Wednesday, April 8, 2015

i-20 Active: Our Desi Scirocco??

Take a careful look at it on the road. It is clearly one of the most beautiful things ever created in the recent Indian automotive times. This piece of art: i20 Elite/ Active reminds me of the Volkswagen Scirocco; which until now, I thought to be the best looking hatchback ever created. It graciously moves away from the trend of designing mainstream hatchbacks as toads and frogs. The Swifts, Wagon Rs, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Yaris and Peugeots were all corrupting the trend and the i-20 Elite/ Active is here to rescue us with its gracious curves molded to some subdued muscles.

You can safely say that the i20 elite/Active have transformed the Indian automotive design space. Something that was done by the Ford Ecosport sometime back, and the Daewoo Cielo some decades back. Now that the market has seen such spectacular piece of art, the competition has to roll up its sleeves, work hard to keep up and give the customers better (Volkswagen, Chevy, Toyota: are you listening?).


Once you get inside, it is fabulous! The two tone colors, the small digital display for climate control, the steering mounted controls, the chrome inserts: all make a great impression. The winner here is of course the two tone color scheme: With a choice of racy orange or a cool blue options to play around in the dashboard. The plastic is certainly hard and not as soft and plush as the Hondas, but it certainly feels top quality and like something that will last. The seating is quite comfortable with little inserts, and an array of features thoughtfully crafted making you feel special throughout the vehicle.

As for the rear passengers, there is ample leg room. But what makes it really wonderful at the back are the rear AC vents. I believe that this is one of the most useful features for the harsh Indian climate and a market where a good percentage of the cars  are chauffeur driven (Yes! Hatchbacks included). As far as I can remember, in the sub-10L category, only Tata had thought of this (in its Indigo XL, that bombed) before Hyundai got it out in the top model of its i-10 Grand. Plainly put: when it comes to interiors, there is no competition for this Hyundai. Maruti does make an attempt to give you lot of goodies, but it fails to keep up when it comes to the quality of materials and the overall finishing. While I do condemn the overpriced Volkswagens a lot, I do agree they have really good quality stuff inside but again: the whole dashboard of the Polo/ Vento seems to be ancient and from the 90s, nowhere close to the i-20 Active.

The Drive and Performance

The drive is what every Hyundai drive is like: smooth, soft steering, comfortable suspension. Gear shifts are leisurely and the engine is quite rev-happy. There is no turbo charger here and the 1.4L diesel pot does not feel like it needs one. The torque delivery is mysteriously linear and has striking resemblance to a petrol engine. You may rev the engine hard, but it can only do so much in terms of acceleration. Its 0-100 figures may not be something to write home about, but the brilliant part is the smooth power delivery and decent torque at low ends, making this diesel a pleasure to drive in the city limits. No shifting needed or wretched turbo lag at lower RPMs. With experience with its ancestors on long highways, I know it handles really well at high speeds as well, a tad better than the Swift/Ritz and almost in the league of the VW Polo or the Ford Figo. On the highway, I do wish the steering had more weight. The smoothness of the steering means curtailing any form of feedback from the road: a standard characteristic of Hyundais. Fuel efficiency is proven to be as good as the competition but in the mileage frantic Indian junta, I shall refrain from mentioning the figure I have. I don’t want to instigate those aggrandizing freaks who will come to argue with me pointlessly. (1) 


VW Scirocco
I could go on and on about the looks of this car. The fact that it dislodged that age old beauty Scirocco from my mental podium is a testimony to how imposing a presence this car has. Brochures apart, you have to see the rear in flesh and blood; ahem.. or should I say: in Metal and Rubber. Even those who are otherwise oblivious to automotive proceedings look up and inquire about the car and the process to own it once an i20 Elite glides across the streets. Unlike the Toyota Etios Liva Cross, the i20 Active is not just about the inserting plastics to jack up the price. There is some work done with the suspension as well. With the raised suspension, the Active has all the more imposing presence and the bodywork has been incredibly done. I may say that in white color, it does seem to be moving perilously close to the Ford Ecosport. With the projector headlamps, brilliant side skirts, standard alloy wheels, dull aluminium texture look-alike fuel lid (I particularly love this one!!) and wonderful bumper inserts (rear reflectors and front fog lamps): the i20 can even dare challenge the German or British marquees: the BMW X1, Jaguar XF included at a fraction of the price.

Trying to be a SUV??

Pardon me for mentioning Ford Ecosport as a competitor to the i20 Active earlier somewhere in the text . Critics will be quick to point out that the two are different segments. The semblance I draw is from the price and ground clearance: where both the Ford and the Hyundai come surprisingly close to each other. While the Active is no true off-roader, it does in some way fit into my price chart of the Indian SUV scenario.

L>R: Mahindra Commander, Gypsy, Ford Endeavor, Tata Safari, Renault Duster, Ford Ecosport & Hyundai i20 Active (Prices in Rs.-Lacs)

The graph here points out:

1.      Mahindra Commanders and Gyspys were the only options in the early 90s. SUVs really took off in the late 90s, the prices kept on increasing with demand. Tata Safari and Ford Endeavor were the rage back then in their times. Their era saw SUVs becoming the niche fashion statements with rising prices.

2.      With the advent of the Renault Duster, SUVs were seemingly affordable again. There needn’t be a real SUV, something that looked like one was good enough. The Duster cracked this market formula: a car that looked like a SUV at a decent price was the name of the game. We realized that the Indian SUV market was more about looks and affordability than off-roading. The industry was quick to see this trend and the result was the Ford Ecosport, BMW X1, Premier Rio, etc. Even Mahindra made an attempt to joke around with ‘Quanto’.Somehow, i-20 Active/iX35 seem to be trying to fit into this SUV equation.

Don’t get carried away by my graph here. The i20 Active is not a SUV. And neither are the Ford Ecosport and the Renault Duster pure blood SUVs for that matter. At 10L+, i-20 Active is not a value proposition either. The Diesel 1.4L motor I drove is no hyper-performance machinery. It just has an above average acceleration and torque, possibly a tad lesser than what is expected at its 10L+ price tag. The petrol twin with half the torque would be miserable, I’m sure. My dream would be get that Verna 1.6 motor here and create a maniacal racing machine. Also, whatever price you may pay, you cannot escape the fact that this is just a cool hatchback. Don’t get me wrong, but this beauty does not feel as planted on the road when it jumps around a bump or when you try to steer it harshly. Agreed, it is better than most hatchbacks, but the point I am coming to is that is in spite of its spruced up suspension and beefed up tires, it cannot match a Honda City or a Ford Ecosport when it comes to stability. Again, I cannot refrain to consider these cars as competition, though a class above - thanks to the price.


Yet, I love this car and would recommend it to the right category of people. Under-powered: umm. Not really, Pricey, yes. But the looks and features will sweep you away. Make no mistake; this is eventually a lifestyle vehicle. If you want to haul a family of 5 with three suitcases, go for the Amaze/Dzire category. If you are one (or two) who drive(s) to work, has(have) occasional company, like to be in a feel good environment and make heads turn; look no further. The i20 Active pampers you, the looks, features and interiors may put cars a league or two above it to shame (Volkwagen Vento, Toyota Corolla: do you get the hint??) and it comes with that Hyundai tag: great quality and low cost of ownership guaranteed. Also, this vehicle will not age. While sitting in a 3 year old Swift, Corolla or Figo cabin makes you feel ancient, a 10 year old Civic’s cabin still feels like a modern aircraft cockpit. Same would be the case with the i-20 Active’s interiors several years down the line. It is not just following the current trend, it is defining the future.

The incident I refer to pertains to a conversation with a gentleman where I accidentally mentioned mileage of Marutis. However, he plainly refuted my figure, the state of Indian roads, driving conditions and quite possibly the calorific value of fuel. He was adamant about the fact that his Maruti Swift petrol got him a mileage of 29kmpl in peak traffic, and he expressed concern about his old Ford Fiesta which gave a ‘measly’ mileage of 25kmpl. My attempts to reason with him to admit to a more scientific and factual figure resulted in a mini-skirmish, with me eventually walking away from the maniacal battle- leaving the fellow proud of his fleet and laughing away to glory. Victorious, he went on to declare that all other car owners on the planet managing a mileage in the range of 10-18 kmpl were brainless baboons and ought to take a lesson from him on driving (or exaggerating).


  1. Amazingly insightful and detailed. It seems unbelievable that you can compare it to SUVs, but after reading the actual specs that you have highlighted, it's a brilliant point that you are making here. Thank you for writing this!

  2. Your concepts are precise and easy to understand. I never found such relevant information. Thanks for Posting and keep this work up.

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