SMALL cars have been big news lately. Government plans to clamp down on diesel engined vehicles has focused motorists’ attention on city cars powered by ultra frugal petrol engines like the Hyundai i10.

Traditionally, buying a city car meant having to compromise on equipment and safety kit. Goodies that you’d expect to find on even the cheapest hatchback, like electric windows, air conditioning and even a rev counter, were often missing.

And those tiny little engines usually struggled out of town - making some city cars a frightening prospect when you needed to drive on a motorway.

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Hyundai reckons the i10 addresses all these criticisms. If it does, then this small Korea hatch truly could be a city car to be reckoned with.

The Northern Echo:

ON THE ROAD:

This is the second generation i10. The first one shared a lot in common with the (even cheaper) Kia Picanto. It was good but let down by awkward styling compared to the charming Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 107 trio that provided its main competition and an interior that couldn’t disguise its cost-cutting origins.

Maybe that’s because the first car was never really intended for a European audience. It was designed and built in India where it was intended as cheap transport for millions of aspirational drivers on the Indian subcontinent.

But when the i10 became something of a sleeper hit in Europe Hyundai handed over responsibility for the second generation to a Euro design team led by ex-BMW designer Thomas Burkle.

And this i10 is quite the looker. City cars always tread a fine line between cute and clumsy-looking. The visual relationship between the narrow width and their height can often result in something that looks like a tall boy on castors. That's a recipe for a styling car crash.

The little Hyundai, however, looks more like a small supermini than a motorised shopping trolley; it’s a car I'd be happy to be seen in.

On the road the i10 is at its best nipping in and out of slow-moving traffic when its compact dimensions and willing engine are the perfect recipe for making good progress. The three-cylinder engine maintains its impressive composure out of town too and doesn’t feel strained even at motorway speeds.

Power steering is handy for low speed manoeuvring in town but it feels too light at higher speeds. This makes the i10 feel nervous on motorways at first although you do get used to it.

The brakes are strong but they have a tendency to grab if you’re clumsy with your right foot and it’s possible to inadvertently stand the i10 on its nose, so you learn to be careful.

The Northern Echo:

ON THE INSIDE:

Although the i10 is classed as a city car it’s not really that small. At 3665 mm it’s actually 100mm longer than a Mark Two Ford Fiesta. Incredibly, the wheelbase (the distance between the front and back wheels) is within a few millimetres of the original VW Golf which sat in the medium-family hatch segment. It’s also much better packaged than either of those so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover how much room there is in the light ‘n’ airy cabin.

My kids (aged eight and 12) had no problems with leg or knee room sitting in the back seats behind two adults comfortably seated in the front.

The cabin itself is nicely put together. You won’t find squashy plastics or slivers of alloy brightening up the fascia but the layout is pretty much fool-proof and the seat-pedal-steering relationship is spot on for the average European driver. I did several long journeys in the i10 and didn’t suffer any aches or pains.

The analogue instruments are all the better for being simple and the infotainment head unit is a doddle to operate. There’s no touchscreen just eight buttons to press and six presets for your radio stations. If you really must have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration a seven-inch touchscreen system is standard on SE Premium models.

WHAT DO YOU GET:

The i10 doesn’t miss out on many luxuries just because it’s the tiddler in Hyundai’s range. Air conditioning, electric windows and power steering take the effort out of driving in town and cruise control is a boon on the motorway.

The infotainment package includes Bluetooth connectivity, a DAB digital radio tuner, four speakers and connections for USB devices and an iPod/MP3 player. Handy buttons on the steering wheel mean you can control the audio and make a hands-free phone call without taking your eyes off the road.

DAB reception was exceptionally poor in the test car with the sound dropping out every few seconds. As this happened wherever we went (and thus independent of local signal strength) I can only assume it to be a fault of this particular vehicle. Make sure you try before you buy.

Options fitted to the test car included the driver assistance pack (lane departure warning and forward collision alert) and metallic paint.

The i10 is well specified with safety equipment for a city car. Stability control and management, impact sensing auto door unlocking, anti-lock brakes and front, side and curtain airbags are all standard.

Finally, as with all Hyundais the i10 comes with a gold-plated five year warranty package, five years of roadside assistance,a 12-year bodywork guarantee and free annual check-ups.

The Northern Echo:

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT?

As we now know the i10 isn’t that much smaller than a 1970s vintage family hatchback. It’s also considerably bigger than its predecessor.

In fact, it is 80 mm (3.1 in) longer, 65 mm (2.6 in) wider and 50 mm (2.0 in) lower than a Mk 1 i10. That’s a significant increase which translates into a boot that is 10 per cent bigger at 252 litres and a lot more passenger room, particularly in the back seats.

RUNNING COSTS:

Like its predecessor, the i10 is available with a choice of two petrol engines, 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre, driving the front wheels through five-speed manual as standard or an optional four-speed automatic gearbox on SE, Premium and Premium SE.

The i10 SE Blue with BlueDrive technology, is based on the 1.0-litre petrol variant with a number of additional features to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The big changes are tweaked continuously variable valve timing (CVVT), a cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system and a longer fifth gear ratio. The SE Blue model also incorporates Integrated Stop & Go and 13-inch wheels with low rolling resistance tyres.. Hyundai claims it can achieve a combined fuel consumption of 70.6mpg.

That’s excellent but you don’t need the econo special to achieve some spectacularly good mpg figures. After a week, and more than 700 miles, our standard 1.0-litre SE returned an average fuel consumption figure of 60.3 mpg.

VERDICT:

City cars have come a long way in a short space of time. The i10 offers everything you could need of a small car: room for four people, decent comfort levels and outstanding running costs. No wonder you see so many of them on Britain’s crowded roads.

Hyundai i10 SE.

Price: £11,050 (as tested).

Spec: Engine: 3-cyl/DOHC/998cc Power: 66 bhp Torque: 95 Nm Top speed: 97 mph 0-62mph: 14.7 seconds Fuel cons: 60.1 mpg (Official combined) CO2: 108g/km