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Hyundai i10 1.1 Comfort Automatic

Click to view picture galleryFollowing proudly in the footsteps
  of its successful big brother — the i30
 
Hyundais newest offering is the
  recently-launched i10. And, as David
  Miles discovered, there
s more to it
  than meets the ‘i
...”

HIGH FUEL PRICES, WITH HIGHER ROAD TAXES FOR SEVEN OUT OF TEN UK MOTORISTS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, falling residual value prices (2 billion wiped off used car values in six months), stagnant new car sales and motor industry job loss worries as the industry slows down and edges towards recession — all have been headlines in the last few weeks.

Industry figures also show that 18 million UK motorists will be hit by above-inflation increases in road taxes next year when higher Vehicle Excise Duty increases for the majority of models come into force.

The Government currently takes 50.35p in duty on a litre of fuel. Diesel fuel has risen by 30.5 per cent in a year, while unleaded petrol is up 10 per cent — and fuel prices are forecast to rise by 37 per cent in the next year.

Motorists are paying an average 600 more in tax since Labour came to power, and the Government will take from motorists a staggering 500 billion in a full year. And, as part of the Government's plan to cut congestion, drivers could also be paying 185 tax to park at work.

But remarkably, in a recent Daily Telegraph survey that asked if readers were planning to downsize to a smaller vehicle, 58 per cent said they were not. However, the latest sales figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that new car buyers are actually downsizing. The 'supermini' segment (Peugeot 207 and Vauxhall Corsa size, for instance) is now the largest sales sector, having pushed the lower-medium sector (Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, VW Golf size) into second place.

A further move could also be currently taking place within the market, and that's in the ratio of petrol to diesel car sales. In recent years, diesel has seen unprecedented growth and, so far in 2008, has taken 45 per cent of the new car market. Consider that in 1998 it was just 16 per cent. However, with diesel fuel now considerably more expensive than petrol, the industry suspects that over the next few months, customers might return to petrol models which are generally cheaper to buy even though the road tax can be higher.

Given the current doom 'n' gloom economic climate, the 'supermini' sector seems to be a sensible area of the market to look at for models which are affordable, cost the minimum to run and get us from A to B without being too cramped. Perhaps ideal as a second car for a family, or the main car for a cost-conscious couple.

Drive forward the Hyundai i10 five-door hatchback. This is the second of Hyundai's 'i' models. Its bigger brother is the very good i30 lower-medium sector car, more Ford Focus size. The i30 range was launched in September last year (2007) and the i10 just a month or so ago. Both the i10 and i30 share the same Hyundai new family 'face' and mark the start of a new era for the company.

The i10 is Hyundai's replacement for their un-loved Amica small car — and instead of 5,000 annual Amica sales, Hyundai expects the i10 to achieve at least 10,000 UK sales in a year.

As the press information quite smartly states, the cost of an i10, priced from 6,495 (this includes air-conditioning and a five-year unlimited mileage warranty as standard), costs little more than some new car buyers spend on extras for their more expensive cars.

There are three levels of specification: Classic, Comfort and Style. The top Style model with manual transmission only costs 7,845 and, incredibly, the range also has the option of a model with automatic transmission — ideally suited for commuters who undertake stop-start motoring on a daily basis. This version is the 1.1 Comfort, priced at a reasonable 8,145 in automatic specification. While the 'auto box is not the most modern on the market today, it does the job.

All i10s are powered by a 65bhp 1.1-litre petrol engine which is capable of 56.5mpg on the combined cycle, and which produces just 119g/km of CO2 for the Classic and Comfort models. This means it qualifies for a road fund licence (tax disc) charge of just 35 per year and the new ten per cent benefit-in-kind company car tax level.

With the longest wheelbase in the class, the i10 has really good interior space too — and it's a full five-seater, with luggage room of 258 litres. Small, as they say, but perfectly formed!

That long wheelbase also gives the ride and handling characteristics of a far larger car, meaning the i10 needn't just be confined to the city limits. Combined with an all-new front and rear suspension design, electric power steering and all-round disc brakes, the i10's specification will embarrass some cars in the class above. All-in-all, it means that buyers who want a small car with small bills needn't put up with big compromises.

Even as recently as a decade ago, the standard equipment levels of the i10 would be seen as generous on a large family car. Air conditioning, electric windows, six-speaker stereo and four airbags would have been seen as a class-leading package in a car costing 13,000. And now Hyundai is able to bring buyers all of this in a car costing half this amount.

The fitment of air conditioning as standard across the range is a real highlight of the i10. It is increasingly seen as essential, not just to help you keep your cool in summer, but also to keep the windows mist-free during the winter.

Hyundai hasn't cut back in other areas either. There are four airbags, five seats, Isofix mountings, electric windows, colour-coded bumpers, central locking and an integrated radio with MP3-compatible CD player and that all-important auxiliary port for your MP3 player. Compare that to rivals at the same price level and the i10 looks even better value.

This level of equipment is standard on the entry-level Classic trim, but for those who desire even more there are two further steps up the range. The Comfort is available with a manual or automatic gearbox and gains alloy wheels, rear electric windows, front fog lights, a height-adjustable driver's seat, power outlet, electric door mirrors, remote central locking and colour-coding on the exterior mirrors and door handles.

At the top of the range, the Style, additionally, has 15-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, metal grain fascia, a rear roof spoiler and even an electric sunroof.

I had been expecting to drive the i10 1.1 Comfort with a manual transmission — the best-selling model — but a less careful previous road tester had managed to do some damage to the car. So the same type of i10 Comfort model arrived but with an automatic transmission.

Interestingly, demand for automatic transmission models of all types is growing and they now account for 20 per cent of all new cars sold in the UK. The 'supermini' class, in which the i10 sells, saw nearly 71,000 automatic transmission sales last year; the 'lower-medium' sector being the largest, with nearly 102,000 registrations.

Whilst the 4-speed automatic transmission does dull the performance of the free-revving but ever-willing 1.1-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine under acceleration, once underway it makes driving very easy. Around town the auto 'box works really well, making light work of stop-start driving and, on motorways, once the car is up to speed it easily maintains the maximum legal speed. Fuel economy from a manual version should average around 56mpg — good for a petrol engine. The auto 'box reduces this to 48mpg (official figures) but my test car fell short of that, at 43mpg.

Apart from the interior space and excellent equipment levels, what I especially liked about the i10 was its ability to cope with today's traffic. On motorways it doesn't under perform — it easily keeps up with other traffic, and its remains firmly planted on the road. It feels safe and secure. So much so, in fact, that it puts the new Vauxhall Agila to shame in most areas. It costs less, performs much better, has more space and is not as sluggish on motorways. The i10 might not look so pretty or have the Agila's youthful styling appeal, but pound for pound it is the better buy by far.

Yes, the automatic transmission does sap some engine power during acceleration, reduces mpg and gives higher CO2 taxes and Yes, manual gearbox models are best overall and only cost 35 a year in road tax, but for those buyers who want a small automatic car the i10 is not bad at all. And that was the downside! Major plus points are the Hyundai's affordable no-nonsense price, a high level of equipment, excellent warranty, low running costs (manual models) and the fact that it easily copes with town and motorway driving conditions... 'i' spy a bargain! — David Miles

Hyundai i10 1.1 Comfort Automatic
| 8,145
Maximum speed: 88mph | 0-62mph: 18.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 43.4mpg | Power: 65bhp | Torque: 73lb ft
CO2 139g/km