I approached the Hyundai i20 Coupe with trepidation. I’m not a huge fan of the coupe body style as a rule, as the tendency is to substitute style for practicality.
The resulting car looks great in the showroom but generally has limited headroom, cramped rear seats, and an inflated purchase price in the name of fashion – and I’m not a very fashionable guy; I’d rather buy the hatchback version and enjoy the same engine and chassis in a cheaper, more practical, and more spacious package.
Even when I overlooked the i20’s Coupe’s packaging, the diesel engine was another potential nail in the coffin. After all, if a coupe is about fun, freedom and style, then a diesel engine is about frugality and simplicity and steady plodding. I wasn’t anticipating a terribly enjoyable week.
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Sporting alternative to a hatchback
Yet first impressions are good. It’s a pretty little thing – certainly more attractive to my eyes than the awkward Fiesta, for example – and is more of a three-door hatchback than a coupe in the flesh.
The roofline is lower than the i20 five-door hatchback and there are a myriad of other minor changes that distinguish the two.
If the intention was to create a more sporting alternative for the customer who doesn’t need five doors, then the result has been very successful.
The interior feels much more expensive than I expected it to and while it might lack the visual flair of the exterior it feels modern and fresh.
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Comfort and space
Getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy, and while the interior can feel a little bit claustrophobic thanks to the dark headlining the reality is that there is plenty of space.
The front seats are a bit narrow for someone as broad in the beam as me, but the payoff is that they are placed well apart, so I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with my front seat passenger.
There is a huge amount of headroom too, as well as plenty of rear seat legroom making the i20 a genuine 4/5 seater.
The good news continues with the satellite navigation system, which is uncommonly easy to use and accurate.
You might reasonably expect this to be the case in every new car but you’d be amazed how often I struggle to find the setting that will allow me to navigate with a postcode rather than by town – and there is a special place in hell reserved for the engineers who insist that I change the country from Wales to England before I can input an English address when I’m sitting on my driveway…
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Gear change compensates for power
My i20 was fitted with the 1.4-litre diesel engine and while it might have needed a few more gear changes than I would have liked, as the engine runs out of power relatively early, I rowed it across the Pennines and enjoyed every minute, largely because the six-speed gearbox’s change is so good.
The engine itself develops just 89bhp but while I sometimes found myself wanting more power, I never found myself needing more, which is an important distinction that it’s tempting to ignore when you are deciding on your new car’s engine output.
The chassis itself is great fun too, being engaging and light, with the exception of the steering, which is a tad on the heavy side but very accurate.
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Fast and smooth
The handling is nimble and throttle adjustable and it is easy to make fast, smooth progress.
Wind noise is well suppressed but I did sometimes find myself noticing some tyre noise, which spoiled the otherwise very civilized cabin.
Other problems were a very small rear window and a poor three-quarter over-the-shoulder view, both largely a result of the coupe bodywork.
Yet, I liked the i20 coupe a lot, despite my initial reservations. That I would probably have enjoyed the hatchback version just as much is irrelevant; if you want a small coupe or three-door hatchback then the i20 should be on your list.
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Pretty, lithe and fun
The Ford Fiesta isn’t the best-selling car in the UK for nothing and the Polo is, despite VW’s recent woes, a very, very good car, so Hyundai has its work cut out to lure customers its way.
The comprehensive five-year, unlimited mileage warranty and low purchase price will always draw buyers who are attracted to a bargain, yet the i20 has an awful lot more to offer than bargain basement motoring: it’s pretty, lithe and fun.
That I wasn’t expecting to like it so much is proof that this engaging little car is capable of seducing even the most cynical of motorists.
It’s not completely free of compromise, but it’s close, so there’s no need to feel guilty if the fashionista in you wants one.
For more car reviews and tips, browse our motoring articles.
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The best of the rest – If you can get past its frumpy looks, then the Fiesta is superb – and if you can’t, then the i20 might just be the car for you.
Left-field alternative - The Suzuki Swift isn’t as fashionable as the i20, but it’s even better to drive.
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