Group test: Suzuki Ignis vs VW up vs Citroen C3 vs Hyundai i10 | Top Gear
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Review

Group test: Suzuki Ignis vs VW up vs Citroen C3 vs Hyundai i10

Budget doesn't have to mean compromised, you know...

  • If you sit at a neat veneer desk working as an automotive industry marketing analyst, this test will mess with your tidy head. Here are four cars that upset the applecart of “segmentation” you use to populate the cells of your cold, dry databases and spreadsheets.

    Anyway, here we have two 00-gauge hatches, the VW Up and the Hyundai i10. But in this case they’re not in first-wheels (or repair-shop discourtesy-car) spec. They’ve got higher trim and more power than that. Then we have a supermini, the C3, the one that we recently named “World’s Best Urbanite” because it’s better furnished and smoother-riding than baby cars, yet still compact enough not to be a pain in the parking space. And finally the Suzuki Ignis, which is a bit of supermini, a bit of baby car, a bit of crossover and a bit of whizz-kid.

    Images: Jamie Lipman

    This feature originally appeared in issue 293 of Top Gear magazine

    A big thank you to the Nene Valley Railway, Peterborough, for making this shoot possible. For visitor information go to nvr.org.uk

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  • It might be small, but the Ignis has a whole lot of stuff going on. Inside and out, the styling has more details than an electron micrograph. Some of them bogus, including those bonnet vents. Some of our crew loathe it for its visual hyperactivity, but I was actually rather charmed.

    At least it inspires opinion. Look at the Hyundai. Did even its own designers take a view? Had they already been told their next job was a fancy concept car, so they just knocked it out pronto and moved on? It’s just a regular mid-size hatch, scaled down. The cabin has no new ideas, and without those daubings of red – hardly a Niagara of creative outpouring – there’d be nothing to catch the eye. Of course it may well prove thoroughly competent as an emotionless consumer durable, as generic products often are.

  • The Up doesn’t just present itself differently from mid-size Volkswagens, but from anything else on the road. It’s cheery as a small car should be, and its visual design treads a tightrope with deceptive ease: it’s pared-back and minimalist without looking po-faced. Poke around the cabin and the plastic is nearly all cheap hard stuff, yet the design and assembly have the discipline to disguise it. The materials are honest, so there’s no disgrace in the bare metal on the doors.

    The Citroen is plusher. Inside, that means chairs that look like they want to be in a hotel lounge not a pitlane. All its design signifiers aim for a comfortable existence rather than an aggressive one. The dash has a soft, stitched insert, the door pulls are like luggage straps. External shapes are round-edged but structured, and the airbumps tell a story of defence over offence.

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  • The C3 is also the biggest – 3,996mm long against 3,700mm and 3,685mm for the Ignis and i10 and a massively condensed 3,600mm for the Up. It’s also 1,050kg in this trim while the Up is almost spot-on a tonne and the i10 is about 50kg lighter again, while the Ignis’s new platform makes it a radically feathery 810kg. So, none of them porky, then. The Citroen’s extra size is reflected in the price, of course, but not just that: it gives you the widest cabin and easily the biggest boot, although this is at the expense of rear legroom which is no better than the little Volkswagen’s.

    The Hyundai is cramped in the back seat and the boot, whereas at least the Suzuki gives you the choice by providing a pair of sliding rear chairs. When they’re right back there’s actually decent space for two people sitting tall in the back. Never three. But you’d imagine all this from the Ignis’s rear elevation, which starts out narrow, narrows further above the pronounced arches, and tapers further inwards as it proceeds up to the greatest altitude of the four cars.

  • On the road the Suzuki feels its smallness and tallness. Your head rocks like a puppet’s as it traverses uneven side-to-side bumps. The taut suspension gives a twangy urban ride, it throws up a fair bit of tyre noise and it doesn’t always feel entirely stable at speed, especially under brakes. In corners stability comes from memorable understeer. But you can always feel what’s going on and sort it all out. It does feel light and agile and quick-witted, and though you can pick holes in most of its quantifiable dynamic attributes, there’s a sense of fun. 

    Same with the engine, which obviously comes from a motorbike maker. It’s a naturally aspirated 1.25-litre job and it likes – no, needs – revs to do its responsive best, and it isn’t quiet. The light, quick gearbox encourages you to keep it simmering nicely. This top-spec version has a mild hybrid system acting directly on the engine in place of a starter motor, which must partly explain the quick answers to throttle inputs. It knocks a couple of seconds off the 0–62mph time and drops the CO2 figure from 104 to 97g/km. 

  • The Hyundai is a model of prim and proper behaviour. It too has a 1.2-litre four (wow, how long was it since Top Gear had two nat-asp cars in one test?). Its outputs and weights closely match the Suzuki’s, and though it’s slower to 62mph, it’s by an amount that’s small enough not to matter. The engine is quieter than the Suzuki’s. The ride is firmish but doesn’t crash over city potholes. The only refinement issue is tyre noise. See, it’s trying hard to feel like the proper grown-up car its stylists slavishly aped.

    The steering has progressive weighting so your early exploration of cornering is rosy. But before you’ve arrived within arm’s length of the limit, the stability system starts curbing your enthusiasm. It operates smoothly and all that, but you feel like a superfluous component. So you slow a little, the steering and brakes precise enough to melt into the background of your consciousness. Along with the rest of the car.

  • Even four years into its life, the Volkswagen’s bandwidth of talent never ceases to surprise us. The engine and suspension are quiet, the suspension reasonably supple, the controls precise and reassuring, the seats firm and supporting. It’s great in towns, OK on motorways. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo makes 90bhp, a match for the Suzuki’s and Hyundai’s efforts, but it’s backed up by more torque. Beyond 2,000rpm, lag isn’t an issue, so it feels like a heartier engine altogether, and just squeezes under 10secs for 0–62mph while the i10 and Ignis take towards 12.

    Because the Up makes such a well-sorted first impression, you want to hurl it down the great British B-road. Here the news is a bit more mixed. The steering stays sharp, but is pretty much devoid of feel. The ride is supple so bumps don’t knock it off course, but it’s not well-damped enough to quell a heaving motion when dips and crests enter the picture. The handling is basically neutral and playable. We had big fun with it. But throwing it into a wet corner had the back stepping consistently outward, so to keep it tidy you’ll be winding the lock right off. Given the ESP was on throughout, owners might be taken aback by the need for a dab of Up!po.

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  • Driven with the same suddenness, the Citroen comes over all coy. It rolls and the steering is a mite soggy. But if you loosen your hand, things fall into place. It just bowls along, absorbing the insults of the road, gripping gamely and communicating enough. At urban speed, it made the best job of gliding over our specially constructed test level crossing. It’s what Citroen’s new comfort mantra is aiming at, and actually what old-school Citroens were meant to be. Sadly it inherits old Citroens’ rear-axle pattering noise and wind rustle too. Oh, and although the soft and welcoming seats are fine for most backbones, they’re ache-inducing for a few others. Try before you buy.

    The C3’s thrummy three-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo has more potency than the others, at 110bhp, which serves up a faster 0–62mph time, though not by a huge margin. It has a lot more torque than even the Up, but it’s delivered with a bit of lag, and you choose gears via a flaccid lever. So just as it helps to steer the C3 with a bit of smoothness and anticipation, so you’ve got to plan your throttle inputs. That done, it’s a handy overtaker. And it’s the most stable, fastest motorway car here. Because it’s the biggest.

  • In their top-trim versions, each car in the test has navigation, but the VW outsources it to a special Up app on your phone and provides a dash mount for it rather than leaving the phone slithering around a cubby hole. It works well, and it can also display your phonebook in big type, plus detailed trip info, so it’s not just a dumb dashtop bracket. The advantage is the climate controls remain as hard keys, and the audio info also gets its own display. The Up tested here is the Beats edition, and its eponymous stereo, if a bit boomtastic, is a big draw for music lovers.

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  • The Citroen’s counter USP is the built-in dashcam, with an app for social sharing of photos and video, plus saving of, er, evidence. The C3 piles nav, stereo, phone and climate all onto its one screen. It’s decently responsive, and the graphics are nice, but though it obeys a simple logic, it demands an extra finger-jab to switch between map and music just to see what track’s playing, then across to climate to turn the fan down a notch. 

  • The Ignis’s screen is a typographic mess but makes a lot of sense: it can show a zoomable map at the same time as the name of your current Apple CarPlay track. The Hyundai too has a splittable screen, and separate climate controls. So, as with the Ignis and Up, if you want to send air to your feet you just hit the send-air-to-my-feet button.

  • This simple good sense is all over the Hyundai, and any attempt to slag it off is water off a duck’s back. Technically it’s just fine, and shows its confidence with five years of unlimited-miles warranty. Trouble is it makes no attempt to engage you, aesthetically or dynamically. Not one for us, then. 

  • The Suzuki isn’t the last word in finesse, but it’s mostly fun. If its looks float your boat and you don’t have big mileages ahead, then be our guest.

    We were split between the Up and C3. So this verdict is a majority decision. The Volkswagen manages to play well beyond the expectations of a car so small, with amazing packaging, refinement and capability. In a way it’s unfair because we have here a C3 in top trim at a stiff price. But you could drop a trim level and pick options carefully to get a sticker close to parity with the Up. The Up is a tiny car that does a good impression of a stylish civilised bigger one. But the Citroen isn’t doing an impression. It is. 

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