Why the 1.0l Hyundai Atos is the best car I've driven. Ever.
A short story about how a cheap 5-door Korean hatchback might be the best thing I will ever drive.
A 2003 cheap korean grandmother's hatchback. That's all it is. Yet, it is so much more than that.
Back in 2007, My grandmother, just about hitting 60 back then, sold her Citroen AX hatchback. It was too low for her, and not that easy to get in and out of, you know? I had of course no idea what to advise her, as I was just able to go to the bathroom myself and all cars I was allowed to drive were the ones from Gran Turismo 4. My other grandmother however, had always been well served by her Hyundai Atos, a green one. It was cheap, easy to drive, reliable and cheap to run too, and that was all that both my grandmothers needed. So that was that. My grandmother bought a red second hand Atos too, for a scandalously low price as well, or so I had heard back then.
11 years later. At this point I am 18 years old, and for reasons I shan't disclose, my poor old grandmother was no longer able to drive a car for a considerably long amount of time. And since she was, and still is, one of the most generous people I personally know, I was allowed to borrow her car and use it for as long as she couldn't be on the road. It was at this point I learned why I had never had a greater car.
Now, I should disclose. At this point, although I hadn't driven many hours at this point, I had driven many different things. To mention a few: a VW UP! without working stability control or ABS, a Saab 9-3 with a 9-5 Aero engine swap, a tuned-up Jaguar S-type R churning out about 480bhp and of course, my grandmothers Hyundai which I was allowed to borrow occasionally beforehand. Cars with wildly differing features and power figures. Never did I ever drive anything better than that Hyundai.
Of course, at this point you might be asking yourself what is so great about this cheap Korean hatchback that, when new, cost around €9.000. That is because it's the essence of being young and broke.
Of course, you shouldn't have to be too worried of getting speeding tickets in something that produces 55 horsepower. In terms of handling however, it almost resembles driving my mates old 1981 Mini Cooper, which I had the joy of driving just last week. It was made extremely light, less than 800 kilograms to be exact. This means that although it was never made for handling, you could really attack any road that you wanted to, even though I should have felt bad about trashing around my grandmothers car. Which brings me to my second reason:
So, you would never have to worry about crashing it, because it was light and although razorsharp, also rather forgiving. So the only other thing you'd have to worry about is it breaking down when going for that redline. Which technically wasn't a redline, because it didn't have a rev counter. And trust me when I say it had no problems with reliability.
At one point, for whatever reason, the bonnet release cable stretched out too long, which is weird because my grandmother didn't even dare opening her bonnet in fear of breaking something. Anyways, as it took 2 people to open the bonnet because of this, I never took the effort of opening the bonnet and topping up the oil. over the period of about 8 months, I did not top up oil at all. Of course, when I finally did fill it up it was completely empty. Not one problem ever arose.
Revving it from cold, which is what my grandmother did for 11 something years, did not affect the car either. Slipping the clutch was a non-issue either, as this was something my grandma did too.
In fact, when it had to come in for the Dutch version of its MOT, all it needed was a new light bulb in the back. Keep in mind, this was after about 10 months of driving the absolute t*ts off it. So not only was it fun to drive, but it was also cheap to run. Most of all though, I had some great times in that car.
3. A Teens car
So, as mentioned before, I was 18 years old when I "got" the car and kept it until I was 19, which was when my grandmother and her G.P. deemed it safe to drive again. This meant, my last 3 months in high school and about 7 months of me working full time.
Of course, I never did unresponsible things with my car. I never drank and drove, and although some of my friends suggested it, I never even considered hotboxing the car. But I did use it to have fun. And oh boy did I have some good times in there.
Now, this was all before the Covid-19 pandemic and as such, I was going to plenty of house parties and events around my hometown and surrounding towns. And it had me mobile enough to go to every single one.
See, my parents would gladly bring me to and pick me up from parties etc, but of course they weren't going to do that at 3 am on a thursday evening. So it had me going to more parties, smelling and looking better in the process than biking for 45 minutes. But also hanging out with friends, just, in the car. As a 5 door with 5 seats and a boot, I could take myself plus 6 mates in my car and have the best time in the world.
I still remember my mate Marc screaming of laughter after I attempted a handbrake turn at a traffic light in the middle of the night. And me pulling up to a mates house at 4 am on a wednesday to play video games since we couldn't sleep. Or using my driving "skills" to impress a co-worker that I had a crush on. Or me racing one of my mates in his Mercedes B class through some rural area in the middle of the summer.
At this point, this has turned from a review into a love letter to what I consider my first ever car. And that's absolutely fine. We all need to have a positive memory from our first ever car. And if you are currently a broke young lad looking for your first car, well, there might be better options. Just know that you will also be very happy owning this one.
The best car 400 euro could buy nowadays.