chase here — is this ba­si­cally a Korean knock-off of the old Volk­swa­gen Cross Polo?

In­deed it is. As part of a re­cent range re­fresh, Hyundai trans­formed its pop­u­lar i20 hatch­back into a quasi-off-roader by rais­ing its ride-height about 20mm and slap­ping on lots of pro­tec­tive black plas­tic body cladding. Known as the “Ac­tive”, this new ad­di­tion also gets func­tional roof rails (for at­tach­ing a bi­cy­cle rack or roof box) plus a set of 16-inch al­loy wheels. The end re­sult is a pseudo SUV that — as is of­ten the case with com­pa­ra­ble mod­els such as the afore­men­tioned Cross Polo — looks a lot bet­ter than the stan­dard car upon which it is based.

Cool, so it’s ba­si­cally all style and not much added me­chan­i­cal sub­stance?

Yeah, pretty much. Un­der the skin lurks the same en­gine and driv­e­train as in your gran’s i20. The only marked dif­fer­ence with the Ac­tive is its loftier ride height, nice to have in a city like Johannesburg that’s home to some of the worst roads in the coun­try. It also gives you a lit­tle ex­tra lee­way on rut­ted dirt tracks — you can go fur­ther be­fore wor­ry­ing about rip­ping off your front bumper on some gnarly cor­ru­ga­tions.

Tell me about the en­gine. I see it doesn’t have a tur­bocharger — it must be se­ri­ously un­der­pow­ered then, right?

While many of its ri­vals pack forced-in­duc­tion, the i20 Ac­tive still makes do with a com­par­a­tively old-school, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1.4-litre petrol en­gine. It whacks out a rea­son­able amount of power (al­beit not much torque) for what it is and also feels im­pres­sively smooth and re­fined. Down on the coast I’m sure it’s all the mo­tor you’ll need. Un­for­tu­nately up here in Johannesburg, about 1,700m higher than where the cool At­lantic laps against the sands of Clifton, this Hyundai feels woe­fully un­en­dowed. Not so much in iso­la­tion, how­ever, but when you’re out on the high­way try­ing to over­take slow­er­mov­ing traf­fic up a long hill. In such a sce­nario you’ll find your­self scream­ing ex­ple­tives at the wind­screen while stir­ring that six-speed man­ual gear­box for all it’s worth. So from this point of view it can be frus­trat­ing. One pos­i­tive about this en­gine is its econ­omy. I av­er­aged 7.6l/100km over my week­long test pe­riod — and that’s with a con­sid­er­able amount of town driv­ing and free­way thrash­ing. Drive it with a bit more care and you will eas­ily see this fig­ure dip down into the 6l/100km zone.

What did you think of the in­te­rior — is it up to scratch?

Boy, is it ever! No mat­ter where you run your fin­ger­nails you’ll hear that dis­tinc­tive sound of hard plas­tic on ker­atin. For un­like in the equiv­a­lent Polo that sports at least some soft-touch in­serts, the i20 Ac­tive makes do with a much less so­phis­ti­cated pal­ette of ma­te­rial. Be this as it may, ev­ery­thing feels well put to­gether and my test car dis­played no rat­tles or squeaks — even on bumpy gravel roads. Equip­ment lev­els are high with Hyundai spoil­ing you with fully au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol, Blue­tooth au­dio stream­ing, au­to­matic head­lamps and rear park as­sist. There’s also a seven-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that can, for an ad­di­tional R2,500, also give you ac­cess to satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion. It’s not a bad sys­tem all things con­sid­ered, but the soft­ware in­ter­face lacks pol­ish and can be frus­trat­ingly slow and clunky at times — as if Hyundai sourced it from China Mall. An­other gripe I had was with the fan. At slow speeds it made an an­noy­ing squeak­ing sound that’s cer­tainly not in keep­ing with a car cost­ing nearly R300k.

One last thing — what was it like to drive?

Well de­spite that lack of over­tak­ing oomph the i20 Ac­tive is a pleas­ant steer. Re­fine­ment lev­els are sur­pris­ing and out on the high­way there’s not all that much wind or road noise to send your eardrums into frenzy — ku­dos to Hyundai for their in­su­la­tion game. Ride qual­ity is also par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy, that soft sus­pen­sion shak­ing off as­phalt im­per­fec­tions like Tay­lor Swift shakes off her de­trac­tors. Dy­nam­i­cally speak­ing the i20 Ac­tive is noth­ing to write home about but then that’s not why it ex­ists. It’s here to join the dots be­tween point A and point B with min­i­mum fuss and max­i­mum us­abil­ity. In that re­spect it’s a win­ner. Even more so when you fac­tor in its com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, good value for money and long five-year/150 000km war­ranty. LS

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