Jack Baruth’s proposal to grade cars by their ability to hit 80 miles an hour may have some merit in the land of Cheeseburgers and V8s, but it represents a conundrum for those of us who can hardly get to 80 mph. Case for the defense: the new Hyundai Eon, sold (so far) only in India and the poorer parts of Southeast Asia. Like my part: The Philippines. The Eon is a fantastic car for us poor people who enjoy getting 60 miles per gallon of dubious gasoline on our regular commute with the air conditioning going full-blast. But hitting the big 8-0 is not in the cards. Not unless you have half-a-minute to kill and some Excedrin.
But then, that’s not the point. 60 mpg is the point. To this effect, Hyundai pulls out all the stops to hit that magic number. The Eon’s puny 814 cc motor is a four-cylinder Hyundai “Epsilon” with one cylinder lopped off. Three cylinders, a single overhead camshaft, a nine-valve head and a lowly 6000 rpm redline may not sound sexy, but it puts out a class-leading 55 horsepower. Only blown SMARTs and sportsbikes make more out of so little. And they all cost more.
Think the Chevy Spark is light? The Eon tips the scales at well under 1,600 pounds. The chassis is a cut-down i10/Santro unibody, with two inches lopped off the roof, hips and tips. The crash structure is shrink-wrapped around the engine, and even the front engine mount goes MIA in the interest of clearing space for the lower crash bar. The suspension is likewise pared down to a bare minimum, built out of plumbing supplies and angle-bar. I do like the beefy front anti-roll bar, which dispenses with needless end-links and does double duty as a secondary control arm. Like your motors quiet? Tough luck. Between the single catalytic converter and the muffler, there’s nothing but straight pipe and snorting three-pot noise.
But let’s not forget, this is a Hyundai. That means that no matter how cheap the car is, at least it looks good. Boy does it ever look good. Forget the fact that it’s rolling on shopping cart casters, (for the morbidly curious, 155/70R13 is par for the class) just look at those curves. Years after Chris Bangle’s retirement, someone finally gets flame-surfacing right. And for a car that costs half-as-much as a Honda Fit, the fit and finish is astonishing. The interior is likewise a fascinating study in dressing up the dour, with curvaceous design cues putting other entry-level cars to shame.
Well, if your other choices were twenty year old Daewoos and Suzukis, you’d certainly feel the same way like we do.
Against expectations, the Eon drives rather nicely. Not big car nice, but well enough. Engine and road noise aren’t intrusive, and there’s no whistling over the A-Pillars at speed. Despite the puny tires, it tracks straight and true at 90 mph, as long as there are no crosswinds. That large anti-roll bar keeps body roll to a minimum, and the steering is pleasant. The small size and nimble handling allow the Eon to hold its own when dicing with the swarms of thumper motorbikes infesting our roads in dry weather.
Hit a deep pothole hard enough and you’ll remember you’re in a tin box, but over waves and crests, it’s as well-controlled as a Spark and possibly better than the boingo-boingo Accent. It also brakes better than the Spark and has a gear shift that doesn’t feel like stirring a pot of rubber bands, despite the missing engine mount.
Unfortunately, the pedal box is too cramped for heel-and-toe and dropping clutch without bogging is tricky. With the first two gears topping out at 22 and 40 mph, you’ll be doing a lot of clutchwork to get moving, especially uphill.
Compared to the Eon, the Spark is a top-fuel dragster, but the Eon’s lightness pays dividends in handling and economy. Better yet, it shades the Chevy in terms of legroom and trumps it in terms of cargo space. You’re still not fitting that keg of beer back there, but it gets close.
Maybe America isn’t ready for a car that takes nearly twenty seconds to hit sixty and is narrow enough to park on a bicycle rack. Maybe America would feel short-changed by a car that tops out at a mere ninety miles an hour. Maybe America wouldn’t buy a car available exclusively with a stick (or maybe they would). ABS? EBD? DSC? STFU. The only safety feature you get is a driver’s airbag
But compared to the likes of the Maruti Alto or Tata Nano, the Eon is posh, spacious and wonderfully refined. Better yet, it costs less than a Chevrolet Spark and delivers real world economy between 50-60 mpg. But not at 80 mph, where you’ll be lucky to hit 40 mpg. Speed kills – pesos in your wallet.
That doesn’t matter. What matters is that third-world drivers have a way to get from Manila to Angeles City comfortably without breaking the bank. Out here, the big 8-0 is measured in metric units, specifically kilo-.
Saves a lot of gas, that way.
Niky Tamayo is Test Drive Editor at kotse.com, one of the leading car sites in the Philippines