Hyundai i30 Elite
Price Guide: (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $26,590
Options fitted: (not included in above price): Metallic paint $495
Crash rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 6.9
CO2 emissions (g/km):164
Also consider: Ford Focus (from $20,290); Mazda Mazda3 (from $20,330); Toyota Corolla (from $19,990); Volkswagen Golf (from $21,990)
Hyundai’s first generation i30 could be described as a giant leap for the Korean car-maker. Remember, this is the company that first came to Australia under the guidance of Alan Bond, making its pioneering dip into the small car segment with the unmemorable Excel five-door hatchback in 1986.
The road to full credibility has been a long one, with some pretty decent vehicles and some pretty ordinary ones produced in the interim, but it was the arrival of the i30 in October 2007 that really turned the corner for Hyundai.
Here was a small car that genuinely took the challenge up to the Japanese by ticking off all the correct boxes in terms of safety, packaging, style, driveability and quality.
The i30 was the beginning of a new era for Hyundai in which a wide range of challengers – passenger cars, SUVs and light commercials – fronted up to take on the world.
Today, one million Australian Hyundais later, the company has earned a spot as a credible competitor in the new car market.
Not surprisingly, the latest Hyundai i30 came with high expectations when it was introduced here in May 2012.
It came well qualified, with more space for passengers and luggage, as well as seven airbags, rear parking sensors and a full five-star ANCAP safety rating. It also gained a new, fuel-efficient 1.8-litre petrol engine, three-mode electric power steering and the availability of touch-screen satnav, Xenon headlights, panoramic sunroof, and heated front seats to back-up the usual grab-bag of technology including hands-free Bluetooth, iPod/USB and MP3 functionality with media ripping/storage.
All i30s also adopted convenience features so far only familiar on Euro small cars, among which are auto power windows front and rear, and glovebox cooling.
Our test car was a mid-range i30 Elite that slots right into the middle of the hyper-competitive small car segment where it does battle with Mazda3, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic, Kia Cerato – and Volkswagen Golf; to name a few.
And first impressions were consistent with expectations: Aside from the confident, nicely contemporary styling, the impressions of a higher-quality car were made most forcibly inside the cabin where the switchgear, quality of materials and general execution speak of a conscious intention to lift the i30 into more direct contention with its high-ranking rivals.
Surprisingly the only soft-touch materials are in the armrests and upper trim areas of the doors: The entire dash is solid and unyielding – although the way everything fits together, and the quality of the materials used, conspire to make the hard plastics seem irrelevant. The flying-buttress centre console – complete with hidden Volvo-style storage area behind – white stitching on the seats, central sunglasses holder above the windscreen and damped grab handles add to the classy impression.
The i30’s driving position, via a height-adjustable seat and two-way steering column adjustment, brings no complaints and a 1.8-metre tall driver leaves decent legroom for the passenger travelling behind. Headroom front and rear is good too, although the Elite test car lacked the panoramic sunroof that is standard on the top-spec Premium version and may intrude a little on head space. Shaping and cushioning of the front seats felt good too, well and truly up to the task of providing decent support on a day trip to the country.
And the new (Nu) variable-timing 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder shows Hyundai is not doing a bad job today in terms of engine technology. It replaces the previous i30’s 2.0-litre engine yet produces more power, consumes less fuel (down, in auto versions, from 7.6L/100km to 6.9L/100km) and, at 164g/km emits 9.9 per cent less CO2.
With 110kW it is more powerful than Mazda’s (admittedly now old-generation) non-Skyactiv 2.0-litre four-cylinder and, with a decent-for-capacity 178Nm, it is pretty torquey too, even if down on the previous 2.0-litre i30’s 186Nm.
Fact is, it drives with a sense of verve more akin to a 2.0-litre and, even though it sounds as if it might get a little thrashy towards the upper reaches of the rev band (redline is 6,750rpm although the auto upshifts on kickdown at 6,200rpm), that isn’t the case, and it actually develops something of a fun-loving crackle as speeds rise.
The conventional six-speed sequential automatic transmission clearly does an efficient job. Although it is not quite as thrifty and clean as the base six-speed manual gearbox.
At cruising speeds the i30 progresses pretty quietly, and with a welcome smoothness. At 100km/h the 1.8-litre is spinning at a relaxed 2100rpm, contributing to both cabin silence and fuel economy. Flick into sequential mode or put the boot in and the Hyundai will respond with appropriate willingness.
It is also nice to know that Australia had input in to the i30’s road manners. The result is a slightly firm ride that pays off in terms of general handling and steering response.
The i30 deals well with a long and winding road, albeit with a little too much lightness (in Flex Steer default position) at the wheel rim. The ratio is adequately fast with the wheel spinning from lock to lock in 2.9 turns and the 205/55R16 tyres provide good grip -- although they are only supported, as is common these days, by a space saver spare.
Speaking of which, the i30’s hatchback boot is bigger than before, although the 11 per cent step upwards from 340 to 378 litres still doesn’t make the Hyundai a leader in its category. That said, the boot is pretty useful and deep, augmented by the usual 60:40 split-fold rear set backrest.
In some ways the first i30 made the task more difficult for its successor. People become accustomed to what they are regularly served up with and the fact that the new car is even better at staring down the competition in the market’s most hard-fought segment tends to become an expectation, rather than a surprise.
The i30 may not yet be the benchmark small car, but it is definitely right in there as a force to be reckoned with.
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