Before I begin, I must tell you what a crossover is. A crossover is essentially a hatchback that, when it goes to sleep at night, dreams of being an SUV. However, it doesn’t want to go the whole hog in terms of size and off-road capability, preferring to hold on to its compact dimensions and road-biased nature. Desiring the best of both worlds, it is sometimes unsure of what exactly it wants to be when it grows up, but that doesn’t stop it from having a go at this amalgamation. In many cases, the end result is a dog’s breakfast, especially in terms of design, but Hyundai has avoided that landmine with its i20 Active.

Essentially an Elite i20 on stilts, with snazzier threads, the i20 Active is the best looking vehicle in its class, alongside the Fiat Avventura. Visually, the differences over the ‘standard’ i20 are immediately apparent, especially when you view its profile. There are the de rigeur roof rails, which no self-respecting crossover can do without, and the 16-inch alloy wheels are larger than those on the i20 – although I daresay there’s still a little too much space left in the wheel arches. This can easily be fixed with bigger aftermarket wheels, at the cost of ride quality and fuel economy, two factors that the average Indian customer cares two hoots about. Hahahaha – that was a good one, if I do say so myself. You’ll also find faux skid plates front and rear, grey plastic cladding, new bumpers with round fog lamps and a front grille with horizontal slats. Significantly, the headlights now have LED daytime running lights, projector beams and cornering lights, all very useful additions. Overall, the car has presence, which is essential in this (relatively small) segment.

Hop into the cabin and you’ll find a sea of black, accentuated with either orange or light blue, depending on the exterior paint scheme. The gear lever is either orange or blue, and the pedals are finished in a reasonably sporty shiny steel – and that’s about it. In every other aspect, the cabin is identical to that of the Elite i20, at least from what I could see. This isn’t a bad thing, because you get plenty of features (a reversing camera, USB, Bluetooth, a Start/Stop button, climate control, lots of safety gizmos et al), and the level of fit and finish is on the high side. All that remains, then, is to thumb that starter and get the show on the road.

The same powerplants that sit under the Elite i20’s hood are to be found here as well – a 1.2-litre petrol and a 1.4-litre diesel engine. Both have had their gearing ratios tweaked, for better low-end grunt, but the power and torque figures remain unchanged. As always, the diesel engine exhibits more enthusiasm and better overall useability, and its 6-speed gearbox is light to the touch; the engine is also an impressively refined unit, with only a hint of diesel clatter coming through into the cabin. The naturally-aspirated petrol engine is peppy in nature, but I’d pick the diesel if a firearm was pointed at my head.

With 190mm of ground clearance (20mm more than the Elite i20), this car will go through pretty much anything that an Indian road can throw at it in terms of pothole size – and it’ll offer up pretty good ride quality while at it. You will still hear and feel a few crashes and thuds, but other than that, the car feels quite planted, and body roll is acceptably controlled around corners. The steering wheel continues to be a somewhat lifeless affair, like in most Hyundais, but buyers will not list this as a major negative. In fact, I daresay that all things considered, the i20 Active is a better buy than its hatchback cousin – it looks more distinctive, the additional ground clearance is a real boon and, even though it will be more expensive (of the order of Rs 8.5 lakh), you will feel like you’ve bought more car for your money. Just don’t attempt to start the Dakar rally in it anytime soon.