The Hyundai i10 is one of those talented but overlooked cars in the market. When I first tested the car back in 2008, i was truly surprised at how sophisticated it drove compared to Perodua’s Viva and Myvi. Those who have driven an Atoz before will surely not believe that this is a car in the same segment by the same manufacturer – they are aeons apart!

So it was good to revisit the i10, now with a bigger engine to remedy one of the very few issues this writer had with the car – the leisurely pick up. In comes the 1.25-litre Kappa engine, which has 11 bhp and 20 Nm more than the Epsilon 1.1-litre, which will continue to be sold by Hyundai-Sime Darby. Will this new engine make the i10 the undisputed best small car out there and earn it a bit more attention? We find out.

Continue reading the report after the jump.

You might have noticed the 1.25 designation for the Kappa engine, and while it’s rare for carmakers to state engine capacity to two decimal points, Hyundai doesn’t want to sell the 1,248 cc engine short by calling it a 1.2. They have a point, especially when many Malaysian carbuyers directly equate engine capacity to how powerful a car is, irregardless of tech.

The Kappa doesn’t exactly lack in tech. While RM50K won’t buy you direct injection and a turbo, the all-aluminium engine comes with various measures to improve efficiency and lower NVH. Things like roller swing arm and hydraulic lash adjusters, bee hive valve spring, plastic intake manifold, stretchy accessory drive belt, long reach spark plugs and an offset crankshaft (by 11 mm) combine to ensure that fuel consumption is identical to the 1.1 Epsilon engine (5.9L/100 km combined) despite the higher power and bigger cc.

The 77 bhp/119 Nm Kappa uses a timing chain in place of a belt. The i10 is also the only car in its price segment that comes with electric power steering (Hyundai calls it Motor Driven Power Steering MDPS), which helps fuel economy.

“Big car feel” is a term commonly used in car reviews, sometimes a bit too liberally, but it best describes the experience in the i10 and is entirely appropriate here. This overall impression is based on a few factors, such as low NVH levels and the fantastic ride quality. The resulting refinement and sophistication is almost European supermini levels, and needs to be experienced to believed.

The workings of the engine are kept away impressively – there’s a slight buzziness at mid to high revs but nothing too intrusive – and it’s quiet at a cruise. Similarly, you also hear less of the outside world – wind, other vehicles and the road – than in a Perodua. The impression of being in a more solid, substantial vehicle isn’t easy to express in words; my suggestion is to pair up a Myvi and a not so smooth road on the way to the Hyundai dealer for your i10 test drive, for comparison.

The ride quality excels in both areas. The suspension is firm but never jarring, and it nicely damps away the bumps and ruts in our daily urban jungle drive. On the other hand, the primary ride is very constant and steady, as exhibited in high speed highway cruising. I drove and sat in the back seat at speeds above the national limit, and can say that the i10 had less unwelcome body movements than a C-segment sedan we sampled recently.

We drove the i10 from KL to Port Dickson via B-roads and the i10 held up pretty well when driven at a fast pace. It corners quite flatly despite the height, and body control is good. Once again, the firm suspension shines here – instead of heaving and sagging its way through mid corner compressions and dips, the little Hyundai was surprisingly unflustered.

Although personally I would love the steering could be quicker and feel more connected, the i10 is a decent car to drive enthusiastically. The extra power and torque over the 1.1-litre car is noticeable, and useful in a variety of situations, like when pulling out of junctions or overtaking lorries. It’s still no powerhouse of course, but there are less of those moments when you feel lacking. The auto gearbox meanwhile, doesn’t put a foot wrong in decision making and works unobtrusively.

The A-segment i10’s 2,380 mm wheelbase is just 10 mm short of the Viva’s, and there’s good room for two adults at the back. Knee and legroom is adequate for medium sized adults and there’s room under the front seats to slide feet under. Up front, the seating position felt a bit high (for me), but that’s a good thing for this sort of car. I soon got comfortable and have no issues with the ergonomics. I like the factory radio’s interface and functions (there’s RDS and a night mode that switches off the main panel’s backlight) but the reception was dodgy and the sound muffled.

The locally assembled i10 Kappa starts at RM49,668 for the standard spec, rising to RM52,688 for the high spec. The difference between the two is that the costlier car has ABS and dual airbags. There’s not much else other than electric side mirrors, 14-inch alloys and a rear spoiler.

The i10 is a very good small car that exceeds expectations at this level, but perhaps the reason why it hasn’t been a great sales success is the price. Logic goes with the bigger sized and better equipped Myvi, and the Proton Persona hovers around this price range as well. I guess that in the budget segment, “value for money” appeals more than a great drive, but if your priorities differ…

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