Automotive anoraks will spot the similarities with the Kia Venga. But there are some differences

Haven't we been here before? Here's a neat-looking, low-priced, compact MPV from a Korean brand engaged on a steep rise in quality, desirability and credibility.

It has a wedgy profile and a stable stance, and its rear seats slide and fold in family-friendly fashion. It's a Hyundai ix20.

Why the déjà vu? Because the same description applies to the Kia Venga, reviewed in January. The two companies are part of the same corporation, and their cars are based on very similar components. Nowhere is this clearer than with the Venga/ix20 twins, both designed in Rüsselsheim, Germany. The roof and rear quarter panels are the same, and the inner pressings of the doors are shared, along with nearly every other structural part not visible from the outside.

Inside, too, the lower centre console and the main facia moulding are the same. And the creators of both cars say that the suspension settings have been calibrated especially for UK roads with their unique form of disintegration. What differences there are exist in pounds and pence. Hyundai offers a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty which includes breakdown cover and annual health checks. Kia counters with a seven-year plan, but it is limited to 100,000 miles – likely to be plenty for most owners. Pricing and equipment levels are near-identical.

There are some differences. On a frivolous level, the mid-range Active and top-spec Style both wear a highly original design of mesh for the front grilles, a sort of reticulate leaf-vein look found also on the loudspeaker grilles and seat fabric. On a serious level, the ix20 and the Venga don't feel as alike to drive as you might have assumed. That anglicising of the ride comfort has made the Venga somewhat firm, in an attempt to imbue a "sporting" feel in accordance with Kia brand nuances. The ix20, however, is allowed to flow more with the road as is usual for Hyundais, and in its cheapest Classic guise, whose smaller wheels wear tyres with deeper, more absorbent sidewalls, it rides very comfortably over bumps.

Then there are the engines, three of them: 1.4-litre units which produce 89bhp whether petrol or turbodiesel and a 1.6-litre petrol engine that produces 123bhp but is available only with an old-fashioned four-speed automatic transmission. In the Venga, the 1.4 petrol engine is the one to have because it runs much more sweetly than the gruff diesel and picks up speed more quickly, while still proving very economical. As encountered in the ix20, however, the diesel (£1,400 dearer than the petrol) is improved: it feels keener when accelerating from low speeds and it's much quieter.

The ix20, then, is the more refined, more comfortable car, and its petrol engine has a frugality enhancing stop-start system not fitted to the comparable Venga. It steers accurately enough, its gear-change and brakes make it easy to drive smoothly, and the high driving position gives the view out that is a key appeal of the MPV breed. Above all, the ix20 – Czech-made, incidentally – is a thoroughly useful car, compact on the outside and roomy inside with excellent headroom. The boot floor can be raised to the level of the folded-down rear seats to make a flat load bay, and even the Classic version feels quite a high-quality product.

This Classic includes air-conditioning, electronic stability control, a six-speaker stereo with a USB/iPod connection, airbags everywhere and a height-adjustable driver's seat. You wonder if there's any point in spending more than the £11,595 asked for the 1.4 petrol version, but a further £1,100 buys you an Active with larger alloy wheels, Bluetooth, parking sensors, electric rear windows, and a leather-covered steering wheel.

Finally, there's the Style, in which another £1,000 adds a large glass sunroof among other indulgences. An ix20 represents the car as pleasingly designed utility object. For many of us, that is what a car should be.

The Rivals

Citroën C3 Picasso 1.4 VTi: from £12,695

Big for a “small” car, roomy, wacky styling, comfortable, surprisingly fluent and a great view out. Good car but pricey in this company.

Kia Venga 1.4: from £11,495

Very similar to Hyundai, slightly cheaper and an even longer warranty, but less comfortable on bumpy roads. Petrol models lack the stop-start system.

Nissan Note 1.4: from £10,895

Recently refreshed, the spacious Note is a responsive, satisfying drive and a practical family MPV. Makes even the Korean cousins look a little expensive.

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