Model: Hyundai i10
Price: from £6,495 (Classic) to £7,595 (Style)
Engine: 1,086cc, four cylinders, 12 valves, 66bhp at 5,500rpm, 3ft at 2,800rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox (four-speed auto optional), front-wheel drive
Performance: 95mph, 0-60 in 15.6 sec, 56.5mpg official average, CO2 119g/km
Some people just must have a new car – even if that means making themselves look ridiculous. After all, who could honestly have preferred a brand-new Daewoo Nexia to a two-year-old Volkswagen Golf when that brand broke cover in the UK? The mindset was beautifully encapsulated in a Which? magazine survey on cars' good and bad points. Among the points singled out for praise by Daewoo owners was "starting". Expectations clearly weren't high.
If you buy a new car for the price of a better used one, the new model won't be much good – right? Nowadays, not necessarily. After all, Ford, a proper car maker, has been selling its about-to-be-replaced Ka for less than £6,000 in some deals.
Three respectably badged small cars (the Citroë*C1, Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo) are also ultra-cheap; meanwhile the former embarrassment brands have been reinventing themselves as proper players.
This paper tested the recently refreshed Kia Picanto last November and found the little Korean car to be smart-looking, properly made, decent to drive and good value at under £6,000 for the cheapest one. Nothing second-rate here. With the Picanto, though, came the intriguing prospect of future internecine warfare between Kia and Hyundai, the brand of the corporation that owns it.
Hyundai is reckoned to be slightly upmarket from Kia, with smoother driving, sophisticated instrument graphics and grown-up styling. The i30 hatchback illustrates the point – slightly more expensive than the Kia C'eed and, overall, a nicer car. And now there's a little i10, sharing some undeniable underskin features with the Picanto.
The warfare part goes like this. The i10 is priced barely higher than the Picanto, yet it's roomier, more upmarket inside and has more equipment, including air-conditioning. It's also a new model, so already it's looking the more attractive purchase.
The i10 starts at £6,495. Given its goodies, how can it be so cheap? Because it is made in India. At first, when I saw a pre-production i10 on its debut at the Bologna Motor Show, it seemed the cheap production costs might be matched by cheap production values – the abundance of hard plastics in the cabin made more obvious by a nastily shiny finish. But now I have driven proper, UK-market production cars, and the unnatural shine has gone.
This is a proper supermini, not the near-family-size cars that many so-called superminis have become. It has a 1.1-litre engine – a suitable size for a small car – and its 66bhp should be enough for most people's needs, if not wants. It's also a car that gently chides people for their vanity.
The top, £7,595 Style model has 15in aluminium alloy wheels with 175/50-section tyres and is rated at 124g/km for CO2 output. The middle Comfort and entry-level Classic i10s have 14in wheels (made from alloy and steel respectively) wearing 165/60 tyres, and produce 119g/km. So with smaller wheels, which have a lower rolling resistance and present less of an obstacle to airflow, your i10 emits sufficiently less CO2 to sting you for £35 road tax a year instead of £115.
Why would you want the Style anyway? Apart from the flashier wheels, you get an electric sunroof, heated front seats, a rear roof spoiler and a few bits of metal-look interior trim. Sounds like the Style is a bit of a pointless purchase, for who really wants a sunroof nowadays?
Besides, the Classic already has front electric windows, bumpers painted to match the rest of the body, tinted windows and various other goodies, including the same stereo and CD player with iPod connection found in the posher versions. All of use that it lacks is remote operation of its central locking, found along with a few more enhancements including height adjustment for the driver's seat in the £7,095 Comfort model. Trouble is, the Comfort also has one of those intensely annoying seatbelt reminders.
The Classic it is, then, and actually I like its starker, crisper-looking seat trim. And those smaller wheels let the i10 ride more smoothly over bumps than the Style's vanity fitments. The engine is no powerhouse and it gets vocal if worked very hard, but much of the time it simply propels the i10 with enough interest not make you crave more urge. Meanwhile, the gear change is smooth and easy and the same applies to the electric power steering.
It's interesting to compare this diminutive Hyundai with its Kia Picanto second cousin, because the two are more different than you might expect. The i10 is roomier; it insulates its occupants better from noise generated by the engine and by the road surface, and it feels crisper and keener to drive. It's a more highly developed car all round.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the stereo system. The Kia's has a simplistic orange display and sounds as if all its loudspeakers have torn their cones. The Hyundai's system has grown-up graphics and sounds amazingly rich and detailed. These things matter.
The Hyundai i10 is a car you can't help feeling warm about – even the basic version has all you could reasonably want in a properly small car. It's also the best-value true supermini you can buy today.
Fiat Panda 1.1 Active: £6,995
The car that proved a genuinely small car can also be a practical one. Panda remains an original design that's fun to drive, but this base model is sparsely equipped.
Kia Picanto 1.1LS: £6,645 (1.0 also available at £5,995)
The i10's less sophisticated relative is upstaged by the new arrival, but it's still a cheerful, good-value city car. The 1.1-litre engine is the same as the i10's.
Peugeot 107 1.0: from £6,995
Or Citron C1, or Toyota Aygo ... all are much the same and all are ultra-cheap to run. Boot space is minimal, as is covered cabin storage. The i10 is a more useful car.
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