Hyundai i20

The i20 puts the super into supermini as it competes comfortably with the likes of the Fiesta and the mighty VW

A car is a collection of parts. Sometimes, though, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And sometimes it is not.

There is nothing radical about this new Hyundai i20, a car designed to compete with Fiestas, Corsas, Jazzes, Yarises, 207s, Clios, Puntos and the rest. It's a neat-looking, rather upright supermini with five doors – a three-door arrives soon – and a choice of 1.2-litre or 1.4-litre petrol engines and a 1.4 diesel. Nothing radical, that is, except the fact it has a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.

It's also, on the face of it, rather good value. Even the basic Classic version has air-conditioning, electric front windows, a decent CD player, remote central locking via a very posh-looking key fob and a height-adjustable driver's seat, yet is yours for £8,645 with five doors and the 78bhp, 1.2-litre engine. The similarly powered Comfort model I drove costs an extra £800, making £9,445, but adds iPod and USB connections, two extra loudspeakers and steering-wheel controls to the stereo, aluminium alloy wheels, a trip computer and posher door mirrors with colour-matched paint and electric operation.

That's all you could reasonably need in a car, but there's also a dearer Style trim level which adds bigger wheels, a metallic look to the dashboard trimmings, automatic air-con control and various pieces of leather. So much for the superficialities. Much more interesting is the car itself.

It is bankrolled by a Korean company, was designed and engineered in Germany and is built in India. Cars don't come much more cosmopolitan than this. The 1.4-litre petrol engine is rated at 124g/km CO2, which is very low for a petrol-fuelled unit and corresponds to an official average fuel thirst of 54.3mpg. And it drives beautifully.

Beautifully? Isn't that a bit strong for a cheap car with a Korean badge? Anyone who holds such a prejudice is stranded about nine-tenths of the way through the last century. Brands such as LG and Samsung are now considered cool rather than Korean, because what they are and what they do have transcended their origin. So it should be with cars.

The world in the past might have tried not to notice, but Hyundai has long harboured some very clever suspension engineers. Their philosophy has been similar to that of Peugeot in those halcyon days when the French company made cars which loped with fluidity and suppleness along the road while feeling tight and responsive in corners. Another favourite Peugeot trait, a keenness to turn more tightly if you decelerate in a corner, was also found in Hyundais. Not every Hyundai did these things, especially not the bigger saloons, but the smaller cars' driving dynamics gelled rather well.

So it is with the Ford Focus-sized i30, with the very small i10 and now with the i20. It's a real pleasure to drive a new supermini that not only soaks up road disintegration but also feels alert on a twisting track. It's not as focused and driver-pleasing as a new Fiesta but it comes close, helped by steering which, while light, has a natural feel not found in many rivals.

That little 1.2-litre engine does a sturdy job, too. The i20 is certainly not fast, and motorway inclines can overwhelm it, but the engine is smooth and willing with a chirpy response to the accelerator. The only obvious criticism concerns the clutch, whose pedal needs to be set nearer the driver, and whose biting point is unusually mushy.

There's plenty of space inside and a big boot, big enough for the i20 to do the family-car job. The glovebox is capacious, unlike many, and the stereo sounds terrific. The interior finish is harder to love, although some of the dominant hard plastics do at least have a soft-touch coating, and the dashboard's shape does a good impression of wind-sculpted sand dunes.

Greater than the sum of its parts, then. This is a car very well engineered by people who know exactly what they are doing. I drove a new Volkswagen Golf a few weeks ago, costing over twice as much as this i20. If I said I much preferred driving the i20, you would think me mad. But it's true.

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