The Hyundai i30 is a small car that performs large without paying a thirst penalty
When the Hyundai i30 first arrived back in 2008 it proved that Hyundai had come of age as a global car company, and proved the Sonata - to be replaced by the i45 this year - was not a flash in the quality pan.
Sonata's category win at the 2006 AA Motoring Excellence Awards had raised eyebrows among traditional Kiwi car buyers. After all, it's a Korean car - the implication being it's not as good as the established Euro or Japanese players. Then the i30 won the overall award last year, in 1.6-litre diesel hatch, Elite specification. That win proved Hyundai is closing the gap with Europe's best.
Mind you, the 1.6-litre, 85kW turbo-diesel powerplant is the pick of the i30 pack, its 255Nm of torque delivering plenty of pull from 1950 to 2750rpm. Its ability to haul from low revs is especially appreciated round town - where it'll convert diesel doubters as it makes short work of hauling the car from lights and junctions, and masks the compromise demanded by the widely spaced gears of its four-speed auto transmission.
Though it can be a tad noisy when cold this 1.6 amply illustrates recent advances in diesel power that see modern compact engines perform like something larger without paying a thirst penalty - Hyundai claims a combined figure of 6.0l/100km for the auto with C02 emissions at 159g/km, while the manual drinks at 4.7l/100km.
Meanwhile this car's refinement carries through to the suspension equation. Hyundai says it benchmarked VW's Golf and Ford's Focus when designing the i30, and it shows. The multi-link rear working with a Mac strut front isn't the cheapest set-up, but it's effective. Handling and ride are comfortable, supple and well controlled, with minimal body roll, and precise electronic steering that fortunately isn't over-assisted.
Ride has been biased to comfort without going overboard, the car feeling assured even when well loaded and tackling a typically bumpy New Zealand back road.
As for the rest, the European-designed Corolla-sized body is smart enough, but it's the cabin that really impresses. It's simply and effectively laid out, its dark finish with soft-touch materials accented by discrete brushed metallic accents and subtle touches of chrome, the ambience reminiscent of VW's Golf rather than the stereotypical Korean cars of old. Even the satisfying thunk as the door closes aims to please.
This is an easy car to live with, with enough seat and wheel adjustability to please a range of driver sizes - shorties will like the seatbelt height adjust - and a reasonable array of cubbies and pockets including a roof-mounted sunglasses holder. There's even a luggage net and hooks for the boot, to keep your shopping under control.
That cabin's reasonably spacious, too - especially out back. Leg room is normally the first casualty to a compact footprint, but a 1.8-metre passenger will find enough head and leg room front and rear, while the back seats fold to take the 340-litre boot to 1250 litres.
Standard i30 specification is generous, starting with a broad array of safety features - this is a five-star ANCAP car. So ESP stability control, ABS brakes, active head restraints for front passengers and six airbags are standard along with the safety pack, with a fire extinguisher, high-vis vest and first aid kit included with every car, and 24-hour roadside assist for the first three years.
Also standard, the alloy wheels, the air conditioning, an in-dash CD player, a USB and iPod port, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
As for the rest of the range, it opens with a 1.6-litre, 89kW/153Nm petrol four available in manual or auto, and a 105kW, 186Nm 2.0-litre petrol. Those engines are available in the hatch, or a wagon with a longer wheelbase and wider track for those seeking the 75-litre boot advantage.
Though the wagon's a touch heavier than the hatch the 1.6-diesel remains my favourite powerplant. Ride is still excellent and handling reasonable, rather than incisive - just what you want from a compact load-hauler.
Either body is available in two specification levels, the Elite adding cruise control, leather seats and trim, climate control air, rain sensing wipers, rear park sensors - and even a chilled glovebox to keep that summer drink cool.
The Hyundai i30 starts at $30,490 in manual 1.6 petrol format, with the 1.6 diesel auto hatch from $36,490.
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