BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Apparently named after the A To Z map book you'll need to navigate large cities, the Atoz is a city car par excellence. But then so, it could be argued, are any number of other tiny cars from both Asia and Europe. Why buy a used Atoz? Firstly, you may need ultimate utility - five doors, acceptable interior space and the narrowness that's handy in the urban sprawl. Secondly, you may want something that faintly resembles a car in appearance, unlike the extreme eggbox shapes of the Suzuki Wagon R+ or Daihatsu Move. If this is the case, a used Atoz makes a good bet. If the styling is still somewhat too sit-up-and-beg for your liking, the newer but mechanically similar Hyundai Amica may fit the bill. For a growing number of British customers however, the Atoz has been the answer to their particular requirements. Powered by a willing 1.0-litre powertrain, the Atoz is not as hopeless as one might expect on the open road, although free-flowing motorways are not its forte. Still, if you place yourself in the middle of any big UK city and consider how many miles you'd need to drive before the Atoz felt a bit exposed in this respect, you'd appreciate the logic in searching down a decent used one.
Models Covered: (5 dr hatch 1.0 petrol [base, +, Midas] )
The Atoz had no predecessor in the Hyundai range to live up to upon launch in May 1998. Rather it was a clean-sheet design, aiming to bring a little versatility to the city car sector. Featuring the only multi-valve engine in its class, it immediately prompted interest. Helped by the fact that customers at the lower priced end of the new market weren't put off by the Hyundai badge, it sold over 4800 units in its first year, respectable figures for an oriental city car. It was available in base or Atoz+ guise, with manual, three speed automatic or a novel semi automatic gearbox. Effectively a manual five-speed without a clutch, this model was the best compromise for city driving. June 1999 saw the introduction of a limited edition 'Midas' model, but there were little changes until summer 2000 when, with sales of the lower-priced Amica gaining ground, Hyundai deleted the base Atoz designation. The car was discontinued altogether late that year.
What You Get
With the Atoz you get a small, rather high rise, but nonetheless quite attractive little city car. There's not a great deal to choose between the base model and the Atoz+ bar specification differences. The Atoz+ gets an airbag, alloy wheels, air conditioning, central locking and electric front windows. For equipment, practicality and on pricing, it beats a Fiat Seicento or SEAT Arosa hands down. The Atoz Midas special edition is worth a look, coming equipped with gold mica paintwork, a CD player, rear spoiler, unique alloy wheels and body-coloured bumpers, side mouldings and tailgate handle. It's worth pointing out at this point one item that you don't get with the Atoz and that's ABS. In wet conditions the brakes easily overcome the modest grip afforded by the tiny tyres. Whilst it's not dangerous per se, it is something that's worth bearing in mind if you've only ever driven ABS-equipped cars.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As you may well expect, not a great deal goes wrong with the Atoz. It has one of the better 1.0-litre engines and dealers report that reliability to date has been excellent. As with any small city car check for parking bumps and scrapes, especially as the Atoz may well have been purchased as a first car after passing the driving test. Also check the fitments at the rear for signs of damage by little hands. Most manufacturers could save a lot of money by taking a couple of four-year olds for a test drive in the back of their cars to see what gets ripped out. Otherwise ensure that the Atoz's tyres are in good shape, that the semi-automatic gearbox (if fitted) engages all gears easily and that there's a full service history on display. Take a look at the exhaust too - a replacement isn't cheap.
(approx prices based on Atoz 1.0) Most Atoz parts are relatively cheap. Don't however buy one with a wrecked exhaust, as a replacement will be at least £550, which for an early model represents at least 10% of the car's total value. Otherwise there's not too much to worry about. A radiator costs around £140, a new alternator £160, a starter motor will set you back £135 and a headlamp an illuminatingly modest £80.
On the Road
The Atoz is a willing performer, the tiny 1.0-litre engine getting top marks for effort, but a 'must try harder' for refinement. Ride is good, with some roll inevitable through tighter corners. Traction is decidedly modest and be aware that you don't have the benefit of ABS. In the wet a heavy brake foot will have the car slithering about with all four wheels locked. The little four-cylinder engine develops a peak power figure of 55bhp. That doesn't sound very much but it's surprisingly lively on the road (faster in fact than the figures - rest to sixty in 15.1s on the way to 88mph - suggest). You won't want to throw this car around on country roads but for nipping around the streets, it's ideal. It will handle most roads with ease, although quicker motorways and trunk roads will require maximum throttle most of the time. This sort of driving is not conducive to good fuel consumption. With a bit more circumspection you can expect over 35mpg around town and as much as 50mpg on the open road. That means a potential range of 350-400 miles from the 7.7-gallon tank, something that will put many much larger cars to shame.
The Hyundai Atoz is a city car that adds a little more luggage space, a little more equipment, and a little more peace of mind than most of its rivals. As a used buy it makes good sense, as Hyundai's after sales service is one of the best, and that tends to decrease your chances of dredging up a duffer. There's no pretension with an Atoz, just good fun urban transport.