Hyundai i10, motoring review: Why do these cars keep getting bigger and bigger?


Price: from £8,345-£10,495
(1.0) 998cc, three cylinders, 12 valves
Transmission: five-speed gearbox (four-speed auto optional), front-wheel drive
Performance: 96mph, 0-60 in 14.9sec

When is a supermini not a supermini? A quick answer could be "When it's a Renault Clio". The current version of Renault's staple supermini is enormous; it's long, wide, and it looks as bulky as a Golf, say.

This upward size-creep in cars has been going on for a while, causing a new layer of compact cars to sneak in beneath the superminis. They – Fiat 500, Volkswagen Up, Citroën C1 and the like – are still bigger than an original Mini was, and are the true superminis. But now the size-creep has hit here, too.

Take the new Hyundai i10. The previous one, built in India and launched in 2008, was an unexpected success. It was a keen, happy, friendly car to drive, it exuded frills-free honesty and it was brilliant value.

It was also a properly compact four-seater hatchback, a sub-supermini. Now there's a new one, built in Turkey and designed (in Germany, mainly) in response to what Hyundai perceives as buyers' desires. It's bigger, has more gadgetry, is more expensive (but still good value) and overall seems more grown-up. Which is fine, but if you wanted a compact Hyundai hatchback bigger than an i10 you would hitherto have simply considered the excellent Hyundai i20. But now that, too, is to be replaced, and will again be a bit bigger. Why? As carmakers become cleverer, shouldn't their cars take up less road space, not more?

Hyundai talks of the i10's quality, sophistication and "premium feel", but this seems to miss the point of what a sub-supermini should be. The interior still consists mainly of un-premium hard plastics apart from the seats, but the shapes are quite imaginative in their curves and, as in a Fiat 500, the dashboard colour can complement that of the exterior paintwork. The expected USB audio connectivity is standard; Bluetooth, however, is standard only on higher-specification versions.

It looks neat and nippy from the outside, with the snub nose and high headlights typical of a modern small car and an alert, tail-up profile. In place of the old model's 1.1-litre, 66bhp engine is a choice of two new units, a 1.2-litre with a racy 87bhp or a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit with that same 66bhp but reduced CO2 emissions (108g/km, or 98 in the Blue Drive version, compared with the previous 119). You sit in the same sort of upright, in-control driving position as in the old i10, but you're aware of more car around you. Rear passengers have more space, too, but this is still a usefully small car.

The little engine makes an appealingly musical three-cylinder thrum, but some of the old i10's eagerness has been squashed here despite slightly better outright acceleration. You can blame the longer-legged gearing for some of this, which improves the economy if you drive gently as well as contributing to the i10's impressive quietness, but if you're to overtake anything or tackle an uphill motorway you have to change down a gear and rev the engine hard.

Nor does the new i10 feel as agile as the old one, although it steers precisely enough, strings bends together with fluidity and soaks up bumps well. The whole car feels calmer and more passive; it does what you want it to do without encouraging any exuberance.

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