It is close to 14 years to the day when Hyundai opened its innings in India with a tall boy smallie to present not just its first car in the India market but also to present the first major challenge to Maruti Suzuki’s domination of the peoples’ car segment. Both Hyundai and Santro were unknown names in the Indian market but with some nifty marketing backed by sound engineering and design, the quirkily styled Santro helped establish the product and the brand in the minds of the Indian motorist.
Fast forward to the present and Hyundai is now an established and genuine number two car maker in the country, having a varied portfolio which still features the Santro as its entry level offering. Though long in the tooth and having seen two to three upgrades over its existence to date, the Korean car maker realised that it needed to dip into the segment dominated by the Suzuki Alto with an all-new car and try and take a slice of this pie. So far the Alto has been a runaway success for Maruti Suzuki, and deservedly so, given its make-up, reliability, performance and pricing. What is surprising is the fact that it took so long for other car makers to see the Alto carve out such a strong and wholesome niche and then try and address it with a rival of their own. Now with development time for an all-new product taking three years at the very least from concept sketch to production, one must hand it to Hyundai for having seen this earlier than others and developed an all-new, India-specific automobile which is the best way to describe what is a unique price-specific product needed for the entry level segment in India.
Brings us straight to discussing the price point of the new vehicle which should be on or about the Rs 2.5-lakh ex-showroom sticker tag for the base Alto. Hyundai would have worked out what it had to do with a brand new modern design to try and engineer it not just to the pricing of the Alto but more importantly, allow it to deliver more in terms of style, occupant space, performance, fuel efficiency than the established segment leader. Thus was born Project HA, which saw not just Hyundai’s design and development centre at Namyang in Korea do most of the work, but the fact that Hyundai’s Hyderabad-based R&D centre also pitched in massively to firm up a product which is fresh and appealing and also meets most requirements in this class of small car in India.
The pictures here are of the exact production version of the Hyundai Eon, as the Project HA offering it will be known as when it is unveiled in India in the coming month. The writing is clear: the new Hyundai is a stunner with substance to boot, as I discovered during the course of an exclusive half an hour session driving this small Hyundai at the firm’s Namyang test track. In one fell swoop Hyundai seems to have re-written a new chapter for entry level small cars and it is here in the Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3.0 lakh space, where most entry level buyers are to be found searching for their first spanking new automobile. While the Tata Nano may be cheaper, the Indian consumer is looking at better value, more substance and style rather than just focus on pricing. And in this era where every detail counts, the Eon should be the one which could ignite an all-new and more meaningful race in this segment.
The Eon is built on a completely new platform which has no bearing on the ones used before, either for the Santro or the svelte i10. What clearly denotes the Eon is its stylish exterior with hints of Hyundai’s fluidic design language showing. It is no secret that trying to style a small package is much more difficult than a larger sized hatch or saloon. But with the Eon, the Hyundai design team has really pulled out all the stops and emerged with a package that is fresh, contemporary and appealing. Casey Hyun, the Australian-born Korean who headed the design team, was clear in his mind that style was as important as the interior detailing needed to prepare a product which had to stand the test of time in a class which would see newer competition arrive sooner rather than later.
HYUNDAI EON: Exteriors & Interiors
The overall stance of the car replete with its hexagonal-corporate face and those swept back headlights running almost all the way back, to the rakish A-pillar, is thoroughly modern and with the large air dam in front plus the slickly valanced bonnet character lines, the Eon stands out strongly. Given the fact that its overall length is just 3495mm, the Eon in profile is easy on the eye as against the Santro which shocked to make its imprint on motorists’ minds. The easily flowing glazed surfaces plus the milled wheel arches along with curvy character lines (at the waist level and lower down on the door sills) impart a level of design flair which normally isn’t prevalent in this class of car.
Design and style haven’t compromised what remains one of the key attributes punters look forward to in this class of car: usable occupant space. The packaging engineers have come up with a winner in this area, with class leading head, elbow and leg room, front and rear. I managed to spend quite some time getting my colleagues to move and slide front seats back and forth as I switched from front to rear seats. And this perfunctory course did suggest that the Eon would be impressive in its space efficiency and comfort. A quick comparison with the Alto is in order here and the figures tell their own story. The Alto measures 3620mm front to rear, while the Eon’s overall length is slightly shorter at 3495mm. However, the real story emerges when you factor in the 2380mm wheelbase of the Eon, which is 20mm longer than that of the Alto and the cabin just starts building up from there on. Clever design of the dashboard, optimising the H-points for the occupants plus also proper thought on entry and egress helped liberate more space in the interior. If that wasn’t all, the seats impressed as did the width and the height, both these being dimensionally larger than that of the Alto (1550mm width and 1500mm height for the Eon as against 1495mm and 1460mm for the Alto). So much for the occupants but the Eon also caught the eye in another department, a substantially larger boot space to gobble up 215 litres of luggage.
The interior of the Eon is funky and appealing and the dashboard with its swathe of curves and slashes highlights this to the hilt. The central stack with air con and audio system switches, the instrument binnacle (with the large diameter speedo dominating) right in view of the driver’s forward line of vision and the nicely configured ergonomics are other details which highlight what Hyundai has done to move the game along in this class of car. The level of fine tuning the interior can be gauged by the fact that Casey Hyun’s team ordered no less than 31 different makes of branded mineral water from India in various sized bottles to determine the positioning of no less than seven to eight bottle holders dotted all around the cabin.
On to the drivetrain which is now so very critical in this day and age of high fuel prices. Many would have forgiven Hyundai were it to have adapted the 1.0-litre mill from the Santro and tweaked it for the times but Hyundai opted to do things differently and created a whole new engine and transmission pack for the Eon. The engine is an all-new 814cc sohc three-cylinder one (actually based on the i10’s IRDE four-cylinder mill with one cylinder deleted), which is compact and takes up minimum space under the hood – also a design cue to the ample cabin space! This three-pot motor develops 56PS (at 5500rpm) and 75Nm of torque (produced at 4000rpm), figures which are ample to move a full complement of four and their luggage briskly and without blowing a hole in their wallets. It also of course betters the Alto’s three-pot 800cc motor in the process (47PS and 62Nm). Hyundai’s Arvind Saxena said that apart from all other attributes mentioned above and the price of course, the Eon would set the new standard in class for fuel efficiency. Judging by the way the five-speed gearbox (based on the unit employed on the Santro but with a few modifications added in for better shifting and engagement) delivered seamless forward thrust while swapping from cog to cog and matching the torque peaks on each upward shift, first impression of the driveability was pretty impressive.
Being on a straight stretch of runway with a billiards-table smooth surface would make any car feel good. But what I felt when I did my couple of runs in the Eon at the Namyang R&D test track was the fact that the car’s wide footprint (wide track 1386mm front and 1368mm rear plus 2380mm wheelbase) made for a very stable and planted ride. The torquey delivery – relative to its engine size of course – did say much for the lugging power of the small motor but what was impressive was the firm yet pliant ride. Hyundai hasn’t skimped much on the underpinnings with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear axle working with gas-charged shock absorbers. Throw in electrically assisted rack and pinion steering gear, a front discs / rear drums brake set-up and 13-inch wheels shod with 155/70-R13 rubber, and the Eon makes for a compelling package in the smallest as well as the most important category of car in this country. Factor in its kerb weight in the region of 725 to 772kg depending on the variant (there will be three at launch) and the Eon is set to be the new standard bearer in the small car segment in the country.
Hyundai will have an early mover advantage in this class because market leader Maruti Suzuki isn’t exactly lagging behind with development for its own new offering in the Alto league. And the signs are that there should be some more new entrants joining the fray from other OEMs. Just like the premium hatchback category has hogged much of the automotive limelight in recent years, and with justifiable reason, expect action to be heightened in the entry level category once Hyundai unveils the Eon some time in mid-October. A new dawn beckons for the 800s but this time it is Hyundai and not Maruti Suzuki which is setting the pace.