Gets a resounding 'aye!'
New Zealanders have become so blase about the diversity of makes and models on offer – both new and used – that they’re liable to trip over something special without ever noticing it. The new Hyundai i30 won’t turn water into wine or reshape the way we think and feel about cars. Nor will it stop the traffic or provide you with a raft of new friends. But it’s the most significant Korean car to arrive here, and is already being acclaimed the most important Hyundai to be launched in Europe.
People who still believe the Korean motor industry is behind the eight-ball, manufacturing products without depth or imagination, will dismiss the i30 at their peril. Hyundai is a long-term player in New Zealand with a reputation that makes it hard to understand why some people still disregard or dismiss the brand. Last year, it was the sixth best selling new car brand here, sandwiched between Mazda and Mitsubishi.
Back in April, Hyundai ruffled more than a few rivals’ feathers by finishing second overall, behind only Toyota, and grabbing more than nine percent of the market. Sure, that was a record result for just one month, yet it reflected the sort of drive and integrity behind a make on the move.
Hyundai believes it now has the technology to build practically any car it wants. That’s why, according to the company’s research and development boss, the new luxury Genesis saloon waiting in the wings will be as large and sumptuous as a BMW 7-Series, drive as well as a 5-Series and be priced like a 3-Series.
A mature car enthusiast who should know better asked me what I thought about the i30, and on my response then said, “yes, but it’s still only a Korean car”. Blinkered shades, and an echo of the reaction by many towards Japanese cars in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Well, the i30 is a thoroughly competent, good handling, well packaged five-door hatchback with clear Euro styling overtones and real presence. Learn the car was designed in Germany, and how the model’s creators wanted to know the way Westerners think and feel about vehicles, and you start to appreciate the model’s significance. Forget blandness and lacklustre underpinnings, for the latest from Hyundai is a whole new scenario.
Whereas Korean cars were once relatively cheap and basic, the i30 moves up a peg to a level that is likely to worry well-established rivals from Europe and Japan. The 2.0-litre Elite auto with standard leather trim, as reviewed here, costs $34,990, and is in a similar price territory to a host of European and Japanese lower medium hatches. No, not cheap, and yet that’s okay because this car is fully competitive alongside some highly respected marques. Pay as little as $27,490 for an entry-level 1.6 manual, or $37,490 for a 1.6 CRDi diesel Elite auto, with five other i30 variants slotted in between. A Hyundai Accent is about three grand less model for model, but it’s no match for its newer brother.
There’s not much originality in the styling, with the frontal shape being fairly anonymous and the rear end distinctly like the BMW 1-Series. These days no wonder new models rarely make waves when they all look so similar. Measuring just over 4.2 metres, the i30 is right in company with the VW Golf, Toyota Corolla and Peugeot 308, and its 2650mm wheelbase is usefully long for the class.
Interior space is generous, especially rear seat legroom, but the front seats are flat and rather shapeless. At the same time, the driving position is only fair, despite a steering column that is adjustable for both rake and reach. Even with the seat height adjustment in the lowest setting, the driving position remains high. At least the steering wheel is adjustable for both rake and reach but there are visibility issues with the heavy C-pillars in what is an all too common complaint with modern cars. A blue-lit information centre with trip computer functions that are standard across the range separates major analogue instruments.
A fold-down centre armrest includes a pair of cup holders and a dual storage compartment. The USB, auxiliary and iPod input located within the centre console enables an iPod or MP3 player to be plugged directly into the audio system. An electrochromic rear vision mirror senses and reduces light intrusion from following vehicles; reversing sensors and rain-sensing wipers are standard on Elite variants only.
The Hyundai runs either 15-inch or 17-inch alloys with either 185/65 or 224/45 tyres, with all versions equipped with alloy wheels as standard. The garish 10-spoke alloys with chrome garnishing on the Elite, strike an off-beat note and the 17-inch diameter rims provide a harsh slow speed ride. For our money, the smaller wheels seem better got ride comfort over indifferent roads, although the supple suspension response on smoothly surfaced highways is a worthy endorsement. Significantly, the rear suspension is a more costly multi-link arrangement; MacPherson struts are employed up front.
The i30 is satisfying to drive, although the electrically assisted steering, geared to 2.7 turns lock to lock, lacks feel. The 2.0-litre petrol model accelerates to 100kph in 10.5 seconds.
The 2.0-litre with four-stage automatic can average around 9.6 litres/100km, although on one easy open road jaunt we managed 7.8 litres/100km. Gearing is nicely in tune with Kiwi conditions, leaving an easy 2600rpm on the tacho at 100kph. Mechanical noise becomes somewhat more frantic under pressure, but no complaints about the auto gearbox’s smoothness or response, though we might have wished for a more versatile five-speed auto than a four-stager.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard and all i30s come with ESP and six airbags, with Elites adding leather upholstery. A leather-bound, three-spoke steering includes cruise and audio controls, and you can flick a switch in the glovebox to direct cool air into this compartment. Cockpit attention to detail is good, and overall finish is excellent, with a satisfying feel to cabin materials and the way everything fits and works. Appreciate the clunk of the doors as they shut, the good packaging and all-round integrity of a well-conceived design. Eleven body colours are available, but clack is the only interior trim colour.
Is this Hyundai’s best offering yet? You would certainly have to think so.