It would be a shame if the i40 were overlooked simply because people are so familiar with the wagon version launched last year.
Base price: $51,990.
Powertrain and performance: 1.7-litre turbo diesel four, 100kW/320Nm, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, Combined economy 6.0 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4740mm long, 1470mm high, luggage capacity 505 litres, 18-inch wheels.
We like: Style, energetic engine, fluid handling.
We don’t like: Some cheap plastics inside, untidy cabin ergonomics.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Looking at Hyundai’s mid-size lineup as it has stood for the past year or so, you might deduce that the i45 is the brand’s sedan and the i40 its wagon. That’s not quite correct: they are in fact two different model ranges, the former designed for Asian/American markets and the latter for Europe.
New Zealand is one of the few markets where both are sold side-by-side. That’s because the i45 is not available with a diesel engine or as a wagon, so that’s the role the i40 has filled here since 2012: diesel wagon.
Now, i40 has also been launched as a sedan in New Zealand: to complement, not replace the i45, so it’s as a diesel only.
With the i45 so heavily focused on comfort, the idea is that i40 provides an alternative for buyers wanting a lot more brio with their big four-door. And that diesel option, of course, which gives Hyundai a car to match the sporty Ford Mondeo and brand-new Mazda6.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Our test i40 came with Hyundai’s tiny-but-mighty 1.7-litre turbo diesel. As with the wagon, the motor’s sheer verve has the capacity to surprise, especially given the way that the six-speed automatic races through the ratios when you’re pressing on.
It’s good fun, although you do sense that lack of cubic centimetres when you really need strong acceleration for an extended period of time – true, diesels are not known for their ability to bounce off the redline at will, but even taking that into account, this one feels a bit breathless on long uphill stretches or high-speed overtaking manoeuvres. Short on torque, even – although it does not seem so on paper.
But it’s still a high-energy motor and if that’s the price for fuel economy of 6.0 litres per 100km from this rather large family sedan, we’ll take it.
The i40 lacks the trick Flex Steer system of the smaller (and newer) i30, but this car has better communication through the wheel and an impressively sharp chassis. The sedan has a slight advantage over its wagon sibling in terms of dynamics too, because a three-box body shape is inherently more rigid than a wagon.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
The i40 has a more modern-looking dashboard design than the rather traditional i45, that’s for sure. Having said that, there are also far more hard plastics and once you get beyond the outwardly impressive style, there are a few ergonomic eccentricities in evidence. The indicator stalks are on the correct side for right-hand drive (the Koreans are usually good like that), but other details like the pushbutton Sport mode on the far left of the centre console or the power/volume control for the audio system (also on the offside) suggest a setup more tailored for left-hook markets.
This kind of thing is not unusual for European cars, but the Koreans are usually fastidious about tailoring cars to the correct side of the road.
Nonetheless, the i40 Elite is absolutely loaded and the fundamentals are right: decent seats, good range of adjustment in the driving position. There’s leather as standard and even the rear-seat passengers get a taste of luxury, with heated seats of their own.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Not sure if you noticed, but it’s hard not to compare the i40 with the i45, because it’s so unusual for a brand to have two competing models in the same segment. Hyundai would of course argue that the two cater to different buyer priorities, with some justification.
However, for the record: the i40 looks far sharper inside and out and drives like a dream compared with the i45. However, it is slightly smaller (if you consider that a drawback) and the quality of materials in the cabin is not up to i45 standard.
It would be a shame if the i40 were overlooked simply because people are so familiar with the wagon version launched last year. It’s a fantastic car and really does deserve serious consideration alongside other driver-focused mid-sizers like the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6. It’s that good.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Auto-dipping mirror in reverse: No
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Head-up display: No
Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
Parking radar: Yes with camera in rearvision mirror
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes