The Hyundai Exter is the only car to offer a CNG option in the segment
The Hyundai Exter is the only car to offer a CNG option in the segmentShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Hyundai Exter first drive review

Will Hyundai’s well-packaged Exter shake things up in the micro SUV segment and dethrone the Tata Punch?

If you are one of many car buyers in the country keenly keeping an eye on VFM new cars, the Hyundai Exter must be closely watched. We already had compact SUVs in India - sub-4 metre hatchbacks on stilts that were doing well compared to premium hatchbacks despite similarity in pricing. But an accountant somewhere at Tata Motors must have realised that there is still scope for a few trimmings here and there to give birth to a new ‘SUV’ segment that is more compact than compact SUVs. The micro SUV segment was clearly created on an excel sheet. The Tata Punch was an instant success, so much so that the segment is now well-defined in India - a toned milk version of the ironically full fat compact SUV. You get the hugely successful Tata Punch and the underperforming Citroen C3 in this segment. Now there’s a tougher contender in the Exter to rock Tata’s boat. Oh boy, Hyundai is not holding back!

Design and styling of the Hyundai Exter

The challenge with such compact dimensions to be called an SUV is that you need a heavy dose of visible plastic body cladding all around, and that can make a car look cheap. Hyundai has worked some magic there to make the Exter quite desirable, especially in the blue and green dual tone paint schemes. Some interesting design elements include H shaped LED DRLs in the headlights and taillights and the parametric patterns seen on the front grille and rear strip between the taillights. The grille up top is fake with the air intakes situated lower down in the bumper. Move to the side and the cladding around the wheel arches don’t have the symmetry you are so used to seeing on every other car in the market. The cladding around the rear wheel especially is quite poorly executed. I like the wide rear doors though with large rectangular window openings. Makes for an airy rear bench but more on that in the interior section.

The Exter is 3815mm long, 1710mm wide, and with the roof rails, it has a height of 1631mm. It gets a wheelbase of 2450mm.
The Exter is 3815mm long, 1710mm wide, and with the roof rails, it has a height of 1631mm. It gets a wheelbase of 2450mm.Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

The Hyundai Exter follows the Punch template in terms of size and dimensions. It’s slightly taller, has a marginally longer wheelbase but is narrower than the Tata Punch. The packaging is done well so space in the cabin for a car of this size is impressive. You get 15-inch diamond cut alloy wheels on the top-spec Exter you see in these pictures and a beautifully designed rear spoiler. I personally like the detailing for a car of this price. It doesn’t feel cheap on the outside.

Interior and features of the Hyundai Exter

While the exterior is a win for Hyundai, the interior is a mixed bag. There’s good space for four adults, good leg and headroom and the largest boot in its segment - 391 litres. You get six airbags as standard on all variants and small touches like a voice activated sunroof make the car feel special. I like the seat upholstery, the dashcam (although it doesn’t come with a memory card as standard), the digital instrument cluster from the i20, and in the AMT variants, paddle shifters, a first for an AMT in India. But the hard plastics on the doors, the quality of fit for the glovebox, the poorly designed lumbar support of the cramped front seats, small things rob the Hyundai Exter from acing it in the interior department.

The Exter gets a 4.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and navigation capabilities.
The Exter gets a 4.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and navigation capabilities.Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

As I had mentioned in the introduction though, the Hyundai Exter is a carefully executed project on an Excel sheet. Variant for variant, pitting the Exter against the Tata Punch, you will realise that the main goal is to offer better value. Six airbags as standard fitment is Hyundai’s response to Tata Motors scoring a 5-star adult protection safety rating in GNCAP for the Punch. If a car with two airbags can score five stars, shouldn’t six airbags be safer? We’ll hold our opinions on that till we receive crash test results, however it is good to see manufacturers like Hyundai taking safety seriously. Another key feature on the Exter is a 3-year unlimited kilometre warranty. You get a sunroof, ESC, rear AC vents and TPMS in the mid-spec variant, features even the top spec Punch doesn’t get. Purely on bang for buck, the Exter outshines the Tata Punch.

Powertrain of the Hyundai Exter

But cars aren’t gadgets, and so a good powertrain is key to a better ownership experience. And Hyundai has got that covered too, since the Exter gets the creamy smooth 1.2-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder unit under the hood. This is Hyundai’s tried and tested unit that has been around for a long time and hence is a very reliable engine. It makes 82bhp of power and 113.8Nm of torque. It comes mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and you also get the option of an AMT. The NVH levels, even under hard acceleration, are low in the cabin compared to the ruckus 3-cylinder units make. On part throttle, it is a relaxing drive, and is well complemented by the slick gearbox. The clutch is light and while the steering is light, it doesn’t feel lifeless as Hyundais of the past used to feel. 0-100kmph comes in a claimed 12.6 seconds.

The AMT is the surprise package though. At part throttle, the shifts are very smooth. You barely realise the change in gears. There’s none of the jerkiness you associate with AMTs. Step on the gas and gear changes are noticeable, but there has always been a way around that, by manually shifting gears in AMT cars. It’s a more engaging way to drive an AMT, however, what has been a revelation is the use of paddle shifters. Why wasn’t this done before, I don’t know, but it's a feature all AMTs should get. Picking the right gear using paddle shifters while you momentarily lift off the gas is a far easier and engaging way to drive. AMTs require a bit of hand-eye-foot coordination. Something as simple as paddle shifters do the trick. What irks me is the price difference of Rs 70,000 between the manual and AMT variants of the Exter. It’s quite a steep price to pay for an AMT. I remember back in 2014, when Maruti Suzuki launched the Celerio, the price difference was just under Rs 40,000, the idea being that an AMT is supposed to be much more affordable than a torque converter or CVT.

The Hyundai Exter has 26 standard safety features such as six airbags, ESC, hill-assist, three-point seatbelts, ABS, rear parking sensors and more.
The Hyundai Exter has 26 standard safety features such as six airbags, ESC, hill-assist, three-point seatbelts, ABS, rear parking sensors and more.Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Ride and handling of the Hyundai Exter

Hyundai India has come a long way in the engineering department. The Exter only builds on the growing confidence in the dynamic ability of Hyundai cars. It can handle rough roads and trails without making you feel that you are going to break something, low speed ride is excellent, and even at highway speeds, there is a surefootedness that we haven’t experienced in compact Hyundais before this. Sure it doesn’t handle highway undulations with the poise of a Tata Punch, but it’s not too far behind either. Compact dimensions and 185mm of ground clearance make the Hyundai Exter capable of tackling more challenging terrain than the open highways of Rajasthan that we initially experienced. Which is why when we were presented with an off-road trail, we had to put the ‘SUV’ in the Exter to the test. The short overhangs allow for a braver approach to these trails and the responsive engine backs you up in elevation changes. That said, don’t go rock crawling. This isn’t a real SUV.

The wheels on offer on the Hyundai Exter are 15-inch alloys
The wheels on offer on the Hyundai Exter are 15-inch alloysShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Fuel economy of the Hyundai Exter

Hyundai India’s official figures for the manual Exter is 19.4kmpl and the AMT returns a marginally lower 19.2kmpl. Compared to the Tata Punch, the MT Exter is slightly lower while the AMT scores higher. In the real world though, the 4-cylinder Hyundai is going to be a more relaxed motor at most times.

Price and verdict of the Hyundai Exter

Prices of the Hyundai Exter start from Rs 5.99 lakh to Rs 9.32 lakh for the manual transmission car. The AMT costs Rs 65,000-70,000 more. You also get CNG variants in the Exter right from the launch, priced at about Rs 1 lakh more than the MT Exter. The Exter is also the only CNG car in this segment.

While the segment was conceived on an Excel sheet, the car still needs to deliver on the road. The Hyundai Exter does have a few shortcomings, but it doesn’t disappoint as a package. It feels robust on bad roads and impresses with refinement levels. Except for the AMTs, the variants are priced well too. Key to the Exter’s success is Hyundai’s commitment to safety. Six airbags as standard is a bold statement for a car in this segment. An attractive design is just the perfect lure to draw you into Hyundai showrooms. This very well could become Hyundai’s top selling car in the near future.

The rear LED taillights also sport the H-shaped design
The rear LED taillights also sport the H-shaped designShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

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