JOHANNESBURG - The economy is coughing and spluttering as if it’s going to give up on life any second now. Household budgets are squeezed to the bone. Corporates are pinching every penny, and preparing for the worst. And with the rand being equally moody these days, everything is getting a lot more expensive too. It’s probably safe to say that entry level cars are more relevant than ever.

It’s right into this space that Hyundai is reincarnating its Atos hatchback. Of course, it’s not just a rehash of the old one that was sold here between 2005 and 2013, but rather it’s an all-new model, built around a new platform and with sharper styling as well as better all round sophistication. 

There’s only one model available, in the form of the 1.1 Motion, and at R159 900 it’s not the cheapest new car on the market, but it does aim to offer the best combination of quality and luxury at the price. 

And it is surprisingly well stocked for an entry-level car, with the standard features list even including a 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The standard multi-function steering wheel is also a surprise addition here, and of course, this car comes with all the comfort and safety basics like front electric windows, central locking, manual aircon, rev counter, dual front airbags and ABS brakes. On the downside, it only achieved a two-star adult occupant safety rating in its recent GlobalNCAP crash test.

We got to size it up at the local launch, held in Joburg this week, and were impressed by its space utilisation and overall quality. It’s a really small car, measuring just 3610mm in length, but it is wide for its size and fairly spacious inside. Those in the back have a reasonable amount of leg stretching space and headroom is generous thanks to the car’s upright stature. The boot is small in surface area but quite deep, with a capacity of 235 litres, which is hardly ample, but also not completely unreasonable in this segment. 

Moving to the cockpit area, the overall look and feel is fairly impressive by entry-level standards and I managed to get comfy behind the wheel despite the lack of any form of steering wheel adjustment, but I suspect those that are taller or shorter might miss the height adjustment a bit more.

Let’s fire it up, shall we..

The Atos is powered by a 1.1-litre, four-cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine, which musters 50kW and 99Nm. The Atos should prove economical, with Hyundai claiming a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres per 100km in "real-world conditions".

This engine can only be paired with a five-speed manual transmission and at this stage there are no plans to introduce the AMT automated manual transmission model that’s available from the source plant in India as Hyundai SA feels it won’t meet local expectations. 

Hitting the road for a 100km stint on the local launch in Joburg, it became apparent that this is a city car at heart. The performance on offer is brisk enough for urban avenues and the car is a cinch to drive, but it does struggle a bit at higher speeds on long rural stretches (at least at power-sapping Reef altitudes) and overtaking requires some planning and patience. On the highway, it is possible to cruise at 120km/h, but not completely effortlessly, with the rev counter singing at around 4000rpm at this velocity.

But we can’t really hold any of that against the Atos as it is a city after all, and one that is priced accordingly, and most of its price rivals are not going to do a better job on the open road.

In every other respect, it is still a pleasant car to drive, and you can't really fault its ride quality, road noise or overall levels of refinement. 

VERDICT

Like its predecessor, the new Atos is still a city car at heart, but it has grown up in all the right ways and we reckon it will impress its target market with its generous list of features and overall feeling of quality. Buyers will also appreciate the five-year/200 000km warranty and although there isn’t an extensive service plan, the first 15 000km service is included in the price.