Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Hyundai Atoz

by Antony Ingram
24 May 2024 3 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Hyundai Atoz
Photos courtesy Anglia Car Auctions

Price: Auction
Mileage: 3873 (no, really)
Condition: Effectively new
Advert: Anglia Car Auctions

There are two competing theories as to how the Hyundai Atoz – one of a breed of 1990s far-eastern tall-boys – got its name, and why it was named the Atos in other European markets.

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The first and most PR-friendly was that the Atoz name was a contraction of “A to Z”, like the map, and a hint at the car’s supposed prowess for navigating cities and the like. Since “A to Z” is mostly meaningless in non-English-speaking countries, it was renamed Atos elsewhere for pronunciation reasons.

The second theory, less likely to appear in official Hyundai records but possibly more feasible knowing what Brits are like, is that a car called Atos would never escape jokes about “not giving…” so the Hyundai was hastily rebadged to something similar but not as obviously open to wordplay.

Whatever the reasoning, neither name is quite as gleeful as its Indian name, the Hyundai Santro, which was a contraction of “St. Tropez” to give the car a touch of European glamour. There might not be much in a name but Indian buyers bought them in spectacular numbers and Europeans didn’t, though the former’s 1.5 billion inhabitants might have played a part in that.

Hyundai Atoz profile

That’s enough of a digression, though, since all of this came about because we spotted what is surely the best example of an Atoz . . . well, probably anywhere. There can’t be many around with as little as 3873 miles on the clock, like the car being offered up in late June by Anglia Car Auctions, and to all intents and purposes it looks dealership-fresh.

It’s a compelling time capsule as a result. We’re fairly used to seeing things like Fiestas in remarkable nick, but nobody really loved these early Koreans enough to want to preserve them, even if their typical clientele drove them gently. Hyundai was a known quantity but not exactly an enthusiast brand like it is becoming today, and the Atoz being rather weird didn’t engender much warmth, either.

Contemporary reviewers considered it a kind of low-budget alternative to the Mercedes A-Class, but really it was Hyundai’s take on Japan’s boxy kei cars. Power came from a 55bhp 999cc triple, something a bloke named James May described as “surprisingly gutsy” in his May 1998 review for Car, and he reckoned its steering and grip were alright, too.

The only real demerit was what seemed to be an excess of headroom and its effect on the styling, probably more welcome for folks with limited mobility than for youthful road testers. “This tall, square shape is not the right one for a motor car”, said May, who would later go on to buy an example of the relatively tall and square (though admittedly not quite so silly-looking) 2000s-era Fiat Panda.

Hyundai Atoz interior

The silver car being auctioned is indeed quite tall and square, and also charmingly basic and appropriately unexceptional, thanks to its unpainted bumpers with plastic plugs where foglights go on higher-spec cars, and it rolls on the original Smarties wearing plastic trims. There isn’t even an airbag. The slightly off colour of the steering wheel is odd given the low mileage, but perhaps they were like that from the factory, or Hyundai’s 1990s steering wheel plastic ages at a different rate to its dashboards. . . Please note also the button blanks, and a radio distinctly lacking a cassette slot.

Anyway, we reckon it’s perfect for the Festival, being a low-spec version of an unloved car from an unfashionable manufacturer; basically a 1990s Allegro. We’ll be interested to see what it reaches at auction.

Hyundai Atoz rear 3/4

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