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Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - Elite

Our Opinion

We like
Equipment levels, exterior design, interior presentation, seat heaters, ride quality, five-year warranty, full-size spare, parking sensors and camera, adjustable power steering device, manual gearchange
Room for improvement
Electric steering, audio controls, lack of low-down engine torque

15 Aug 2012

HYUNDAI broke new ground with its European-designed i30 back in 2007, winning over tens of thousands of Australian car buyers and even fleets with its combination of style, practicality and value.

It took Hyundai’s reputation up a notch, putting the South Korean brand on the same page as many of the well-established Japanese brands, and this second-generation hatchback takes the i30 up another notch – to the point where it can fairly be shopped against the likes of the Toyota Corolla and even the Mazda3.

The German-designed body looks like a logical development of the original, yet viewing the two side by side reveals far more significant differences than you would imagine.

Most notable are a more adventurous chrome-bar grille – at least on all versions apart from the more conservative base Active model – while losing the previous somewhat divisive vertical tail-light cluster in favour of a more Mazda-like horizontal wraparound affair that you would have to agree looks more convincing.

In between are modern lines and scallops linking prominent wheelarches over stylish new alloy wheel designs, providing an altogether pleasing overall appearance that looks particularly good in dark colours.

Euro-style door handles, integrated fog lamps front and rear, projector headlights, a sleek rear window spoiler and folding door mirrors provide an extra bit of premium style to the Elite.

Inside, there’s a bit of typical Hyundai bling, though not as much as the Elantra, and the overall feeling is one of conviction. It’s all very nicely styled and presented, good to the touch, feels quite solid and all the switches and buttons work and feel in a quality fashion.

The seats are supportive and comfortable, and getting the right position for the driver is made easier by having seat height adjustment as well as reach adjustment for the steering wheel. It may be designed with women in mind, but larger guys will still be comfortable behind the wheel.

The wheel itself is comfortable and well-proportioned, with simple controls for the audio, phone, cruise control and trip computer functions.

The main audio control centre, of course, is through the touchscreen, and therefore falls into the bewildering category, but the sound quality is strong and clear.

Auxiliary, iPod and USB ports are conveniently located at the bottom of the centre stack, just above an open console where your iPod or smartphone can live and be easily accessed without having to battle with stray cables or looking too far away from the road ahead.

While i30s fitted with the manual transmission get an old-fashioned manual park brake, autos come with a nice modern one-touch electric unit that automatically disengages when you take off.

The six-speed manual transmission – combined with a light and progressive clutch – was a highlight of our week in the i30 Elite, but we were hardly surprised by this after experiencing similar delights driving the Elantra and even the Accent.

Hyundai has hit its straps in the manual-shift department and, while the i30’s self-shifter was perhaps not quite as smooth as those other models, at least on initial take-up, it was a delight to use and again mounted a case for this writer to reconsider a now firmly held preference for modern autos, at least in the case of these Hyundais. Even my partner, who rarely drives a manual, commented on how easy it was to use.

With the 1.8-litre petrol engine in our test Elite, the manual was certainly required because – despite having slightly more power than the previous 2.0-litre unit – there was not much torque on tap at lower revs for any sort of acceleration, so it was necessary to go down a couple of gears as soon as you realised that acceleration was necessary.

From previous experience with the turbo-diesel version, we know this was not a consideration for the oil-burner as low-down torque was always ready to push you forward as required, and the intuitive six-speed auto was a perfect match, always being in the right gear at the right time for fuss-free driving.

Of course, there is a price consideration – the Elite petrol manual starts at $24,590, the turbo-diesel brings a $2600 premium and the auto transmission adds another $2000, taking the total over $29k – but the diesel is not just about saving money at the bowser, it is more about performance. If you haven’t driven a modern turbo-diesel, the instant punch will be a revelation, especially around town, providing a smooth (and not too noisy) and constant push forward when linked with the fast-shifting auto.

We managed respectable fuel consumption of 7.9 litres of petrol per 100km for mostly suburban driving, with a bit of freeway time, which is not too much worse than the official combined figure of 6.5L/100km.

However, that freeway running revealed more wind and road noise than we had expected, which was a shame because the engine was smooth and quiet all the time. We even tried folding the mirrors in, which only increased the wind noise and reminded us why car-makers spend so much time in wind-tunnels perfecting their mirror designs.

Highway driving also highlights the i30’s biggest dynamic short-coming – and Hyundai is not alone here with the advent of electric-powered steering systems that now dominate the automotive landscape – lifeless, disconnected, feeling-free steering.

The i30 at least comes with an innovative three-setting (Comfort, Normal and Sport) adjustment for the steering assistance, selected by a button on the steering wheel, but it does not alter the underlying falseness of electric steering and you are constantly adjusting the wheel to even go straight. It’s as if there is no self-centring, so just hanging on to the wheel and making all those constant adjustments would surely leave you aching on a long country trip especially.

I admit to being more sensitive about steering than other reviewers, but I had to leave the steering on the Comfort setting to avoid heaviness (of the ‘dead’ kind rather than conventional heaviness where you feel the tyres firmly connected to the road). This setting made the steering unnaturally light, yet I still felt weary after a time at the wheel.

Luxury cars with much more expensive systems are better, but still have a way to go, and Hyundai is not the worst at the budget end of the market. Personally, I just haven’t been convinced that electric systems are worth the small benefit they provide in saving fuel.

At less than $25k, the Elite is even better equipped than you might expect for a Korean brand trying to win over Japanese car buyers, boasting such niceties as heated front seats and heated auto-folding exterior mirrors.

This is in addition to climate-control, satellite navigation, parking sensors, a reversing camera, automatic headlights and wipers, and an impressive suite of safety features with no fewer than seven airbags (including for the driver’s knees).

Passengers in the rear seat get plenty of knee and head room, although getting in is compromised for larger people by the slope of the window line.

There is a good size boot – not much smaller than the previous wagon, a body variant no longer available in Australia – that is enhanced by a standard cargo net to stop smaller items sliding about.

Hyundai as a company has proven to be smart and a fast learner, and the latest i30 proves how quickly that translates into better product.

The i30 not only represents great value, but deserves to be considered on its merits as a small car with all the attributes to compete on equal terms with cars from more mature car-making nations.

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