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Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - Active

Our Opinion

We like
Design, cabin, powertrain, equipment levels, comfort, handling, practicality, warranty
Room for improvement
Poor wet-road tyre grip, too much tyre noise, firm ride at times, disappointing fuel consumption

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Hyundai logo18 Aug 2017

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

HYUNDAI’S latest i30 – the third in a series that stretches just 10 years – is without doubt the best.

Packaged as an amalgam of everything the company has learnt about building cars since 1967, it hardly puts a foot wrong.

At times over 90 per cent of buyers have chosen the base version, so here it is – the bread-and-butter Active in both manual and auto guises.

Never mind Toyota’s Corolla should Volkswagen be worried about this German-influenced hatchback?

Price and equipment

Hyundai may have been around in Australia since 1986, but the brand truly “arrived” 21 years later when the original i30 surfaced.

A total break from the cheap and garish Elantra of the era, the FD-series hatch adopted a Germanic look, feel and attitude that were hitherto foreign to the marque. Even the rear suspension adopted an advanced multi-link arrangement.

One decade and three generations in and the PD-series i30 is the evolution of that thought process, even if the independent back end is now only reserved for the terrific SR turbo-petrol belter.

Yet the C-segment Hyundai is also more Teutonic than ever, conservatively styled to appeal to Euro buyers who’d also consider a Holden Astra or even Volkswagen’s Golf. Gone are the preceding GD-series’ fussy and faddish lines for something far more sober and restrained. Let’s see if it stands the test of time better than before.

The 2017 i30 certainly ought to stand impacts better, due to a stronger yet lighter steel that promotes improved refinement properties as well as crash structures, while concerted Australian engineering input has gone into the steering and suspension tuning.

Right now only the base Active from $20,950 plus on-road costs scores the new-to-series ‘Nu’ 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, offering 120kW of power and 203Nm of torque, usurping the old model’s 107kW/175Nm 1.8. In lieu of the standard six-speed manual is a conventional six-speed auto from $23,250.

Hyundai is attempting to woo buyers with across-the-range satellite navigation, integrated in an 8.0-inch touchscreen, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto on/off headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels and a five-year warranty.

Note that for now, while seven airbags are included, AEB autonomous emergency braking is only available in upper-end models.

Interior

If the exterior is sober and restrained, the very Audi A3-esque interior walks the fine line between form and function with brilliant conviction, due in no small part to the superbly designed and executed dashboard that serves as a stern example of how to do it right. Even in entry-level Active guise.

What’s to criticise? Even the plastic steering wheel feels AOK. While there are plenty of shades of grey, the angles and materials catch enough light to create interesting textures. Everything is beautifully built too. And rejoice! An old-school manual handbrake is fitted!More importantly, Hyundai has thought of everything for the front-seat occupants. Ultra-clear dials backed up by equally vivid digital data firm but inviting front seats (with multi-adjustable head rests) a perfect driving position (tilt/telescopic steering column helps) acres of storage torrents of ventilation and ample all-round vision. The ergonomists have had their say in here.

For a base Hyundai, some surprise and delight elements abound, such as a wiper setting display in the central info screen, digital radio, visor lights for both sides, twin 12V outlets with a secure recess for devices, sunglasses holder and those alloys, which make the Active seem more high series than plain old hubcaps.

Moving to the back, entry/egress is fine. Overall space is sufficient, though somewhat tighter than, say, the latest Honda Civic hatch, and befitting the cheapest version, the ambience isn’t overwhelmingly inviting. Perhaps the most obvious omissions are the lack of face-level air vents and USB charging ports.

However, the back seat is certainly comfortable enough, there’s an airiness to it due to the six-light window and deep-ish side glass that lowers almost all the way down, while owners ought to appreciate the hefty centre armrest with deep cupholders, overhead grab handles, coat hooks galore, two Isofix fittings, capacious door pockets and overhead light. Plus, the i30 avoids the pungent off-gas stench that often blighted some past Hyundais. Cheap it isn’t.

Finally, the luggage area is usefully large and features an unusually deep floor (despite a full-sized spare living underneath), with a fairly low and wide aperture, a pleasingly sturdy parcel shelf and – helpfully – a bright light and strap-down hooks.

Speaking if illumination, the dashboard’s night-time lighting borders on the overkill, even if it can all be toned down to merely Mardis Gras level of dazzle. More annoyingly, there are significant levels of road noise droning through over particular bitumen, though that may be more the fault of the tyres. More on that a bit later on.

Engine and transmission

Muscular, torquey and yet also eager to rev, the i30’s 2.0-litre GDI direct-injection four-cylinder atmo petrol engine is a right fit regardless of transmission choice.

Quick off the line – perhaps too much so for the hard and unyielding Kuhmo Ecowing ES01 205/55R16 91H tyres due to their lack of traction – the Active is a fast yet fairly refined point-to-point performer with enough in reserve if you’re willing to plant your foot. Do so and the Hyundai’s turn of speed is surprisingly strong.

Boasting an almost unburstable feel, there’s little hesitation and plenty of punch on offer across the broad rev range should the need to accelerate forward quickly arise. Yet, at 100km/h the tacho is sitting at around 2000rpm and all is peaceful.

We’re a little less impressed with the base i30 auto’s fuel consumption, however, with our numbers hovering around the mid-to-high nines (L/100km), though the lusty nature of the 2.0 GDI does encourage spirited driving.

Which is where the standard six-speed manual gearbox really shines, being arguably Hyundai’s finest ever as a result of a firm and definite shift action that’s never a chore to use. In contrast, the six-speed torque-converter auto isn’t quite as responsive as the best of the rival automatic transmission varieties, but it certainly is smooth and sure enough.

Ride and handling

Along with the interior design, the i30’s chassis is the next big forward step, even if all non-SR cars are stuck with a torsion beam rather than a multi-link rear suspension set-up.

Steering first. Yes, it remains muted in terms of feedback and response, but now the helm is decisive in its tune, as well as isolated (at last) from rack rattle, so the driver simply points and shoots through corners with no drama.

Doing so also reveals handling that’s poised yet planted, as well as unfussed by ruts and other road irregularities. These are very welcome newfound traits.

The latest i30 is an easy and safe car to hustle through tight turns for another reason as well. Finally Hyundai’s Australian suspension tuners seem to have figured out the right amount of stability and traction control intervention whereas previously it was all a bit sudden and on/off, curtailing seamless progress, now the electronics intervene more subtly. This is most obvious on gravel roads, where there is no real nervousness or uncertainty at higher speeds.

Generally the Active’s ride is commendable too, ably dealing with speed bumps and the like. However, some of the smaller-frequency stuff like train tracks make themselves felt, revealing an underlining firmness to the PD’s dynamic set-up. Better Euro rival set-ups from the Golf and Peugeot’s cruelly underrated 308 show that Hyundai still has a way to go before it nails true suspension comfort.

Where we’ve found real cause for concern is in the wet, and we think it’s because of the tyre choice. The Active’s standard Kuhmo Ecowing 205/55R16 rubber grip limits on damp roads isn’t as high as others we’ve tried, while they seem to be too prone to transmitting surface noise through to inside. The resulting droning is tiresome, and well off the pace compared to the class best (that’s the Golf again).

Perhaps better quality tyres might quieten things down significantly? We hope so.

Safety and servicing

Like its predecessor, the i30 Active is a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rater.

It is also a recipient of Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and 12-month roadside assistance regime, with capped-price servicing program costing $259 for the first three checks. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km.

Verdict

In the market for a Toyota Corolla in the sub-$23,000 small hatch category? Don’t buy before considering an i30. The same applies for potential Mazda3, Ford Focus, Holden Astra and Honda Civic buyers.

A class act, this is the first time we’ve been able to say this about the Hyundai. The base Active – especially as a manual – is a cracking buy. Much to like and very little not to (except for the crummy tyres), it shows that the series, like the brand, has really come along in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years.

The i30 may well be the best Hyundai available right now.

Rivals

Holden Astra R from $21,490/$22,490 auto plus on-road costs
The German-engineered, Polish-built Astra K rates highly for its exceptional value, great design, impressive packaging, sporty performance and sharp dynamics. It deserves more success, though AEB does add $1000 as part of the essential Driver Assistance pack.

Mazda3 Neo $20,490/$22,490 auto plus on-road costs
Sporty to look at and fun to drive, the Neo is also compellingly priced and lacks for nothing really. A minor facelift in 2016 made it quieter, better equipped and even better through corners. AEB is standard. It’s one of Australia’s best-sellers for good reason.

Ford Focus Trend $23,390/$24,390 auto plus on-road costs
Better than its heavy-handed styling suggests, the Euro-engineered and Thai-made Focus is packed with standard kit (but AEB isn’t available in the base Trend), steers like a sportscar, rides beautifully and is rewarding to punt around quickly.

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