Hyundai Elite i20 vs Fiat Punto Evo vs VW Polo vs Suzuki Swift comparison


 It’s safe to say Hyundai has shaken up our otherwise clear-cut definitions of the various Indian hatchback segments. The original i10 moved the game forward for design and quality, and the Eon redefined what a budget hatch could look and feel like. Then, when the impressive Grand i10 was launched, we didn’t know whether to call it a ‘semi-premium hatch’ or a ‘mid-range hatch’ or give it a new category altogether, because the ‘premium hatch’ spot was always held by the bigger i20. It’s even more confusing now, as the brand new i20 has moved even further upmarket. That makes categorising it a bit tricky, and also makes you rethink which cars it now competes with. So, we’ve brought in what we think are the best premium hatchbacks around to try and keep the big boy honest.

The obvious choices were the Fiat Punto Evo and the VW Polo – both rivals to the old i20 and both recently updated inside and out. More to the point, however, both are priced in the same vicinity as the new i20, and therefore, will be angling for the same customers. Then there’s the Maruti Swift. It’s cheaper than the others here, at least when we’re talking top-spec diesels, which we are, and as you might be able to tell from the images, it’s a bit smaller than the rest too. But remember, this is the car that originally kicked off the premium hatchback class in India, it is the second highest-selling hatchback in the country, and it was Autocar India’s car of the year – twice. Will sheer size be enough to make the i20 tower over the rest, or is there more to be found when you look a little deeper?



Styling

The new i20 uses Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic 2.0’ design language which, though not as distinctive as Fluidic 1.0, still looks quite smart. To cater to European tastes better, it’s less fussy, more neutral, and also a little understated. The rear looks good, especially with those Alfa Brera-esque tail-lamps, and though the front looks a little pinched compared to before, you can’t say that it isn’t eye-catching. What has to be said though is, parked alongside the rest, you can really see how much the i20 has grown; even though the overall length is marginally shorter. It looks like it could belong in a higher segment.

The Punto’s new look grows on you over time, and it’s really like nothing else in the segment. We loved the original car, and we generally regard too much chrome as a bad thing, but on the Punto Evo, somehow, it just works. There’s even chrome detailing in the rear bumper, but it’s not enough to distract you from the superbly executed LED tail-lamps. It’s commendable that Fiat has managed to breathe new life into what is essentially a nine-year-old car with just a facelift.


 Less extensive than the Fiat’s transformation was the Polo facelift. Minor changes can be seen, especially in the headlamps and front bumper, but it’s not a whole lot to write home about. The new alloys look a bit staid, and the rear is virtually unchanged. Still, the Polo’s visual appeal has always been very different from the rest – it goes for understated and clean rather than in-your-face, which, for some, is preferable.

 The Swift is the oldest here but there’s no arguing that it does look sporty, especially in profile. What it lacks in chrome and eye-catching detailing, it makes up for with its distinctive, two-box silhouette. The problem is that the Swift is a victim of its own success. It’s too common a face on Indian roads and, over the years, that has taken the edge off its appeal. As you can also probably tell from the pictures, the car we have for photography is a mid-range VDi, but the top-spec ZDi gets a bit more visual muscle in the form of 15-inch alloys and wider tyres.


 Speaking of which, 15-inch alloy wheels are what you get on the top-spec Swift and Polo, while the i20 and Punto Evo Sport get 16-inch wheels (we’ve used a lower-spec Punto Emotion for the photographs).

Interiors

When it was launched, the previous i20’s cabin was impressive for something in this segment, with its cool blue illumination, funky seatbelt warning lights and recessed infotainment screen. The new car’s interior may not be as groundbreaking, but it is very neat and feels quite premium. The tiered dashboard looks like a downsized version of the one in the Santa Fe, the AC vents are now horizontal instead of vertical, and the i20 hints at its long equipment list with a whole load of buttons on the centre console. The dials may not look too different from the old car, but the new, high-res trip computer screen is worth a mention. The quality is very good, although it’s still not quite up there with the VW Polo, and is on the same level as the Grand i10. This is actually a pervading factor in the cabin when it comes to design, execution and equipment – it doesn’t feel like a huge step up over its little sibling.
 Quality remains one of the Polo’s strongest suites, and it easily bests the rest. Fastidious panel fit and solid plastics are the order of the day, and though not much has changed with the facelift, there are a few touches that really add a lot to the Polo’s cabin. There’s the new silver finish for the centre console that brightens up the staid dash, and the more detailed trip computer too. However, while it might not seem like much, the new flat-bottomed steering wheel is what really lifts the ambience in here. It’s your first point of contact, and the smart design, glossy black trim and well damped buttons all work really well.

The Punto Evo has done wonders to improve on the old car’s rather bland look, with its curvy, layered, soft-touch dash, LED ambient lighting and glossy black detailing. There are, however, a few things that continue to irk us. The ergonomics from the driver’s seat are still a bit awkward, with the steering wheel, dials and pedals set too high in relation to the seat, and a huge blind spot caused by the thick A pillars. You’ll also find your foot wedging itself between the clutch and the centre stack if you try to reach the dead pedal. Finally, though some of the newer surfaces are nice, the overall fit and finish in the cabin is still below par, and not what you’d want in a Rs 7-lakh hatchback.

The Swift fares much better in this regard, and in isolation, you won’t find cause for complaint with the cabin quality. What might be an issue is the all-black colour scheme, which does make it feel a little claustrophobic in here. Though all these cars have nice front seats, this is where the Maruti scores exceptionally well, and the big buckets up front will absorb your body mass comfortably and support it well over long distances. The driving position and forward visibility are just right, and make you want to just get in and drive. Where it stumbles a bit is on the equipment count. Yes, it has auto climate control, a CD player, aux in and USB, but among other things, it’s missing Bluetooth connectivity, which these days is a must.

Staying on the subject of equipment, of course you expect the Hyundai to beat the rest and it does, but not by as much as you’d think. It has a rear AC vent, but then so does the Punto, and it has an eight-speaker audio system but the Polo’s four-speaker system sounds better. Features unique to the i20 are keyless entry and go, a 1GB storage drive for music and a rear-view camera, which is impressive until you realise that you can get all of them on the smaller Xcent sedan as well. And we do have to mention the Polo’s SD card reader and Fiat’s voice control system, which is very helpful once you learn its quirks. On to the rear seats, and this is where the Polo takes a big hit. Its front seats are supportive and comfortable, but there’s just not enough room in the back – length, width or height. Worse, there’s a tunnel running through the centre of the car that will make a fifth passenger even more uncomfortable. The Swift also fares rather poorly in this regard, and its combination of tight width, small legroom, tiny windows and dark colours make the rear seat an uninviting prospect. At least the seat is comfortable though. The Punto and the i20 both have wide rear cabins more suitable for three passengers, but the Hyundai wastes some of this space thanks to thick seat side bolsters that push occupants towards the centre. On legroom, however, it isn’t even a contest. The Punto Evo has more of it than the Swift and Polo, but the i20 just puts them all to shame – there’s as much space back here as most mid-size sedans. In fact, while we’ve said the rear AC vent on the Grand i10 and even the Punto are not entirely necessary, in the i20, it’s actually needed to cool the bigger cabin quick enough. On the practicality front, the Swift and i20 have been given a good amount of bottleholders and cubbyholes, back and front, to hold your belongings. The Polo doesn’t have much stowage in the rear seats, but the fronts do get cupholders and there’s a huge glovebox too. The Punto Evo, sadly, has only one small, misshapen cupholder up front, tiny door pockets and a small glovebox as well. It does at least have a decent-sized boot, though not as big as the i20’s or the Polo’s. Again, like the back seat, the boot is where the Swift seriously falls short of the mark, so bear that in mind if you like driving out with family on the weekends.
 Performance

You’ll be familiar with most of the engines here, so let’s start with the only new one – the VW Polo’s 89bhp, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder TDI. What you need to know is that it’s a sea change from the weedy old 1.2-litre, three-cylinder unit, and feels punchy and responsive like the old one never did. In fact, it’s the best all-rounder amongst the four engines here. It’s very quiet at idle and gets a little clattery once you rev it up, but that’s a small price to pay for the superb power delivery it offers. It doesn’t have a very wide rev band, but you get the sense that every 100rpm advance brings with it a significant lump of torque. Power tails off after around 3,900rpm, so you’re best shifting up around then, at which point you’ll find that the clutch and the gearshift action are both just a little heavy.

 The very opposite of heavy are the i20’s pedals. The gearshift is smooth too, although slotting into the dogleg reverse is sometimes tricky. The engine is pretty refined, and even when you reach the 4,900rpm redline, it’s not as vocal as the other diesels. The relaxed nature of the engine is evident from the instant you let in the clutch. Hyundai has tweaked the ECU and shortened some of the gear ratios but the i20, though more responsive than before, still feels lethargic at low revs. Power delivery starts in earnest at about 1,800rpm and again, there’s no sudden surge but a linear build-up of power. Keep the engine in the meat of the powerband and it’s quite driveable, with enough grunt to make overtaking easy. However, you need to upshift quite early because there’s not much of a top end, even by diesel standards. This leaves you with a narrow power band, and to stay in there, you have to use all six gears a fair bit. It doesn’t feel like this 1.4 diesel produces 89bhp or 22.4kgm of torque, but if you drive it on part throttle or amble along, the refined nature and smooth power delivery is something typical i20 owners will be happy with.

At their core, the Punto and Swift share the same 1.3-litre Multijet engine, although while regular Puntos use the same 74bhp state of tune as the Maruti, the top-end Sport version we’re evaluating uses the 92bhp VGT-equipped version of the motor. The Punto Sport may have the numbers on the Swift, but in the real world, it’s the Maruti that works better. In fact, the Punto is the slowest accelerating car here by a long shot. Both it and the Swift suffer from turbo lag, but the Punto has quite a bit of it. And even when the power does come in, it’s easier to manage and modulate in the Swift, albeit still not as easy as in the Polo or the i20. Simply put, it doesn’t take long to learn to work your way around the Swift’s lag, and once you do, the surge of power can be a lot of fun. That simply isn’t true of the Punto, whose inconsistent power delivery robs it of some driving enjoyment.
The very opposite of heavy are the i20’s pedals. The gearshift is smooth too, although slotting into the dogleg reverse is sometimes tricky. The engine is pretty refined, and even when you reach the 4,900rpm redline, it’s not as vocal as the other diesels. The relaxed nature of the engine is evident from the instant you let in the clutch. Hyundai has tweaked the ECU and shortened some of the gear ratios but the i20, though more responsive than before, still feels lethargic at low revs. Power delivery starts in earnest at about 1,800rpm and again, there’s no sudden surge but a linear build-up of power. Keep the engine in the meat of the powerband and it’s quite driveable, with enough grunt to make overtaking easy. However, you need to upshift quite early because there’s not much of a top end, even by diesel standards. This leaves you with a narrow power band, and to stay in there, you have to use all six gears a fair bit. It doesn’t feel like this 1.4 diesel produces 89bhp or 22.4kgm of torque, but if you drive it on part throttle or amble along, the refined nature and smooth power delivery is something typical i20 owners will be happy with.

At their core, the Punto and Swift share the same 1.3-litre Multijet engine, although while regular Puntos use the same 74bhp state of tune as the Maruti, the top-end Sport version we’re evaluating uses the 92bhp VGT-equipped version of the motor. The Punto Sport may have the numbers on the Swift, but in the real world, it’s the Maruti that works better. In fact, the Punto is the slowest accelerating car here by a long shot. Both it and the Swift suffer from turbo lag, but the Punto has quite a bit of it. And even when the power does come in, it’s easier to manage and modulate in the Swift, albeit still not as easy as in the Polo or the i20. Simply put, it doesn’t take long to learn to work your way around the Swift’s lag, and once you do, the surge of power can be a lot of fun. That simply isn’t true of the Punto, whose inconsistent power delivery robs it of some driving enjoyment.
Neither the Fiat nor the Maruti have particularly good engine refinement, but the noise in the Swift seems more to do with poor cabin insulation than the engine, as a fair bit of road and tyre noise comes in too. While the Polo, Swift and Punto have decent brakes, the i20’s are simply not up to scratch – they feel wooden, and you have to push the pedal really far down to get any real sort of braking performance out of them. Dynamics The old i20’s dynamics were a bit of a mess, and the good news is that the new one fixes many of its problems. The ride is nowhere near as floaty and overly soft as it used to be, and now feels quite composed. High-speed stability has also improved substantially, although there is still a hint of pitching over uneven roads, as well as a bit of body roll through corners. It even tackles sharp bumps much better. What hasn’t changed much, sadly, is the steering, which is woefully light and lifeless. The benefits of the lightness aren’t even easy to reap, because it’s very inconsistent, and requires varying amounts of steering effort even at low speeds. It may get the job done for most, but this is not a fun car to drive. The Polo also suffers from a very light steering, but at least it is direct and has a lot more feel than the i20’s. It’s fun enough to chuck around corners, and in isolation, you won’t notice the small amount of body roll. What you’re more likely to notice is that the front pitches a bit over bumps with this heavy engine in the nose, and that the suspension is a bit clunky through potholes. Decent dynamics combined with that great engine make the Polo a good driver’s car. The Swift and the Punto take things from good to great, however. The Swift’s taut chassis, compact dimensions and direct steering make it very chuckable around corners. Yet the suspension still manages to serve up a good amount of comfort over bad surfaces. You’ll get some clunks and thunks over the sharper bumps, to be sure, but for the most part, this is a very sorted dynamic package. And yet, the Punto does even better on this front. That Fiat has managed to give it high ground clearance (185mm on this version) and still making it the best riding and handling car here is a big achievement. It silently pummels bumps and potholes as it drives over them, it’s rock solid at three-digit speeds, and show it a mountain road and you will have a blast tearing through the corners in it. Body roll is superbly contained and the steering is full of life as well. This is where the Punto Evo redeems itself and so it’s even more of a shame that such a wonderful chassis is let down by a suite of underwhelming engines. Verdict While it may seem that the plucky little Swift is outclassed here, there are plenty of reasons for you to buy one. There’s Maruti’s rock-solid after-sales service that no other carmaker can match, the car’s well judged ride and handling balance, and the fact that it’s more affordable than the other three. There’s also a facelift due likely later this year, which should add some verve to its styling and some substance to its equipment list. However, a few fundamentals are hard to ignore, like the small, cramped-feeling rear cabin and the tiny boot. After its facelift, the Fiat Punto is once again a great-looking hatchback, both inside and out. It’s got a bit more cabin space than the Swift or the Polo and it’s the best riding and handling car of this bunch; no mean feat. Where it loses out is on finer nuances. The interior fit and finish are still nowhere near as good as the Asians and the German, the driving position is awkward, the gearshift is a bit notchy, and the engine is a bit of a letdown. Really, when it comes to premium hatchbacks, it’s a two-horse race between the Polo and the i20, which outclass the other two on that all-important feel-good factor and do a better job of making you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth.


 Neither the Fiat nor the Maruti have particularly good engine refinement, but the noise in the Swift seems more to do with poor cabin insulation than the engine, as a fair bit of road and tyre noise comes in too. While the Polo, Swift and Punto have decent brakes, the i20’s are simply not up to scratch – they feel wooden, and you have to push the pedal really far down to get any real sort of braking performance out of them.

Dynamics

The old i20’s dynamics were a bit of a mess, and the good news is that the new one fixes many of its problems. The ride is nowhere near as floaty and overly soft as it used to be, and now feels quite composed. High-speed stability has also improved substantially, although there is still a hint of pitching over uneven roads, as well as a bit of body roll through corners. It even tackles sharp bumps much better. What hasn’t changed much, sadly, is the steering, which is woefully light and lifeless. The benefits of the lightness aren’t even easy to reap, because it’s very inconsistent, and requires varying amounts of steering effort even at low speeds. It may get the job done for most, but this is not a fun car to drive.

The Polo also suffers from a very light steering, but at least it is direct and has a lot more feel than the i20’s. It’s fun enough to chuck around corners, and in isolation, you won’t notice the small amount of body roll. What you’re more likely to notice is that the front pitches a bit over bumps with this heavy engine in the nose, and that the suspension is a bit clunky through potholes. Decent dynamics combined with that great engine make the Polo a good driver’s car.

The Swift and the Punto take things from good to great, however. The Swift’s taut chassis, compact dimensions and direct steering make it very chuckable around corners. Yet the suspension still manages to serve up a good amount of comfort over bad surfaces. You’ll get some clunks and thunks over the sharper bumps, to be sure, but for the most part, this is a very sorted dynamic package.

And yet, the Punto does even better on this front. That Fiat has managed to give it high ground clearance (185mm on this version) and still making it the best riding and handling car here is a big achievement. It silently pummels bumps and potholes as it drives over them, it’s rock solid at three-digit speeds, and show it a mountain road and you will have a blast tearing through the corners in it. Body roll is superbly contained and the steering is full of life as well. This is where the Punto Evo redeems itself and so it’s even more of a shame that such a wonderful chassis is let down by a suite of underwhelming engines.

Verdict

While it may seem that the plucky little Swift is outclassed here, there are plenty of reasons for you to buy one. There’s Maruti’s rock-solid after-sales service that no other carmaker can match, the car’s well judged ride and handling balance, and the fact that it’s more affordable than the other three. There’s also a facelift due likely later this year, which should add some verve to its styling and some substance to its equipment list. However, a few fundamentals are hard to ignore, like the small, cramped-feeling rear cabin and the tiny boot.

After its facelift, the Fiat Punto is once again a great-looking hatchback, both inside and out. It’s got a bit more cabin space than the Swift or the Polo and it’s the best riding and handling car of this bunch; no mean feat. Where it loses out is on finer nuances. The interior fit and finish are still nowhere near as good as the Asians and the German, the driving position is awkward, the gearshift is a bit notchy, and the engine is a bit of a letdown.

Really, when it comes to premium hatchbacks, it’s a two-horse race between the Polo and the i20, which outclass the other two on that all-important feel-good factor and do a better job of making you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth.

The Polo’s new 1.5-litre engine is unquestionably the best of this lot, with a great mix of driveability and punch. The whole car has a restrained yet elegant look about it that’s very classy, and this Highline trim is very well equipped too. On top of that, it manages to find a pretty good mix of comfort and driving dynamics that all but the most dedicated of enthusiasts will find acceptable. Where it stumbles is on rear seat space, which is nowhere near what you get from the XXL Hyundai.

Finally, and this is an issue with the Fiat too, VW’s after-sales service just isn’t as solid as Maruti’s or Hyundai’s.

It’s a close battle, but the new i20 just about takes it. It’s certainly not the only factor, but there’s no escaping how big and spacious this car is, and that really gives it an edge in this segment. Of course, being a top-spec Hyundai, it’s well equipped, and the cabin quality is pretty good too. It still has some classic Hyundai foibles, like a lifeless steering and a less-than-perfect ride, but it’s come a long way since the last i20. This Asta diesel is more expensive than the rest, and this is only an ‘introductory’ price, which means it’s likely to only get dearer soon. However, the new i20 is a lot of car for the money, both in terms of its size and what it offers, and it’s something the rest will no doubt be playing catch-up to with their next generation of premium hatchbacks.
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1 comments:

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