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Car reviews - Hyundai - Getz - GL 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Cute styling, improving quality, value
Room for improvement
Merely a form of transport - no more

Hyundai logo31 Dec 2003

By BRUCE NEWTON

HYUNDAI distribution and sales methods in this country have often had some curiousity or controversy to them. After all, it was disgraced businessman Alan Bond who first brought the South Korean brand to prominence here.

In the many days since then Hyundai has tracked some stupendous highs, the peak reached back in 1998 when the Excel briefly topped the sales charts and the company sold nearly 60,000 cars here overall.

But the lows have come more recently and more commonly, with ever-decreasing sales to the point where the factory felt obliged to step in and buy back the local distribution rights late in 2003.

While you may think that backroom stuff doesn’t impact on you too much as a new car buyer, in the case of the Getz nothing could be more relevant.

The arrival of the factory has sorted out a price and spec line-up for Hyundai’s super-mini that hopefully will allow it to gain some solidity and permanency in the marketplace.

We’ve seen it all since the late 2002 launch: $14,990, $13,990, driveaway, no driveaway, air-conditioning, no air-conditioning. It’s been a confusing and bumpy road for the Getz, a car the old privately-owned distributor saw as a panacea for its sales ills.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. The Getz has sold in reasonably strong numbers but not in the volume that was originally envisaged, hence the various pricing and equipment tweaks that were introduced.

Now, Hyundai has decreed that all Getzes get standard air-conditioning, passenger airbag, power windows (with driver's one-touch glass lowering), central locking, electric mirrors and driver's seat cushion tilt and height adjustment.

These features are added to driver's airbag, front seatbelt pretensioners and load-limiters, power steering and split-fold rear seats.

All Getz also now have sports body-colour mirrors and door handles, tweeter speakers, higher-grade dashboard materials, cloth door trim inserts and a light tone flocked roof lining and pillar trims to brighten the cabin.

Priced from $13,990 driveaway just before the takeover, Getz recommended retail prices these days start at $13,490 for the Getz XL (1.3-litre three-door), $13,990 for the Getz GL (1.5) three-door and $15,490 for the Getz GL five-door - a $500 reduction in the price difference between three and five-door GL.

The top-spec FX model has been dropped, giving some room to Hyundai’s previous entry level model the Accent, which these days comes as a $14,990 1.6-litre three-door only.

The extra equipment and adjustment of price address one of the big criticisms of the Getz base models – the ones that attract people into the showroom – that once you started equipping them with air-conditioning and so on, the value equation starts to go up the spout.

But there are other issues. Unlike the Excel of the late 1990s, the Getz is far from the only game in town. There is now a long list of intense competition, which are either well priced, well equipped, stylish or, indeed, a combination of all of the above. No need to base your choice out of South Korea either, with the Europeans and Japanese in there and playing hard.

Toyota’s Echo is the class leader on sales and then there’s the Holden Barina, Honda Jazz and Mazda2, which are all top-notch superminis – albeit now more expensive than Getz. Closer to Getz in terms of origin are the Daewoo Kalos and Kia Rio. Soon to come are the Mitsubishi Colt – replacing the cut-price Mirage – and the Ford Fiesta.

In that company the Getz is not a stand-out, but nor does it drag the chain. Fundamentally, it’s in there fighting.

Its exterior design is funky enough – particularly with the 14-inch alloy wheels that can be optioned.

Inside it’s a noticeable step on from Hyundai’s previous attempts – which themselves have been on the improve. It looks good with its chunky three-spoke steering wheel, silver-ringed instrumentation and vertical centre console that stands out from the dashboard. There is still plenty of rock-hard plastic though.

Access into the three-door GL we drove was provided via a walk-in mechanism on the front seat, while storage space was aided by the rear seat's ability to not only split-fold, but to flip up and flip forward. There are also plenty of convenient storage places around the cabin, including a shopping bag hook on the back of the front seat.

It does feel a little thin and underdone to sit in the seats are not the biggest or the most cushioned we have sat in, and tall drivers will find even the lowest seat base position could be too high for them. The steering column does have vertical adjustment.

In the rear there’s enough room for adults, but we’d prefer to be able to open the windows.

Go for a drive and again there’s no doubting the competence of this car. The front wheels are powered by Hyundai’s twin-camshaft 1495cc "Alpha" engine that has also been seen here in the previous Accent, and it generates a perky 74kW at 5800rpm and 133Nm of torque at 3200rpm.

It’s a good engine that doesn’t get too noisy or harsh and there’s no doubting its enthusiasm and desire to do the job, aided by the fact the GL weighs in at around the tonne, which these days makes it pretty lithe.

More good news is that the five-speed manual gearbox is a good fit with the engine, providing smooth and reasonably swift and accurate changes, the only concern being the big gap between second and third gears.

The quality improvement is particularly noteworthy because Hyundai small cars have not previously had great shift feel.

Around town the combination of MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension – classic small car stuff – is compliant and confident enough to do the job on all but the biggest and sharpest bumps and holes. Then you get that painful juddering shudder that makes you wince. Small wheels, limited suspension travel and so on.

As a steerer the Getz does a competent job, with a light and easy feel around town that should combine with its 3.8-metre length to make it a snack to manoeuvre around the local supermarket or school carpark.

And that’s where Getz is happiest, rather than out on the open road. Pushing it along from town to town across the open highway is not its raison d'etre, with a bit of rocking and rolling and understeer generated.

But if it lives up to its 5.0L/100km official highway fuel claim you’d be happy. The city figure of 7.0L/100km is also excellent. These are manual gearbox figures.

With its light weight, the disc/drum brakes combination on the Getz seems up to the job, although it’s worth noting you can option a safety pack, which includes ABS anti-lock disc brakes.

Other safety equipment includes dual front airbags, height adjustable headrests on front seats, three-height adjustable headrests on rear seats, height adjustable three-point reel driver's seatbelt and lap-sash seatbelts all-round – the middle rear attaching into the roof the same way Subarus do.

From launch the Getz has been marketed primarily as a youth car, with ad campaigns working snappily off the name – Getz excited, Getz smart etc. It’s all part of a bigger strategy that Hyundai – in its various guises – has been trying to achieve for years, getting people to buy its cars based on the badge and not the price.

As good as Getz is – and it’s perhaps the best Hyundai yet – the message is that Hyundai has not managed to establish that nexus. And trying to do that with a super-mini is probably not the place to start.

Getz is an average, good value car. Hyundai should sell plenty.

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