Hyundai's latest hatchback - the lavishly named Grand i10 -has been designed to play the 'practical' card rather well but it comes with loads of emotive appeal as well say Adil Jal Darukhanawala and Vikram Gour who were among the first to get behind the wheel of this new mini which is set to yet again re-ignite the big battle among small cars
The Indian automobile market is probably one of the toughest markets in the world to truly understand due to the vastly diversified customer base and today thanks to the economic uncertainty difficult for all - from car maker to car consumer! Amongst the various segments, however, the most cutthroat happens to be at the lower end of the spectrum where the hatchbacks proliferate.
While this segment has grown over the years to include entry level hatchbacks, premium hatchbacks and is currently witnessing the spawning of the premium-entry level hatchback, the fact remains that getting a product right for this segment is probably the toughest for any car manufacturer.
Having said that, on the face of it Maruti Suzuki seems to have made it an art form and in doing so, has dominated this space. Others have vied for a substantial piece of the pie for one reason or many they haven't been able to nudge the segment leader which has models price-positioned at every Rs 25,000 incremental step from Rs 2.50 lakhs upwards.
It is therefore easy to see why Maruti-Suzuki wins with its pricing policy but it is more than price for it has a diverse range of models overlapping these very price points so that the consumer has the requisite choice. This is what Hyundai seems to be working on and having been the only car maker to have come close to giving the market leader cause for concern, it is now ready to play the same game but with even more appeal and firepower.
The appeal and the firepower now comes in the shape of a product with the potential to hurt if not cripple the market leader, especially in the B-segment where so much action takes place. It hasn't been a secret that Hyundai needed to have an upgrade or at best an all new evolution of its best selling i10 which now has had a life span in its present form of close to seven years.
This i10 upgrade or evolution went by the project code name BA and many thought it would be a car to bridge between the present i10 and i20 models. Well this is both true and false. False because this is indeed the next i10 but being India we still see merit in not throwing away a package already established but more importantly amortised over the last seven years. Just like Skoda has made it with its Octavia and Laura the same song will be played out here as well.
For those who did their research well, this car was internally known as the BA or if you were based in Europe it was referred to as the IA. While the car was developed at Hyundai's Namyang tech centre in Korea, the engineers behind the BA have also developed the car based on a substantial amount of feedback received from Hyundai’s Indian operations. Having looked at the product, we can very well say that the feedback was not taken lightly and a number of major changes have been a direct result of this, but more on the features and ‘Indian-ness’ later.
The BA has been christened as the Grand i10 for India. With Hyundai’s European Design Center in Germany influencing much of the exterior style, the car takes Hyundai’s fluidic design theme, which even today looks fresh, a step ahead but in a lower segment. Up front you get the now typical stretched back headlamps and trapezoidal grille. Move to the sides and you realize that the vehicle’s height has been camouflaged thanks to the strong shoulder line and large glass house; however the real stand out element in terms of exterior design is the treatment to the rear.
The neatly rounded rear is further lightened up by a set of gorgeous wrap around tail lamps which work wonders in completing the look of the car. Often in the past we have come across fantastic designs that run out of steam by the time the designers get to the rear, but such is not the case with the Grand i10. The neatly integrated roof rails bring about that added touch to the exterior styling, further embellished by the diamond cut alloys and a rear spoiler. Overall, the Grand i10 is exactly what its name suggests; a grander version of the i10 and the design fits that statement to the T.
The Grand i10 continues to amaze you as its attributes further unravel once you get inside the car. The large cabin is done up in a plush two tone beige-black combination that lends a premier feel to the interiors. The materials are top notch, fit and finish is great and I have to make a special mention of the perfectly-sized steering wheel which is just impeccable; it feels great to grip, has an extremely premium look and the quality of the steering mounted controls are also at par.
Hyundai has obviously done its homework very well and now know for a fact that Indian customers aren’t going to settle for something that is less than optimal. In fact all their product offerings over the last few years have been kitted out to the hilt in order to appeal to the Indian mentality of ‘maximum bang for your buck’.
The Verna, Elantra, Sonata and Eon have all delivered in terms of being extremely feature rich and the Grand i10 is no different. Hyundai has packed it with a number of goodies that include a smart key, a/c vent for rear passengers (which is an industry first feature in this category of car, and an India exclusive feature on the BA, IA Grand i10), push button start/stop, 2DIN mp3 audio with 1 Gb internal memory, steering mounted audio controls, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, Aux-in and USB connectivity, glove box cooling, and electric ORVMs with integrated indicators. This is pretty much the same list you are likely find on an entry level premium sedan!
With a great design, quality interiors and a long list of goodies, Hyundai was pretty much home free to take on the hatchback segment, however the company literally stretched itself in its zeal to offer more in terms of cabin space. That’s right, to go in for the kill, Hyundai took the BA platform and increased the overall length of the vehicle for India. In fact the Grand i10 is dimensionally different from the European model in order to offer an enhanced amount of rear seating space to customers here. According to Hyundai, hatchbacks in Europe are personal vehicles, while in India we tend to make all our vehicles ‘family vehicles’. Our need for space is much higher and to address that, Hyundai had the car stretched for our market.
The result is phenomenal! At six feet two inches, Vikram is taller than the average Indian and even I had absolutely no issue sitting in the back. As for the front seats, Vikram didn’t have to push it all the way to its limit in order to fit in comfortably, meaning that portly-built people like me can easily sit behind as well. That is truly a statement for a hatchback to make, and in all honesty we were suitably impressed by the ability to free up so much interior space and lest I forget, the boot is also more than adequate in terms of size and dimension. What is also worthy of mention is that it is not just about space but also the comfort factor whether sitting up front or at the rear. The correct H-points have been adhered to and overall everything is highly ergonomic to experience and savour.
When it comes to traction effort, the Grand i10 is offered with a choice of two engines. The first being the tried and tested 1.2 litre KAPPA petrol unit and the second is the brand new state-of-the-art 1.1 U2 CRDI diesel that is making its Indian debut. Both engines promise great efficiency and enhanced drive dynamics, however we only got to briefly sample the diesel mill over a 12-kilometre run on billiard smooth roads in Hyderabad and the initial verdict on the engine is that it is extremely refined, NVH levels have been kept well in check, power delivery is a class apart for such a small oil-burner engine and turbo lag is negligible. The low end torque is well suited for city driving and the need to constantly change gears isn’t a requirement. However, if you need to hustle, the Grand i10 does get up to three digit speeds in a reasonable amount of time.
I am sure the petrol will also deliver, but from the looks of it, the diesel is the undoubted winner here and is going to be the model that Hyundai has their money on. The first thing that will charm one and all is that the response isn't sluggish in the least and it comes crisp and easy which is the right mantra to get going. The clutch is light to the feel and the shift quality of a very high order. In fact at the sound of sounding risqué, the drive experience is a car from a class above.
In terms of ride quality and handling, the car seems rather planted and the suspension system more than soaks up road undulations. Coupled with the fact that the car rides on 165/65 R14s, I would say that our initial impressions of how the car behaves is rather decent and feels as though it can handle being pushed through a corner if need be.
Overall, Hyundai has worked on creating a rather practical product. Every nuance seems to have been answered by working the practical angle on it. Whether it was the car’s dimensions, fitments or features, Hyundai has kept the customer’s perspective in mind and has not cut corners thinking that they could survive by offering a slightly jazzed up version of the European model in India.
That isn’t their style. India is an important market and India will get products that are at par or superior to the rest of the world! In fact such is the importance of the Indian market, that we Indian journalists were the first in the world to see the actual car (without the camouflage). Regardless, it’s great to see an automobile manufacturer give one of the world’s toughest markets a product that is truly designed for it. From a product perspective, Hyundai has hit the bulls eye; however the only item that remains to be seen on how this car does from a market standpoint is the pricing; get that right and Hyundai has a solid opportunity to be laughing all the way to the bank, the only corollary is that it might make its rivals have sleepless nights!