REVIEW | 2020 Hyundai Atos doesn't quite hit that budget sweet spot

26 May 2020 - 08:12
The new Hyundai Atos is better to look at than its predecessor ever was.
The new Hyundai Atos is better to look at than its predecessor ever was.
Image: Supplied

'Twas the night before lockdown, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...

Well, no, that’s no entirely true. This here creature was outside his house busy unpacking some last-minute supplies from the diminutive boot of a blue Hyundai Atos that had been delivered to my home a few hours earlier.

Usually us motoring hacks get test cars for a week, but this one seemed destined to stay for much longer. “When will you collect it?” I asked the fleet manager. “I guess whenever this comes to an end,” she hollered back from behind a comically oversized face mask. “We’ll call you. Good luck and be safe.”

And with that, she made a beeline to her collection vehicle and left me standing in the street with a key to the smallest, cheapest member of the Hyundai family.

The old Atos was a rather odd-looking thing. Viewed from the front three-quarter position, it resembled a bald man with a well-pronounced forehead. Its track always seemed unnecessarily narrow to me, while the headlights wore an expression of bewildered alarm - as if somebody had just shoved a very large root vegetable up its teeny exhaust pipe.

The new Atos, I discovered (somewhere around day 9) is a considerably better effort. Squinting in the morning sun, my hands cradling a mug of tepid instant coffee, I circled the Hyundai languishing in my carport, much like a dog circles some curious piece of new furniture.

After one full orbit, I had to concede that the Koreans had upped their game. Sure, the new Atos will never win any design awards, but compared to the Datsun Go or Renault Kwid, it’s a Monet amongst a collection or kindergarten finger paintings. Well, not really, but you get the general idea. 

Right, so with that totally subjective part of the review out the way, we can now move on to the interior. Sat on unsupportive cloth/semi-pleather seats, you will inside the Atos gaze upon a simple, no-nonsense dashboard that takes you back to cars of yesterday.

The instrument panel consists of an analogue tachometer and speedometer, both of which are clear and easy to read. There’s also a simple digital display - home to the fuel gauge and onboard computer, which computes all sorts of useful information such as fuel consumption and distance travelled.

A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment comes standard and Apple CarPlay is supported.
A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment comes standard and Apple CarPlay is supported.
Image: Supplied

In the middle, in front of the gear lever you’ll find rotary dials for the HVAC system (air-conditioning is standard) and above those a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can mate to your smartphone via Bluetooth or USB. Choose the latter and you’ll be able to enjoy Apple CarPlay (no word on Android Auto compatibility though). Other niceties include electric windows, dual airbags up front and ABS brakes.

Clearly, the Atos gives you a fair amount of kit for your money. Unfortunately this comes at a cost and here this cost is quality. For even from behind a pair of smudged, steamed-up sunglasses (an unfortunate side-effect of the now de rigueur N95 face mask), you can see that the plastics used in crafting this interior are below industry par. They look cheap. They feel cheap. They smell cheap. They are cheap.

The rear hatch hides the world's most annoying boot privacy shelf.
The rear hatch hides the world's most annoying boot privacy shelf.
Image: Supplied

To be fair, I didn’t notice any squeaks or rattles on the way to Pick n Pay - but one does wonder how long it will be until the integrity of these recycled takeaway containers is compromised. The lack of any form of steering wheel adjustment irritated me, as did the pitiful privacy shelf that keeps prying eyes from peeking inside your boot.

Cut from what I can only describe as fossilised horse blanket, this fragile piece of engineering does not - as is the case inside other cars - lift up when you open the hatch. So when loading things into the boot, you have to raise it up manually, which either sees it flop back down or pop out of its mounting pins. As such it wasn’t long until I threw it in a fury onto the backseat, where it remained.

Fearing jail time and/or infection from the Ebola of flu viruses, I didn’t really get to drive the Atos much. In fact, more than anything, it just sat languishing in my driveway. However, when I did, it seemed to tick all the boxes that a city car should. It’s easy to manoeuvre around tight urban spaces and the controls operate with a lightness that will please both first- and last-time buyers alike.

The 1.1-litre four-cylinder engine seems underpowered if you ask me and is matched - or in some cases even bettered - by the three-cylinder engines used in rival products. Still, it revs smoothly and delivers respectable fuel consumption.

There is only one choice of transmission and it’s a five-speed manual that works fine around town but quickly runs out of legs on the highway – anything over 130km/h and that motor starts turning at ridiculous revolutions, which seems like an oversight.

Ride quality? Yeah, it’s good - I guess. I live in a neighbourhood with crap roads and the Atos shook them all off with a reasonable amount of finesse. Handling? You don’t really purchase a car like this for handling, but I will say that the Hyundai Atos is better to drive than the aforementioned Datsun Go and Renault Kwid.

It’s a little bit safer too, faring ever so slightly better in its all-important Global NCAP crash test. Although having looked at the photographs and read the report card, I wouldn’t much like to be inside one during a prang. Remember, this particular Atos is basically just a rebadged Hyundai Santro – a cut-price platform assembled in Chennai for the Indian domestic market. Yes, need I say more?

Cheap plastics let the ergonomic interior down.
Cheap plastics let the ergonomic interior down.
Image: Supplied

And all of this is why I couldn’t really recommend one to you when there are cars with better safety ratings available for not much extra money – even a base-spec Grand i10 is just R16,000 more. Sure you won’t get the infotainment system like you do in the Atos, but on the whole the i10 is simply a better, more substantial product. Hell, for similar cash you could even buy a secondhand Volkswagen Up! with a few kilometres on the clock – what I maintain is still the best small car on the market.

By the time level 4 lockdown rolled around and the fleet manager had contacted me about collection (a mad scramble ensued to rid the cabin of unused/used masks, gloves and sanitisers), I had come to the conclusion that the Hyundai Atos was neither here nor there. Not quite cheap enough to be a true bargain and too expensive to forgive its shortcomings, I wasn’t all that upset to see the back of it.

Fast Facts: 2020 Hyundai Atos 1.1 Motion

  • Engine: 1086cc four-cylinder petrol 
  • Power: 50kW at 5,500rpm 
  • Torque: 99Nm at 2,800rpm 
  • Transmission: five-speed manual 
  • 0-100km/h: 14.4-seconds (claimed) 
  • Top speed: 155km/h (claimed) 
  • Fuel: 5.7l/100km (achieved) 
  • CO2: 127g/km (claimed)
  • Price: From R162,900