By Gordon Hall
So you say that all you want is something basic to get you from A to B? (and there may be many in these trying financial times who want just that). Hyundai’s new Atos fits that bill … For some. Others will want more.
• Bigger than the original, so you and three friends can fit comfortably;
• Average boot space for a small car;
• All the power you could reasonably need;
• Beautifully smooth gearbox;
• Turns on a button;
• Simple; with five-speed manual gearbox, manual air conditioner, fabric seat covers, steel wheels, trip computer, manual wing mirrors, manual rear window winders;
• No more gadgets than necessary, although powered front windows and touchscreen infotainment are standard;
• Safety kit includes two airbags, ISOFix baby chair mountings, ABS brakes with EBD, child-proof locks, doors that unlock on impact, central locking and transponder immobiliser.
The description: There is, for now, just one model and that’s in entry-level Motion trim. Hyundai’s model ranges mostly run, from top to bottom, in this order: Glide (with) Fluid Motion. Easy.
The less-good: We hope that another model will come soon with the most urgently missing kit; a rear window wiper, because it needs one on damp and foggy mornings; pilot’s seat height control because tall drivers presently perch too high for comfort; and steering wheel adjustment (both ways) so that all sizes can fit. Then, hopefully, Hyundai might improve the parking brake. It works fine but its action feels loose and tinny and not in harmony with the otherwise “good feels” of the rest of the car.
With those concerns out of the way, let’s look at positives. The body was borrowed from a recent i10 so it’s a little longer and wider than the original Atos was. It can accommodate a couple of six-footers in the back seat and possibly a wee tyke too. There’s sufficient headspace for most, although kneeroom is marginal. Feet fit under front seats easily because they cannot adjust downward. Three head restraints and full belts look after safety, there are no pockets, armrests or cup holders but the door bins appear able to accommodate two-litre bottles.
The prize is its 1086 cc Epsilon engine, last seen here in April 2018 when South Africa’s last plain vanilla i10s eased their ways off showroom floors. It’s a straightforward little four-pot mill with SOHC, three valves per cylinder, dual continuously variable valve timing and indirect injection; rated at 50 kilowatts and 99 Newton-metres. Some one-litre cars offer similar numbers but this one is King.
Peak torque is delivered at 4500 rpm, common enough for a naturally aspirated motor, but 90% and more can be enjoyed all the way from 2700 to 5500 revs. Put simply, it cruised comfortably up some fairly steep hills with three heavyweights aboard at 100km/h in fifth. The motor turns over at about 3800 rpm in top at 120km/h; quite gently for an engine this small but its wide torque band makes the difference. It’s also very flexible to drive in city traffic.
Within its design brief, it handles well, parks easily and is fun to drive. But it isn’t a sports car, so let’s not get silly on winding country roads.
A blast from the past
Locking, unlocking and starting is a blast from the past; just a plain-looking key without buttons. No keyless hatch lid either. But don’t fret that some ungodly could get a working copy made at the local hardware store; there’s electronic coding hidden within its plastic.
The loading lip is quite high at 75cm and the well is 22cm deep. It’s neat, rectangular and completely without frills, unless you count the baby chair tethers on the floor. The one-piece seatback releases by means of a pair of straps that have to be pulled upward simultaneously, allowing it to fold with a step. An equivalently sized steel spare with 155/80R13 tyre and the usual tools are in a well under the floorboard.
Despite whining about being up too high, there was sufficient space between hair and headlining for taller front riders to sit fairly comfortably. Controls are unfussy and easy to use; the clutch works smoothly and the gearshift is slick and positive. We almost loved it.
All it needs now is a higher trim level.
**Test unit from Hyundai SA press fleet
Price: R159 900
Engine: See text
Zero to 100 km/h: 14.4 seconds
Top speed: 155km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 6.0l/100km
Standard tyre size: 165/70R14
Ground clearance: 165mm
Boot volume: 235 – about 1033l
Turning circle: 9.62m
Towing capacity: Nil
Warranty: 5 years / 150 000km plus additional 2 years / 50 000km on drivetrain
Service plan: 1 year / 15 000km