Hyundai i20 Active: all rough and tough

Every time a crosshatch passed by, I would wonder why anyone would buy a buffed up hatchback. I guess it’s about perceptions —the rugged looks, body cladding and the raised suspension can actually make you imagine that what you are driving is not a compact car but a mini SUV. That perhaps explains why in the past two years, we have seen three contenders in this cross segment: the Volkswagen Cross Polo, Toyota Etios Cross and the Fiat Avventura. Then, Hyundai decided to test the not fully charted territory. The Korean car maker sent its Elite i20, India’s best car of 2014, for weight training, and the result is the i20 Active. However, Hyundai desists from using the term “cross” for the Active and insists the i20’s body builder of a brother is a “sports-styled vehicle”. Well, I will let you decide what to call it after I relate to you my experiences driving it in Goa.

The Active is a no-nonsense cross that looks all set to bully the competition. It is nice to see that the i20 Active in flesh has remained true to the sketches Hyundai had revealed earlier. If you thought the Elite i20’s honeycomb grille was a crowd-pleaser, then you will love the simple horizontal design of the Active’s front grille with its prominent mock bull bar. The engineers at Hyundai probably thought the Elite’s slim fog lamps were too suave for this tough guy, and, therefore, complemented the car’s butch looks with big, circular lamps equipped with cornering lights, which is also a first in the segment. This is an extremely practical feature because every time you take a turn, these additional lights switch on and illuminate the normally dark side of the road better.

Like other cross hatchbacks, the Active has got additional body cladding, though it is nothing over the top like the Etios Cross. It also comes with bash plates and ski rails. The 16-inch wheels look smaller than they are; this is due to the increase of 20 mm in the ground clearance compared with that of the Elite.

One must give Hyundai credit for rapidly evolving and learning from mistakes. In the last generation of the i20, the LED lights didn’t go well with the car as they appeared to be something offered by an automotive aftermarket retailer. This time around, Hyundai has integrated the LED lights in the wrapround headlamp cluster, giving it not only a nice string-of-pearls look, but also a premium touch to the vehicle. At the rear, the Active remains fairly similar to the Elite except for a chunkier bumper and big round reflectors-cum-reverse lights.

The cabin remains exactly as in the Elite, but now the Active has two-tone interiors — black with blue or, yes, wait for it, tangerine orange. If the latter colour scheme isn’t too much of a shock for you, then I don’t mind telling you that it looks pleasing, even if I personally would have preferred a simple all-black cabin with chrome or aluminium inserts. According to Hyundai, the Active is for young buyers and the cabin colour brings out the exuberance they are looking for. The reason why the black-orange combination looks better than the black-blue palette is because it is judiciously used on the dashboard and gear stick, unlike in the case of blue, which is used just too much everywhere.
The Active retains features of the Elite, like the entertainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and 1GB memory, reversing camera, chilled glove box, rear A/C vents, airbags, ABS and the list goes on. Add to this sporty aluminium pedals. Like the Elite, it has generous legroom and shoulder room. It also has plenty of cubby holes for storage.   

The Active is powered by the 1.2 Kappa VTVT petrol and the 1.4 U2 CRDi diesel engines, as in the Elite. The former churns out a maximum power of 82 bhp and is mated with a 5-speed gearbox, while the latter has a more powerful powerplant that pumps out 89 bhp and is yoked with a 6-speed transmission. I got to drive the diesel, which the company expects will form the bulk of the sales.

Hyundai has changed the gear ratios to ensure an increase in performance, by 11 per cent to be precise. Though we will know what sort of difference that percentage actually makes only when we do a thorough formal road test, the initial turbo lag definitely feels lesser than in the Elite. The response is a lot more linear and the engine performs well in low- and mid-speed ranges.

Even though the Active’s suspension has been raised, its ride and handling capabilities do not feel compromised. On the narrow winding roads of Goa, the Active remained planted on the tarmac. When bad patches approached, it sailed past them quite easily. There is also no excess body roll and, therefore, it is a fun car to drive.  

The Active i20 has got many things correct. It makes a funky statement and feels macho. Increasing the ground clearance to 190 mm without compromising the ride quality is a master stroke. It is fully loaded with features and has two well-refined engine options. The lightweight steering wheel lacks feedback, but on the whole, Hyundai has a brilliant product. Which of the two i20 avatars you should opt for depends on your personality. But whether you choose the Elite or the Active, the winner will be Hyundai.
Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX
Engine: 1,197 cc (petrol)
Power: 82 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 114 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Price: Rs 6.38 lakh - Rs 7.09 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)

Engine: 1,396 cc (diesel)
Power: 89 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm @ 1,500 rpm
Price: Rs 7.63 lakh - Rs 8.89 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)