A massive four-wheel drive Skoda wagon, with tree-mendous interior? Count us in
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Roof rails! Chunky bumpers! Is it another faux-by-four? Yup. Back in 2003, Rover did much the same to a 25, creating the Streetwise, to much derision. A decade or so later, though, such treatment is deemed desirable, and it’s borderline necessary if you’re a mainstream carmaker. The little crossover market is too big a money magnet to ignore. Let’s call it the Juke effect. This, then, is Hyundai’s take on it. The i20 Active arrives alongside the Korean company’s perky little 1.0-litre turbo engine, and is offered exclusively with it driving the front wheels. No 4x4 here, not even as an option. So what does it have?
It has an additional 20mm of ride height over the i20 five-door it’s based upon, while the driver’s seat is hiked up a bit for better visibility, and over 50 per cent of the exterior panels are exchanged for more rugged alternatives. There are skid plates front and rear, but we wouldn’t advise off-roading in it: while there are roof rails up top, we don’t imagine many will be shifting bicycles up Welsh mountains or wardrobes back from B&Q. How does it drive? Rather like its five-door and coupe relations, it’s pretty good. You might be surprised to learn the Active’s suspension is the stiffest of any i20’s; this is both to counter any body roll instigated by its extra height, and to please the younger buyers Hyundai wants the Active to appeal to. It has also, like every other Hyundai, put in a development shift lapping the Nürburgring. The dynamics that result - directly or not - are worthy of some praise. The i20 grips well and has nicely weighted steering. It won’t make you laugh out loud, like throwing a Fiesta or Mini around might, but it’s sharp enough for its target market. You might argue it’s too sharp, as it sometimes exhibits mild unhappiness over really tough ruts and bumps. But overall, this is a car that’s easy to drive.
And the engine? In the i20 coupe, it’s yet another example of a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder becoming the pick of its range upon launch. Which is good news, because it’s all you’re getting if you buy an Active. Hyundai will exclusively sell it with the skinnier 98bhp version, but it’s still a strong unit - punching nicely in the middle bit of the rev-range you naturally use - and with a real-world 50mpg perfectly achievable. It only comes with a five-speed gearbox in this tune, and you may wish for sixth gear at high-speed cruising. But at least when you do rev this engine it burbles away nicely. Is it better than its rivals? A definitive answer is impossible, because its rivals are so far-reaching. On the one hand you have the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Fiat 500X, cars with many personalisation options and with aesthetics as high on their to-do list as dynamics. On the other, there are cars like the Suzuki Vitara, Fiat Panda 4x4 and Dacia Duster, which offer four-wheel drive and some genuine off-road skills that make them a better choice if you do live somewhere that has particularly muddy tracks or frostbitten winters. The i20, at £15,225, battles all of them. But it falls into neither camp, and in comparison with many of its rivals, it feels prosaically put together. But there’s undoubted appetite for cars like this, and its unwavering sensibleness, in particular its five-year warranty, could just seal the deal for some.