Test Hyundai i20 was fitted with a 1.4-litre turbodiesel engine and retails for around the R200K mark.
Test Hyundai i20 was fitted with a 1.4-litre turbodiesel engine and retails for around the R200K mark.
Cabin has some plasticky surfaces but is solidly built. Electric steering irritating.
Cabin has some plasticky surfaces but is solidly built. Electric steering irritating.
Wait for glow plug signal to turn off.
Wait for glow plug signal to turn off.

Ever wondered why during winter your diesel engine requires a few swings of the starter motor to fire up?

Well, in actual fact, it may not, if you let the humble glow plug go about its business.

The trick, as I found out testing Hyundai’s i20 turbodiesel, is to turn the key and look for the little wiggly glow-plug indicator on the dashboard. Wait for this light to go off before swinging the engine and all should be fine, with the glow plug having primed the cold cylinders for action.

Once you get it going Hyundai’s new 1.4-litre turbodiesel is quite a charmer, and forms part of the Korean carmaker’s bid to downsize its i20 engine offering (at the i20’s facelift last year the 1.6-litre petrol was ditched for a more-frugal 1.2 as well).

Consumption is claimed at 5l/100km (we averaged 6.4) and emissions pegged at a tax-beating 110g/km - making it one of the greenest Hyundais available in SA.

The 66kW on offer may not sound like much, but it’s the 220Nm of torque that’s important, giving this i20 enough grunt for the daily commute or the highway trek.

TURBO LAG

There’s a fair bit of turbo lag off the line, but that’s exactly why I’m so pleased the Koreans offer only a six-speed manual gearbox pairing here. It allows you room to alter your driving style for the elimination of some of this lag through riding the clutch. Like most diesels it doesn’t like high revs, but has a reasonably flat torque curve for sustainable in-gear boost.

Having said that, sixth gear is more of an overdrive, only really suitable for long open stretches – but it does keep the revs fuel-savingly low, and 120km/h in sixth hovers at just over 2 000rpm. I also had the odd occasion when I’d select third instead of first on take-off, but this happened seldom and could just be that first and third live quite close to each other.

Make a point of ignoring the gearshift indicator in the dash. It’s there to help you save fuel, but has a penchant for leaving you in lag-limbo mode. Smoother driving outside of turbolag requires keeping the engine ticking at higher revs. And be warned, it’s quite a loud diesel, with an old-school truck-like idle going on.

ANNOYING STEERING

The bigger issue though is the electric steering – an issue almost generic to Korean cars.

Newer Hyundai model ranges have different steering settings to try and alleviate that over-assisted feel; the i20 doesn’t. And it’s especially bad. The problem is not so much the over-assistance in this case, but in how it varies. It doesn’t just get harder the faster you go – like it’s supposed to – but randomly got so soft so that I had to stop the car to check for a tyre puncture.

The i20 is comfortable to drive, and hard plasticky surfaces aside it felt durable and solidly built. The diesel version comes in the top Glide spec only, and includes items like six airbags, bluetooth connectivity and climate control, but oddly no cruise control or leather seats. The fabric seats look like they’ll go the distance, but I did feel a bar across the bottom of the driver’s seat which was uncomfortable at times. Our test car also had a strange smell, which reminded me a little of the scent we’ve become accustomed to in some of the Chinese cars we’ve tested. I do like the simple USB and bluetooth connectivity, which make modern media-use a cinch.

The i20 diesel handles reasonably well, understeering only if you really push it through corners – which most buyers in the segment won’t. It runs on 16” alloys, which look quite good but are offset against a slightly harder ride than the 14s and 15s offered on lesser models.

VERDICT

By the end of this road test I was sad to see the i20 leave, mainly because it’s just such a pleasant daily drive. Once you get used to overcoming the turbo lag and the unnatural steering, you realise it’s all you need to get from A to B. It offers a peppy drive – if you’re happy to work the gearbox.

The i20 diesel comes in at two hundred grand, which is 13 grand more than the 1.4-litre petrol version with the same spec level. In theory the diesel version’s more fuel economical, though not necessarily in practice as the 6.4 litres/100km our test car achieved was a lot higher than the 5-litre claim.

The price includes a five-year/150 000km warranty and three-year/60 000km service plan, and service intervals the same as petrol models at 15 000km. -Star Motoring

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