Shifting into the fifth cog, the i10 gets into cruise mode. At 120 kph and with the tacho needle nestling at 4500 rpm, the new compact from Hyundai is pretty keen on consuming the miles between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The roads are relatively empty and smooth, while the integral 2-DIN stereo, for a factory-fitted unit, sounds pretty good too.
We are out in Rajasthan, evaluating and testing this ambitious model from Hyundai. Ambitious because it is only being produced in India for the rest of the world, and also because it has severe competition from a host of other cars, including Hyundai’s own Santro Xing and Getz Prime... well, it fits between the two, actually. The car is clearly an upgrade over the Santro – to call it a 21st century version of the Santro wouldn’t be out of place. Which means it’s safer, built even better and makes life comfortable within, for both the driver as well as all the passengers. And it is more mature when it comes to driving dynamics too. Considering the i10’s footprint is virtually identical to that of the Santro, this is quite an achievement indeed. The wheelbase is identical and the length is the same, while the new Hyundai is slightly wider and shorter than its older sibling.
The needle, in between my meandering, has meanwhile steadily risen upward to 140 kph. I have the highway to myself, so I can take a look around the dash of the i10. The instrument console pays tribute to the Santro’s own mushroom-like unit, but the gauges and lights are quite funky. The rest of the dials and switches are of high quality and I am pleased to note that Hyundai has not raided its existing parts bin for this car. The seats are also pretty unique – they ape the ones made by Recaro by making the head restraint an integrated part of the seat. And overall, they are good enough to keep you comfortable over long drives – the almost 600 km that we spent driving the car was proof enough. The sporty seats also go well with the overall lower silhouette of the car – this is a tall-boy all right, without the height being too obvious. With the use of beige interiors and light coloured upholstery, the car looks much more spacious inside compared to the overwhelming grey plastic used in the Santro. And when it comes to interior space, Hyundai has managed to liberate a few critical mm to allow for better legroom for rear passengers.
However, the most important part you’ll notice inside the i10 is the placement of the gear lever. It is almost Japanese car-like, sitting high up in the central console, therefore liberating space between the seats. Okay, let me put it in another way. If you place a bottle in the holder provided just below the gear lever, your hands might unconsciously shift the bottle instead of the gear lever... oops. In real life, it’s not as bad as I just made it out to be, and it is in fact a clever little thing that you’ll get used to in no time.
Credit should be given to that little 12-valve four-cylinder 1086cc unit for keeping the buzz going on the highway. It sounds just a bit stressed but doesn’t show it even while consistently maintaining high speeds. Speaking of sounds, the exhaust burble emerging from the tailpipe comes as a surprise – somehow I didn’t expect it to come out of a Hyundai small car; a Fiat would be more like it.
Developing 65.7 bhp at 5500 rpm and 10.1 kgm at 2800 revs, the engine is familiar to the hundreds and thousands of people who swear by the Santro Xing. Only, in this application, it is a wee bit more powerful (like in the Getz Prime 1.1). This engine is one of the best in the business and combined with that slick five-speed gearbox, it’s an irresistible combination. The ratios are well-spaced out to extract as much driveability as you can get – in fact, the first three gear ratios are identical to that of the Santro Xing. If you have driven the older Hyundai in the city, you know what a good deal that is. It’s something I noticed while getting in and out of Jodhpur during our i10 drive. At each of the innumerable traffic roundabouts, it’s always each man to himself... courtesy be damned. Who puts his nose in first gets right of way. The throttle response is pretty instantaneous and the early arrival of torque means that it was the i10’s pretty nose that was annoying other bikes and cars. On relatively less crowded urban stretches, playing between 2nd and 3rd means that you can skip other cars quite rapidly. Power delivery is evenly distributed and you need not rev too much to keep it going, and that means you can play hopscotch in traffic pretty effortlessly without keeping your left hand busy on the gear lever. Though it does not ask you to shift without reason, shifting gears is in this car is delightful. As mentioned earlier, the cable-actuated five-speed gearbox is a good match to the engine’s nature. The peppy engine is equally matched by the snappy shifts that the short throw gearbox provides.
If you remember, the Matiz was the perfect small car that was marred by lousy gearshift quality. It was the only aberration in a brilliant package, but it stays with you even after the car has been consigned to motoring history books. Here, unlike Daewoo, Hyundai usually get their small cars bang-on. With the Santro, Getz and now the i10, the critical elements that make a small car buyer happy – a peppy engine, a slick gearbox and an accurate steering – are in place. In this car especially, the motor-driven power steering is a new feature. It runs independent of engine power, which aids in fuel efficiency. That apart, it is easy enough on your hands on congested city streets while it stays quite tight at higher speeds on the highway. The steering setup has been engineered with the small car buyer in mind and with the kind of driving he’d usually do, so it matches his needs perfectly. On the highway, the steering does not lighten up at higher speeds, which is important when it comes to safety – it allows most drivers to maintain a degree of precision even at higher velocities.
When it comes to performance, the i10 manages the dash to 60 kph in 6.5 seconds and takes 16.37 seconds to attain 100 kph. Now that is more or less what is expected from a small car with this engine capacity. But the important thing to note is we tested the higher end fully loaded version, which is a substantial 90 kg heavier than the entry level model, and that is bound to affect the timings a bit. We did a couple of 0 to 100 kph to 0 runs (20.76 secs), and thanks to the ABS option in our car, the i10 came to a halt despite the panic braking without any fuss. The i10’s strongest showing is in the mid-range, dismissing the 80 to 120 kph run in 15.56 seconds. The gearing allows it to gain this good passing speed, and it shows how equally adept this car is on the highway as well on urban stretches. While at it, we managed to achieve a top speed of 152.2 kph, at which point of time the engine was whining a little bit, but the rest of the car was planted and felt confident. High speed poise was one weakness of the Santro and this is something that Hyundai have addressed with the i10. The i10 is built so well that it can definitely do with a more powerful engine. Come to think of it, I hear that the 108 bhp Verna/Getz Prime CRDi motor will make an appearance in this car. And when that happens, boy, there won’t be any petrol hot hatches around that can match its blistering performance.
So it is obvious that the i10’s driving dynamics are a level above that of the Santro. Featuring McPherson struts at the front and a coupled torsion beam axle at the rear, the i10’s capability when it comes to handling is best felt while taking on sweeping curves at speeds well above 100 kph. It is perfectly at ease over the long sweepers you encounter on NH114 and sticks to its intended trajectory without giving you a hint of the stress it’s taking. Combined with tubeless tyres, the roadholding is better than expected from a car of these dimensions. The ride quality on offer again is better than that of its lower priced sibling, though it was a bit on the bouncy side, especially at lower speeds. I would have preferred if the tyres had a wider footprint and a lower aspect ratio, as Hyundai has opted only for 155/80 R 13s (no factory option to size up, no alloys!) to aid in fuel consumption. Ah, that confounded thing, again. Which I am sorry I can’t tell you about because we went hell for leather with the i10 and it wouldn’t reflect on the true figure the car delivers.
Irrespective of that, the i10 has a lot of things going for it. It is good-looking, well-built, well-engineered with quality bits, has a proven drivetrain and is about as spacious as cars in this category can get. Besides, it comes with a host of variants that suit different sizes of pockets, including ones with ABS and airbags... and for heaven’s sake, a sunroof too! Priced between Rs 3.39 lakh and Rs 4.9 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the i10 has all the ingredients to be a hit. No, I don’t think Hyundai needs an expensive Shah Rukh Khan item number to sell it.