Hyundai’s i10 city car is ahead by a country mile
Date Reviewed: October 7, 2013
At the Frankfurt motor show 2011, Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn was visiting various rival stands. At the Hyundai stand he was caught on video talking to his VW engineers about the quality of the steering column lever in the new i30. “How do they do it? BMW can’t do it, we can’t do it . . . no clanging!” Whatever about the car, it was a bit of a PR clanger and the video went viral on YouTube. It also suggested, albeit in a rather frivolous way, that Hyundai was closing the gap.
It seems that the German auto giant needs to keep an eye on the Korean underling, for Hyundai executives make no secret of the fact that they are marking their progress against Winterkorn and his minions.
Given the tight margins, demanding customers and long-established brands, it’s sometimes hard to understand why Asian brands bother to compete in Europe, where they have to fend off prejudice and even a fair degree of political bias. It would seem much easier to sell into the developing markets in Asia, South America and even Africa. Thankfully, the car firms don’t see it that way; Asian brands regard Europe as a useful testing ground for product development. If it works with fussy European consumers then it will certainly work well in other markets.
That is why brands like Hyundai, which are already recording strong growth in developing markets such as India and southeast Asia, still bother to try and win over the often arrogant European car buyer. It seems to be working for them. Closing the gap with European rivals and meeting the ever-tightening safety targets set by the EU means they are well set for other markets, which are already following Europe’s lead in terms of emissions and safety regulations.
So, in its attempts to become an established player in Europe, Hyundai has been radically overhauling its model range in the last five years. Anyone who hasn’t noticed the difference should pop into a Hyundai showroom sometime. From the i40 saloon to the increased range of crossover and SUVs, the fit and finish, styling and warranty package are all up there’re with anything the European, Japanese or US brands are offering. It’s this sort of improvement that has pushed them into the top four best-selling brands in Ireland this year and last.
And yet for all that change and improvement over the last few years, the new i10 represents the most seismic shift in the brand’s offerings since the introduction of the i40. Improvements in its larger cars was always going to be part of the plan. After all, these are the cars it hopes will raise its profile among customers who were previously dismissive of anything with a non-European badge, never mind Korean.
However, in the city car class, where price has long been the most important factor, Hyundai’s image as being a value proposition did them no harm. The problem was that it’s hard to tell customers you are a serious mainstream quality competitor on the move upmarket while also selling a plastic-lined tin box that carries the same badge. Hence the need for a massive leap with the new i10.
On looks alone some may think that I’m raving about the car’s improved quality, for it’s still a rather boxy city car with little of the urban chic appeal of the smarter city cars. A whole raft of rivals are more eyecatching than the i10, such as the Citroen C1 and the VW Up! Yet the i10 is not ugly in any way. It’s just a bit old-school in its form outside.