The outside is more of a taller, wider, and meaner Kia Picanto. The angled headlights, small upper front grille and big lower front grille make the car look like it's gonna eat the opposition 24/7. On the other hand the rear seems tall, highlighted by vertically placed trapezoidal tailights and a middle shin-level flat black rear bumper stripe.
A sense of tall ride height permeates the cabin, as the high roofline and the wide front windshield makes for a commanding view of traffic. The actual width of the vehicle (1,595 mm) also creates to the faux SUV ride, as occupants won't find themselves literally rubbing elbows with each other. Unfortunately, just like other super subcompact cars, if those in front are six footers there's barely room for one in the rear.
On the other hand it has a bevy of features, including an external MP3 player jack (great for those with iPods), an unusual place for front seat backrest adjustment (they're at the inner parts of the front seats, closer to the handbrake) and a storage undertray below the front passenger seat. The predominantly khaki inside colorway is a welcome relief from the common black/dark gray interiors of its competition - with black and silver inserts tastefully applied - evoking a feeling of warm relaxation, not hurried tension. Fit and finish is topnotch for its class, with nothing out of place save for a small storage bin under the aircon controls and the rev counter/fuel/temperature gauge layout. It would be nice if the black-on-white speedometer layout (plus larger fronts) would be carried over to the aforementioned gauges for symmetry. Also, the interface of the JVC head unit that came with the test unit has a miniscule volume knob and button fonts.
The i10 provided for this test drive (a P578,000 1.1L GLS A/T) is more suited for getting off the line quickly than outright pace, with a relatively wide bottom end and a narrow top end. However, the a/t's tall gearing makes emergency lane changes difficult (scary even), and more often than not you fall out of the powerband. It's scary trying to overtake with this car, especially on inclines. Then again, the car is a Metro Manila maven meant to provide a relaxing drive in traffic. The results reinforce the i10's branding - a 155 kph top speed and 17.33 km/l on five days of mixed driving.
Despite the tall height (1,540 mm), it's surprisingly stable on turns. There's little body roll, rarely succumbing to mid-corner bumps and heaves and traction breaking at 65-70 kph. Also surprising is the ride comfort, given the 5.0J x 14-inch steel wheels and Hankook Optimo K715 165/60R14 tires. Steering is light in feel but numbing in feedback, typical of vehicles with small wheels and tires (read 12-14 inches in diameter).
If there's one glaring weakness with the i10, it would be its safety features. The brakes display a lot of fade; you have to push the brake pedal millimeters close to the floor to get decent bite, and handbrake grip is decent at only 35 degrees. There's no "handbrake activated" warning light within the gauge cluster, too. The exterior lighting is decent, but the foglight activation switch is hard to find. It's actually under the leftmost aircon vent, parallel to the driver's left knee. There's an airbag for the driver, but there's no ABS. There's a light that indicates that the handbrake is on, but when you pull up the handbrake, the light doesn't activate. You push on the driver's side power-assisted lock tab to secure all four doors, and pull on the aforementioned tab to unlock the doors. The side mirrors have lateral vision up to the middle of the second lane of sight on both flanks, but its manual adjustment levers have very limited range. Far better for the side mirrors to tote power-assisted adjustment instead and thus increase the vehicle's retail price.
The Hyundai i10 may have some serious safety and performance problems, but its relaxing interior ambience, storage ability and cool features give it more than an edge over the competition. In fact it stomps its rivals big time.