Is the new Hyundai i20 Active just a knock-off VW Cross Polo?

Laziness aside, the Hyundai i20 Active has a lot going for it, says Thomas Falkiner. He answers some FAQs about this pseudo SUV

14 October 2018 - 00:03 By Thomas Falkiner
The Hyundai i20 Active's great warranty plan and standard features make it good value for money.
The Hyundai i20 Active's great warranty plan and standard features make it good value for money.
Image: Supplied

Let's cut to the chase here - is this basically a Korean knock-off of the old Volkswagen Cross Polo?

Indeed it is. As part of a recent range refresh, Hyundai transformed its popular i20 hatchback into a quasi-off-roader by raising its ride-height about 20mm and slapping on lots of protective black plastic body cladding.

Known as the "Active", this new addition also gets functional roof rails (for attaching a bicycle rack or roof box) plus a set of 16-inch alloy wheels. The end result is a pseudo SUV that - as is often the case with comparable models such as the aforementioned Cross Polo - looks a lot better than the standard car upon which it is based.

Cool, so it's basically all style and not much added mechanical substance?

Yeah, pretty much. Under the skin lurks the same engine and drivetrain as in your gran's i20. The only marked difference with the Active is its loftier ride height, nice to have in a city like Johannesburg that's home to some of the worst roads in the country. It also gives you a little extra leeway on rutted dirt tracks - you can go further before worrying about ripping off your front bumper on some gnarly corrugations.

Tell me about the engine. I see it doesn't have a turbocharger - it must be seriously underpowered then, right?

While many of its rivals pack forced-induction, the i20 Active still makes do with a comparatively old-school, naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol engine. It whacks out a reasonable amount of power (albeit not much torque) for what it is and also feels impressively smooth and refined. Down on the coast I'm sure it's all the motor you'll need.

fast facts: HYUNDAI i20 ACTIVE

• ENGINE: 1368cc four-cylinder petrol

• POWER: 74kW at 6,000rpm

• TORQUE: 133Nm at 3,500rpm

• TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

• 0-100KM/H: 11.6-seconds (claimed)

• TOP SPEED: 182km/h (claimed)

• FUEL: 7.6l/100km (achieved)

• PRICE: From R284,900

Unfortunately up here in Johannesburg, about 1,700m higher than where the cool Atlantic laps against the sands of Clifton, this Hyundai feels woefully unendowed. Not so much in isolation, however, but when you're out on the highway trying to overtake slower-moving traffic up a long hill. In such a scenario you'll find yourself screaming expletives at the windscreen while stirring that six-speed manual gearbox for all it's worth. So from this point of view it can be frustrating.

One positive about this engine is its economy. I averaged 7.6l/100km over my weeklong test period - and that's with a considerable amount of town driving and freeway thrashing. Drive it with a bit more care and you will easily see this figure dip down into the 6l/100km zone.

What did you think of the interior - is it up to scratch?

Boy, is it ever! No matter where you run your fingernails you'll hear that distinctive sound of hard plastic on keratin. For unlike in the equivalent Polo that sports at least some soft-touch inserts, the i20 Active makes do with a much less sophisticated palette of material.

Be this as it may, everything feels well put together and my test car displayed no rattles or squeaks - even on bumpy gravel roads. Equipment levels are high with Hyundai spoiling you with fully automatic climate control, Bluetooth audio streaming, automatic headlamps and rear park assist. There's also a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can, for an additional R2,500, also give you access to satellite navigation.

It's not a bad system all things considered, but the software interface lacks polish and can be frustratingly slow and clunky at times - as if Hyundai sourced it from China Mall. Another gripe I had was with the fan. At slow speeds it made an annoying squeaking sound that's certainly not in keeping with a car costing nearly R300k.

One last thing - what was it like to drive?

Well despite that lack of overtaking oomph the i20 Active is a pleasant steer. Refinement levels are surprising and out on the highway there's not all that much wind or road noise to send your eardrums into frenzy - kudos to Hyundai for their insulation game. Ride quality is also particularly noteworthy, that soft suspension shaking off asphalt imperfections like Taylor Swift shakes off her detractors.

Dynamically speaking the i20 Active is nothing to write home about but then that's not why it exists. It's here to join the dots between point A and point B with minimum fuss and maximum usability. In that respect it's a winner. Even more so when you factor in its competitive pricing, good value for money and long five-year/150 000km warranty.