It’s no secret that we Indians love SUVs. We like their rugged looks, high ground clearance, and the practicality and space they offer. But you don’t always want the bulk and extra weight of a full-sized SUV. For this reason, we have seen some interesting developments. For one, manufacturers have come up with crossover versions of regular family hatchbacks designed to cash in on the strong, SUV-like visual appeal, without having to design and engineer an all-new car. We now have four crossovers in our market. Skoda and Volkswagen explored the niche first with the Fabia Scout and the Cross Polo, and then came the Toyota Etios Cross. But those cars were just cosmetically enhanced. Fiat’s Avventura, on the other hand, was the first real crossover, which came with a considerably altered suspension. It also had larger wheel arches to accommodate chunkier tyres and there were significant sheet metal changes as well.
Now, Hyundai has joined the fray. The i20 Active, as the name suggests, is based on the i20 hatchback. Like Fiat, Hyundai has made significant changes to its crossover. It comes with more ground clearance, has bigger wheels, larger bumpers, matte-finish cladding and aluminium roof rails. But unlike the Fiat, which has a tail-mounted spare wheel for even more SUV feel, the Hyundai is a regular hatch. But has Hyundai done enough to get ahead of the Avventura?
What are they like inside?
Slide into the Active’s comfortable driver’s seat and you are greeted by a chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a high-quality dash. The two-tone dash is neat and clean, with no extraneous or over-styled features.
The Avventura’s dash, on the other hand, has more flair and the layered design looks attractive. The addition of the bespoke tilt meter and digital compass dials on top of the centre console add to its rugged appeal. The front seats, though not as comfy as the Active’s, are good enough, but like the Punto and the Linea, the driving position is flawed. The steering is placed too high and close to the driver, and the high dash means visibility is not that great either.
Move to the rear seat and the i20 Active reveals its greatest strength. The rear bench is very spacious and you won’t feel shortchanged like in the cramped Fiat. The Avventura, in fact, feels a size smaller than the Active.
In terms of practicality, there are plenty of storage spaces inside the Active’s cabin. You get one-litre bottle holders in each of the doors, two large cup-holders behind the gear lever, and a cubbyhole for storing your phone just below the air-con controls. Like the spacious cabin, the Hyundai’s boot, at 285 litres, is large. The Avventura has only one small cup-holder up front, tiny door pockets and a small glovebox. It does have a decent-sized boot, though not as big as the Active’s. Also, accessing the boot is a complicated affair, thanks to the tail-mounted spare wheel.
How do they drive?
Thumb the engine start button on the Active and you are greeted by a refined idle. The 89bhp unit is shared with the hatchback and is easily the quieter and smoother motor. When you take off, there is a bit of a delay in responses below 2000rpm and the wait, at times, isn’t ideal. Owing to this, city driving isn’t as effortless as we would have liked, but it does feel slightly better than the Avventura. But once power comes in past 2000rpm, there is a strong surge and the Active picks up speed rapidly. In our 0-100kph tests, the Active managed an impressive time of 13.12 seconds. On the highway, the strong mid-range makes it an able cruiser. Also, the tall sixth gear adds to the Active’s cruising ability and it helps fuel efficiency too.
The Avventura uses the Fiat 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine, pumping out a decent 92bhp of power. When you start it up, the motor settles into a gravelly idle. Although the spec sheet says that it makes its maximum pulling power of 21.3kgm at 2000rpm, you feel this torque come in smoothly only when the engine is spinning closer to 2500rpm. Even driving in traffic is a bit of a chore because of the amount of delay. Wait a bit, let it spin to 2500rpm, and only then will you feel a bit more punch in the mid-range. It touches 100kph in 13.72 seconds.
Ride & handling
The lightness of the i20 Active’s controls is immediately apparent and, like most Hyundais, this car too has been designed with ease of operation in mind. The clutch releases a bit awkwardly but the electric power steering and the slick-shifting gearbox make the i20 Active an easy companion in the urban environment. The car’s suspension deals well with speed breakers and potholes. But, as you pick up pace, bump absorption is not that consistent and, over patchy roads, the Hyundai’s rear tends to bounce. The light steering, which is a boon in the city, is a bit too light at high speeds. The i20 Active also doesn’t have the stability of the Avventura.
Considering the Avventura is based on the Punto, its great ride and handling prowess doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s the car you can enjoy more, thanks to fantastic grip, accurate steering and grippy suspension. Over any surface, the Fiat remains unfazed and the suspension goes about its job keeping you isolated from the biggest of potholes. It’s only at low speeds that you feel some stiffness.
Buying & owning
The diesel Hyundai i20 Active, in the top SX trim, costs R8.89 lakh. It is costlier than the Avventura, but you do get a lot of standard equipment.
What works in Hyundai’s favour is its wide sales and service network and higher ARAI fuel-efficiency figures. The Avventura diesel, in the top Emotion spec, costs R36,000 less than the Active SX. Fiat offers the same two-years, unlimited standard warranty as the Hyundai but its resale value may not be as strong.
So which is a better buy?
The Fiat Avventura is a great-looking crossover, both inside and out. It’s got huge amount of flair and loads of character, a built-to-last feel and Fiat has improved the engine too. There’s a bit more power now throughout the rev range and, as a result, the Avventura is pretty nice to drive.
The Fiat, however, loses out for a number of reasons. The driving position is awkward, rear legroom is poor, quality on the inside is a bit inconsistent and the engine is noisy, especially in comparison to the Hyundai.
It’s a close battle but the i20 Active pips the Avventura. There’s no escaping how big and spacious the i20 Active is on the inside, it has a smoother engine, stronger performance and, being a Hyundai, it’s got more equipment.
The i20 Active has classic Hyundai faults. It doesn’t feel as sorted or as much fun to drive, it has a less-than-perfect ride and, in this top SX variant, it is a bit expensive. But you do get a lot of car for the money in terms of size, practicality, equipment, performance and appeal. That’s why the Hyundai i20 Active noses ahead of the Fiat Avventura and wins.