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Hyundai i40 Elite

 

And Hyundai's march upwards continues. Year-to-date it's the third-biggest-selling new-vehicle brand in New Zealand and – given it doesn't have a ute to offer right now – certainly number two in passenger cars.

Hyundai is doing big numbers by having the right model lineup and, if we're honest, doing the right deals. But perhaps the most surprising thing about the Korean brand is that aside from achieving volume, it's also taken on an aspirational quality.

A fine example is the i40 Elite being tested here. It is a humble mainstream wagon, but according to the vox-pop it's got prestige-car style, impressive equipment levels and a high level of desirability. It's not cheap, at $53,990. But it doesn't need to be.

The i40 is extra-swish because it's a Korean car designed for Europe (it's from Hyundai's German design studio), whereas the i45 sedan is aimed more at Asian countries and the United States. The i40 has less bling, cleaner lines. And a sharper chassis, as the Europeans tend to favour dynamic ability over ride comfort.

The seek lines of the i40 exaggerate its exterior dimensions, but it's actually 25mm reduced in the wheelbase compared with the i45 and 50mm shorter overall.

That's not the most important difference, of course. What really matters is that Europeans love their diesels, and the i40 is available with a fantastic oil-burner: a turbo-four of 1.7 litres capacity, but with 100kW/320Nm. With a six-speed automatic gearbox it achieves 6.0 litres per 100km.

The availability of the diesel means that an i40 sedan is also a possibility for New Zealand – as with the wagon, slightly smaller and sharper than the current i45 sedan, which would continue as the petrol-engined choice.

You cannot help but be impressed by this engine, although you'll have to forgive a gruff nature under load and a tendency to run out of steam very quickly past 4000rpm – more so than the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engines with which it competes on power and torque.

But the powertrain makes the i40 Elite CRDi (that's Hyundai-speak for turbo diesel) a fun-to-drive wagon regardless. The chassis is not exactly sporty, but it has more of an edge than the i45 – better steering, a more elegant cornering demeanor. Beware the stability control though, especially in the wet: once roused it shuts the car down for several seconds, and it's kind of hard to get things moving again. It crosses the line from active safety to scaredy cat, especially in the wet.

Even the entry i40 model has nine airbags (including rear-seat and knee), stability control with corner-brake-control, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and Hyundai's signature iPod integration. A cargo net is standard-fit and a fabulous detail touch.

Our Elite adds luxury items like keyless entry/start, trip computer, leather, reversing camera and larger 18-inch wheels. Loadspace is impressive despite the low roof, with a long cargo area and up to 1720 litres of storage. You don't get a completely flat load floor… but it's close.

The i40 is not exactly mainstream stuff. With the rise in popularity of crossover-type wagons, the medium segment is shrinking and what's left is dominated by sedans (about 80 percent).

So the i40 is a bit niche, perhaps a little bit special. That won't worry Hyundai, for it has a plethora of crossover offerings in all sizes. But there's something very cool about a sleek station wagon like the Elite.


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