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Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Fit and finish, handling, ride quality, features, smooth, quiet and tractable diesel engine
Room for improvement
Petrol engine lack of torque, no diesel SR version

Hyundai logo8 Oct 2007

By PHILIP LORD

THE Hyundai i30 is the Korean company’s first serious effort to take on a European persona.

Despite the two highest volume sellers coming from Japanese companies, the word ‘European’ has currency in terms of perceived style and prestige with buyers in this segment.

So the i30 is the Korean European. It was designed in Germany and is built for European markets in a factory in the Czech Republic. The Australian i30 may’ve been conceived in Europe but they come from a Korean factory.

With the i30, Hyundai can only divorce itself further from the bargain basement image it set with the Excel in the mid-1990s.

It has some worthy feature highlights, such as having the cheapest diesel hatch in the small car segment (and one that is even cheaper than light car diesels such as the Volkswagen Polo TDI), and having dedicated iPod/MP3 player connectivity.

It also offers a relatively cheap entry ticket in the class to safety features such as side curtain airbags and stability control.

From the outside, there is a melting pot of design influences at play, and surprisingly not all come from the northern hemisphere.

The side profile is very Mazda 3, but the hipline BMW 1-Series and there is also a touch of A-class around the rear three-quarter panels.

The base model SX looks a little cheap sitting on its steel rims and hubcaps, but at least there are five full-size wheels and not a space-saver spare - an acknowledgment by Hyundai that not everything that works in Europe works here.

And that’s not the only thing Hyundai did to ensure i30’s compatibility to this market. The company’s engineers were sent out here with prototypes to calibrate the suspension properly for our requirements.

The result is a chassis that seems to ride really well and has the steering precision, tyre grip and body control to carve up corners in a satisfying manner.

The fit and finish of the i30’s interior is impressive. The quality, appearance and position of switchgear and controls is all how it should be, with the only sticking points being the rough mould line on the SX’s gearshift knob and the oversized lettering on some switches such as the ESP button. So yes there are flaws, but you have to go looking for them.

The seats hold you with ample support and are firm - in the European fashion, naturally - yet comfortable.

Seat height adjustment and steering wheel rake and reach adjustment help you to find the ideal driving position, and there are no problems with the driver’s field of vision out of the i30.

The rear seat may not have the width for three burly blokes but headroom and legroom are quite good for the class.

The diesel engine does not promise much on first acquaintance. Fire it up when cold and its wheezy rattle and slightly muted response down low doesn’t make it seem anything special.

It’s worth waiting the five minutes or so for it to start warming up, though. The idle quietens down, the throttle response improves and suddenly you discover an extremely tractable, smooth and free-breathing diesel.

It is without a doubt the pick of the two engines in i30, and while official fuel figures puts the 1.6 CRDi diesel at 4.7 litres per 100km, Hyundai claims Swedish adventurer Hans Tholstrup has squeezed out 3.77 litres per 100km on an economy run.

It’s hard to drive the 2.0-litre petrol engine after its diesel counterpart: it serves as a reminder that a small displacement diesel engine in a small car is not just all about eking out a marginal improvement in fuel economy - it’s also about torque.

The 2.0-litre engine - not exactly a small capacity for a segment littered with 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre displacements - revs out cleanly and had ample power once you extend it in the rev range.

Down low it seems to lug along without complaint but without any real sense of urgency. Below 4000rpm it just simply doesn’t have nearly the muscle of the diesel.

The top of the range SR sports model is only available as a 2.0-litre petrol, but such is the responsiveness of the CRDi engine, an SR version is a compelling argument.

The managing director of Hyundai, Steve Yeo, says he would prefer to wait and see what the customer response is to i30 as the range stands before contemplating an additional model.

The five-speed manual sampled in both petrol and diesel has direct, if slightly clunky shifts.

The 2.0-litre has an optional four-speed auto and the first shipment of diesels with the optional four-speed auto are due in December. Delays were due to the popularity of the diesel-auto powertrain in Europe.

Hyundai hopes to carry on with a similar mix of 60 percent i30 to 40 per cent Elantra sedan in the small car segment, and also hopes to sell a total similar to the 13,000 sales achieved with Elantra hatch and sedan previously.

While the prospect of a Korean car with European ‘heritage’ may not quite gel in the market, the fact is the Hyundai i30 appears to be a good car in its own right.

It also offers the most cohesive argument yet by a Korean manufacturer against buying a car on badge alone.

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