WHO would have thought that political correctness would one day extend to motor cars?
There was a time when the different strata of any brand could be identified by little badges. And owners were proud to show what they’d bought.
The Americans started off with “De Luxe”, followed by Super de Luxe and the top model might be, say, a Paramount.
The Germans used rank to identify some models: Kadett, Kapitan and later went political and ended up with Senators and Diplomats.
But nowadays most makers produce umpteen models, all subtly different under the skin, and nary a badge to differentiate them.
For example, Active, Elite and Premium, 1.4 or 1.6, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. And three or five-door.
Those are the choices in Hyundai’s i20 line-up, its new “not the Getz replacement” light car which enters the market with a starting price of $14,990.
I drove one of them for a week and had to ask what and which the heck it was when I took it back.
A Premium, I thought, because it had smart alloy wheels and a pretty decent interior.
Turns out it was the base Active model, a five-door, 1.4litre with auto shift, which gave it a not-so-base retail price of $17,990.
Instead of its standard 15-inch steel wheels, it had been tricked up with 16-inch alloys, rear parking sensors and other options which put my head in a spin.
Unlike early Hyundai market attacks where a low price got the Korean brand an initial foothold, the i20 arrives as a comparatively high-spec number and has set its sights on being among the classier of the light car brigade.
It might have shot itself in the tyre, so to speak, because its top model, the 1.6 Premium five-door automatic, costs $23,490, which is about line-ball with the bigger i30 mid-spec SLX and more expensive than the i30 SX diesel.
It’s also more than a base Lancer, Impreza, Corolla and others in the class above.
It’s a neat enough car, designed in Germany and built in India, but it’s no head-turner.
While other new models in the Hyundai range have adopted what the makers call “fluidic sculpture” in its lines, the i20 remains a typical run of the mill hatch.
That’s because it’s been on sale for a while overseas, a bit before the fluidic styling arrived.
The interior is quite pleasant with good seating and space for four adults and their luggage, visibility is fine and fit and finish are pretty impressive.
The back seats have a 60/40 split to boost cargo space, if necessary.
Standard equipment includes aircon, power steering, automatic locking, remote central locking and the gamut of electronic aids: electronic stability and traction control, and ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution.
The Active has two airbags.
There’s a four-speaker WMA/MP3/CD audio system with USB input and iPod connectivity, tilt and telescopic steering, even a cooling system for the glovebox.
The 1.4litre twin-cam motor puts out 74kW and 136Nm (the 1.6litre gets 91kW/156Nm) and claims 6.4litres/100km with the automatic transmission.
We couldn’t quite match that on our usual drive route but were content with our average of 7.8litres/100km.
The auto transmission was smooth, but didn’t do much for performance. Zero to 100km/h came up in a leisurely 12.4seconds.
The ride is quite pleasant and handling wasn’t bad either, but the i20 is not nearly as good around corners as its i30 stablemate, or as a Fiesta.
It is essentially an urban hatch, a well-equipped commuter, but without anything (other than its vast warranty) to get excited about.