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February 16, 2009

Review: 2009 Hyundai i10 1.1 GLS A/T

Sixty-six horsepower isn’t something to get excited about.  After all, the last time I’ve driven a car with that little hood ponies was an early 80’s Toyota.  And let’s just say the memories aren’t so great: each time we encountered a steep enough incline (and it’s not that steep), we had to turn off the air conditioning just to reach the top.  But times certainly have changed and with the advent of modern technology such as fuel injection, computer-controlled transmissions and so forth, having 66 horsepower isn’t as limiting as it used to be.  Take for instance the Hyundai i10—a car that’s unarguably one of the most exciting I’ve ever driven.  Exciting?  The Hyundai i10?  It’s easy getting caught up in prejudices with small and cheap cars in general; and I too fell victim, having put very low expectations from this P 558,000 car.  But believe me, the i10 made me appreciate that fun-to-drive doesn’t necessarily mean having the most horsepower or having the flashiest badge

The ingredients that make up the i10 are nothing new and anyone can argue that Hyundai shouldn’t have taken this long in coming out with a dinky car that’s lumped together with the Kia Picanto (incidentally its platform mate) and anything funny sounding and/or funny looking from China.  But classifying the i10’s specie doesn’t even begin to do it justice.  For starters, the i10 is one of the most modern and cutest micro cars out there.  I just love the way the headlamps are sculpted upward and exaggerated in size.  And seeing it with the gapping mouth of a grille almost makes it want to talk and say, ‘hello’.  It’s downright cartoonish and that makes it refreshing.  The side isn’t as interesting as the front since overhangs had to be kept short and door frames as large as possible.  But at least this car still ends with a high note when viewed from the back with those extra-large tail lamps and the Hyundai badge that doubles as the hatch handle.  Pretty neat.

And this car isn’t just about looking cute either.  Normally black or unpainted plastic around the car connotes cheapness especially if they stand out like a sore thumb.  But in the i10, it has been masked to double as bumper and door protectors—plastic molding around the car that prevents minor dings and scrapes.  And since it’s unpainted plastic, there’s no need to fuss up if you do ding it.  Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the i10 featured here has 13-inch steel wheels.  No need to fret though as the i10 comes standard with 14-inchers.  The other items you see here such as fog lamps, the rear wiper, the rear spoiler and the rear defogger are all standard equipment even on the base P 478,000 model.

This car certainly looks fully-loaded from the outside and I’m just glad to know that Hyundai went for the whole shebang and loaded the interior too.  Like the exterior, regardless of model (and there are five i10s to choose from), all are similarly speced with the exception of the driver’s airbag which is a P 40,000 option on the 1.1-liter M/T.  Besides that, all i10 models get all power amenities (except side mirrors), full-meter instrumentation (including both tachometer and temperature), a front under seat floor tray, 60/40 split-fold rear seats and a four-speaker system attached to a JVC head unit with integrated Apple iPod control.  Apple iPod control—that’s something you can’t even get with the majority of cars out there and every i10 has one as standard.

Hyundai once considered bringing the i10 here with the brown and beige motif you see in these photos.  Thankfully they went with the much more sensible black and gray scheme.  It may have reduced the welcoming atmosphere associated with light-colored cabins, but it improves masking everyday wear-and-tear.  And since the center console area is painted silver, going black/gray does create a much more harmonious look.  Engineered as a car in the lower echelon of the automotive food chain, it’s a given that there’s a generous sprinkling of hard plastics, but it comes as a pleasant surprise that it feels well-build and solid.  All including the most diehard of nitpickers will find that everything’s aligned properly and no part will fall off.  It seems that for the i10, the simplistic approach really worked in its favor.

The cabin layout is as straight-forward as the choice of materials.  This makes driving the i10 a comfortable experience.  It’s ergonomic and actually designed for humans.  For instance, the steering column has tilt adjustment while the driver’s seat has height adjustment—things you don’t usually see in this class of cars.  The ventilation controls are easily adjustable thanks to being large rotary knobs, while the shifter is always within easy each since they’re located near the center console.  In order to maximize the seat cushion size in the i10’s small frame, the seat back adjusters are placed in the middle, near the parking brake.  This may cause arms to bang together if you happen to pull the handbrake while someone’s adjusting the passenger sear.  It’s a small nuisance, but that’s what you get with riding in a small car.  But even if the car’s width is a problem, at least the space is still adequate for all passengers.  The ample space is done at the expense of luggage space which is reduced to accommodate a couple of duffel bags.

The modernity of the i10’s exterior and interior execution lends me to believe that its driving experience should be too.  And in fact, it is.  Though the 1.1-liter engine and the four-speed automatic aren’t subjects of fancy, the drivetrain is preppy enough and enables this 920-kilogram car to sprint very well.  Admittedly, the initial acceleration is lackluster, but once this car gets moving it can surprise cars with almost double its displacement.  The gearing is acceleration-biased so 20-80 km/h feels like you’re driving a 1.5-liter car.  The transmission is smooth and transparent, shifting accurately as you’d expect it to.  The 30-liter fuel tank means refueling the i10 will use up no more than P 1,000 in today’s prices and with a mileage of about 16 km/l—it’s indeed frugal.  The small displacement does have its trade-off though: it will puff its way to 100 km/h and will feel like giving no more beyond that.  But, it’s still fun to see the speedometer spin halfway across the available digits, something that can’t be done in most cars.

Typically, micro cars have this tendency to feel sloppy or even unsafe at anything above crawling speed.  Not so this one which feels fairly safe and secure at any speed.  The suspension set-up is nothing really interesting: MacPherson Struts upfront and a Torsion Beam Axle at the back, but the tuning makes all the difference.  It does ride stiffly, but nothing on the realm of being uncomfortable.  Deeper potholes aside, the i10 can absorb bumps with case despite its limiting 2,380-mm wheelbase.  All-around visibility is excellent and this trait comes in handy when squeezing through traffic.  Parking is bliss because of the lightweight electric power steering system.  Through corners, the steering is quick and responsive, but there’s loads of understeer.  And in rainy conditions, there are times where you feel like the tires are actually reaching their mechanical grip limit.  This is because the test unit is running on skinny 155/70 R 13 tires, which are the same size as some temporary spare tires out there.  Braking is still surprisingly good with a nice and firm pedal feel, but it does lack biting power during emergency stops.  On both occasions, the fitment of 165/60 R 14 tires (standard on the commercially available i10) should provide better lateral grip and stopping power.

Normally, it’s easy to dismiss these micro cars as utter rubbish, like they exist for people who really, really can’t afford anything better or don’t know any better.  But the Hyundai i10 presents itself as an interesting case where ultra-basic motoring can just be as gratifying as going all out in a multi-million peso sportscar.  Though this isn’t the sort of car you’d want to bring up Baguio or anywhere with a long enough stretch of open road, the i10 is a great city car, built for the everyday drive.  The modernity and solidity of the i10 coupled with its refreshing and almost humorous design makes it a great car to drive no matter what your budget or car plan maybe.

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