In isolation, the Hyundai i20 is not bad at all. It has all the features, it has the powertrain options and it also has the reliability of the Hyundai badge. All the makings of the best premium hatchback then, but is it that easy? Can it defeat the current segment leader? The one that has been setting sales charts ablaze. Can it lock horns with the Maruti Baleno and come out on top?
It isn’t a strong contest if you look at them on paper. The Baleno is cheaper in price and has a high claimed fuel efficiency. And above all its a Maruti, so purists will have a hard time looking away. But, the i20 has a newer, more modern-looking design, and in true Hyundai fashion, is loaded with kit. Both cars are roomy, both are practical, and both have quite the reputation. Picking one then is more difficult than it might seem.
For those who want stylish and modern looks, the i20 does the job well. However, not all prefer the edgy and angular theme. The curvy and bulbous Baleno does have quite a lot of buyers simply for its subtle design. There is no massive grille, no fancy DRLs that look straight out of a comic book and the rear too is simple and discreet. It is a rather handsome car and the more you see it, the more it grows on you.
The interior too is chalk and cheese. Where the i20 gets all the modern amenities, the Baleno covers just the basics. With the i20, you get the typical Hyundai treatment with a sunroof, bigger touchscreen(10.2-inch), connected tech with the BluLink, wireless charging with a coolpad and many more. The Baleno however, has just the essentials. A 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple and Android connectivity. No wireless charging, no Bose speakers, no ambient lighting. The build quality too is largely different as the i20 has a more solid and well-built cabin with high-quality plastics. The Baleno on the other hand doesn’t have the best switchgear or even the build. The plastics feel scratchy and low-rent and yet again, miss out on some tech like cruise control. The i20 is also ahead in terms of safety. You get six airbags on the top trims whereas the Baleno has to settle for just dual airbags even on the Alpha version.
Space, however, is a close contest. The interior roominess on the i20 is certainly enhanced compared to the previous version and you now have a good amount of room on the inside. The seats too are broad and supportive making long drives almost effortless. The Baleno too scores well when it comes to space. The cabin is nice and airy and because you are seated high, you have a commanding view of the road ahead.
The back seat is again where the i20 takes the cake. The extra wheelbase transforms the legroom at the back and you also have impressive shoulder room and headroom. The seat, however, is set low and if you are considering this for the elderly, it is a point worth noting. Comfort, however, is excellent as you have good under-thigh support and you also get AC vents at the rear along with a USB charger. The Baleno then has an easier ingress/egress and the high almost theater-like seating means you are comfortable. Legroom too, although not as much as the i20, is plenty and the seats are soft and well-cushioned. You will miss those AC vents especially on a hot day and you only get a standard car charger socket.
So what are they like to drive? Well, as you might have read, the i20 in this 1.2-litre tune isn’t the most exciting car and certainly not for someone who prefers driving. However, it is the more stable of the two and also quite comfortable in the city. The suspension is good and adept over our roads and the ride overall is flat and composed. The same cannot be said about the Baleno. The ride is soft, and while that is appreciated at slow city speeds, it is a compromise when you are out on the highway.
Stability is just not good enough and once you are past three-digit speeds, it gets rather unnerving. The light steering too doesn’t help its case, even though it does make it easy to maneuver in the city. For the ones who like to drive in a spirited manner, the peppy engine will certainly excite you, but the vague steering and soft suspension is something that will be a deterrent. The i20 then might not have the poke of the Baleno’s K12 engine but is quite livable in everyday driving. As an everyday city hatchback, the 1.2-litre Kappa engine will do just fine.
In conclusion, then, the i20 sure loses out in terms of outright performance, but everything apart from that is better than the Baleno. It rides well, is stable and reassuring, has a ton of convenience features and the stellar build of a Hyundai. Sure, you pay a premium, but you also get your money’s worth.
To watch our YouTube review on the Hyundai i20 vs Maruti Baleno, click here.