Hyundai i30 SX CRDi

words - Joe Kenwright
A cheap family diesel to suit some budget buyers
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Road Test

RRP: $21,490
Price as tested: $21,490
Crash rating:
Four stars (Euro NCAP)
Fuel: Diesel
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 4.7 (manual)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 125
Also consider: Ford Focus TDCi (more here), Mazda3 Diesel (more here), VW Golf 1.9 TDI (more here)

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 4.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 4.0/5.0
Safety: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.5/5.0
X-factor: 3.0/5.0.

Like so many small cars, Hyundai's i30 can make more sense at entry level when it's not trying too hard. The i30 is a masterful exercise in how much a manufacturer can build into a small car without it feeling cheap.

The fact that you can specify a diesel engine for just $2500 over the petrol model for an all-up cost of $21,490 is also something of an achievement. Yet even at this price, the diesel is not a default choice -- an outcome not helped by the lack of an auto option which Hyundai is in a hurry to address.

Compared to its diesel rivals, the diesel i30 appears to have gazumped them all on either size or price before it has turned a wheel. Yet its most formidable rival is its petrol sibling.

The base i30 SX petrol model with its sweet 2.0-litre engine is relatively frugal and powerful in its own right for a very tempting $18,990 starting price at the same spec level. At an average 7.2L/100km for the petrol i30 (compared to 4.7L/100km for the diesel version), the diesel initially seems to offer big fuel savings expressed as a percentage.

Even at $1.50/litre, in hip pocket terms, the big dollar savings in fuel costs are not there. Yet.

Because the diesel's fuel savings are coming off such a low base for the petrol engine, it's going to take almost 67,000km to recoup the diesel's extra outlay! When the special engine oils and filters required for some diesel engines can add a third to the cost of a service, this break-even distance can be pushed out even further.

If fuel rises to $2.00/litre, as seems inevitable, the break-even figure drops to 50,000km so the projected ownership period and usage are vital variables to consider before buying an i30 diesel.

This is consistent with the argument from several manufacturers that the additional outlay for a diesel makes little sense for a low-mileage private user. The only way the i30 diesel can currently add up for such an owner is if its resale value can hold a large percentage of the extra $2500 outlay throughout its life.

An educated guess suggests it should hold up as fuel prices rise but this is not a given. The small car used market is extremely price-sensitive at the bottom end when used small cars have to compete with rapidly-improving brand new light cars as soon as their values drop.
If you are a high-mileage user, then the issue of whether you would want to cover long distances in a Hyundai i30 is more critical than it would be for the average small car.

It is a credit to Hyundai that such a dilemma is presented at a price that makes it immediately relevant to most Australians. The i30 diesel is so good, so elastic and so smooth in its delivery that most drivers would be hard-pressed to know which engine is under the bonnet.
Yes, there is an occasional hint of the diesel rattle but unlike several more highly-stressed European rivals, it is more reassuring than intrusive. It is certainly not offensive. In terms of driveability, it is 'even stevens' with the diesel marginally more flexible in slow-moving traffic, while the petrol's power delivery is slightly more progressive off the mark.

The secret is the 1.6-litre capacity of the i30 diesel which in engine size and price places it up against several diesel models in the Light Car category. Yet the i30 body size, safety options and weight places it firmly in the larger Small Car category which tends towards 1.9-2.0-litre diesels.

It only works because the i30 diesel delivers a creditable 255Nm between 1900-2750rpm -- engine speeds where most small four-cylinder petrol engines have yet to wake up. Although the diesel's 85kW is substantially less than the petrol engine's 105kW, the i30 petrol engine doesn't deliver its 186Nm torque peak until it hits 4000rpm.

When so many Australian drivers have been brought up on slow-revving Commodores and Falcons and don't like revving their cars' engines, the i30 diesel will feel more powerful than the petrol model in most situations. Although quick off the mark in city traffic, the i30 diesel, like most small diesels, requires the driver to be conscious of keeping the engine near its torque peak rather than revving it out during overtaking moves. It is something you quickly adapt to.

So why would you buy the cheap version of the i30 diesel over, say, a better small car rival with a petrol engine?

The i30 CRDi's ride with the standard higher profile tyres and steel rims is as good as any within Australian speed limits for it not to be an issue. While the grip is nothing special, the feel and balance of the Euro-engineered chassis are better than expected.

The Euro-style seats in the front at least are also better than the usual scaled-down versions fitted to cheap Korean and Japanese models. And while the standard safety package is nothing exceptional, Hyundai at least gives you the choice of adding four extra airbags and ESP for just $1790.

The standard glovebox cooler, reach and tilt adjustable steering column, electric windows, 20 in-car storage compartments and all-wheel disc brakes are impressive at this level. Given the generic but fresh styling (a plus at this price), the clever rear seat folding arrangements, the reasonably solid feel and pleasant soft-feel interior, there are plenty of Australians who could exploit this diesel Hyundai.

Factoring in the five-year/unlimited km warranty, it could be ideal for drivers who cover more than 20,000km a year for a fixed cost (apart from servicing and wear and tear items) of just over $4000 a year. Any added resale value is a bonus in this context.

It could be just the vehicle for an extended rural school or sports team run where it would be a simple matter of engaging fifth gear then rolling along and enjoying the sub-5.0L/100km fuel consumption. It's big enough to carry three passengers up to early teens in reasonable comfort.

For 'tree-changers' who need a regular dose of city life or commute to a major centre, it is hard to think of a cheaper and easier way to travel. It might even suit some couriers when luggage space with the back seats folded is generous and the upturned seat cushions provide a basic load barrier.

Whatever the application, the i30 diesel offers a much wider range of Australian drivers a saving in running costs and carbon emissions that not so long ago was only open to those who could afford a hybrid.

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Published : Saturday, 19 January 2008
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