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Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - Premium

Our Opinion

We like
Modern styling, standard features, appealing cabin, practical layout, long warranty, diesel efficiency, six-speed auto slickness, easy to drive and live with
Room for improvement
Firm ride on 17” wheels, bouncy rear over bumps, skittish braking over half bitumen/gravel, shallower side glasshouse than before, headroom-stealing sunroof, low-res reverse camera

Hyundai logo21 Sep 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MEET one of the world’s top ‘average’ cars.

By this, we mean that few vehicles in the mainstream Australian small-car segment offer the kind of showroom appeal of the new flagship i30 variant.

Stylish, sharply priced, generously specified, appealingly detailed, technically modern, extremely economical, and easy to live and – for $32,590 – heaving with standard equipment.

Some of the features on this car are high-end luxury-car stuff, including full-length sunroof, satellite navigation, reverse camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an electric driver’s seat, xenon headlights with washers, rear air vents, an electric park brake, and three settings for the power steering system – Comfort, Normal and Sport.

A similarly specified Ford Focus Titanium TDCi is almost $5000 more expensive minus the sunroof (though that does include park-assist steering), while the equivalent equipped Volkswagen Golf TDI is well beyond $40,000 mark.

And before you scoff at us comparing a Hyundai with such small-car luminaries, this second-generation hatch was designed and developed in Germany as well as in South Korea.

But the real question is this: besides equipment levels (and two years extra factory warranty), does the most expensive i30 cut it against the aforementioned class-leaders?

That $32,490 (before on-roads) asking price isn’t peanuts for a brand that once thrived on driveaway tactics.

Away from the brochure spin and gloss, some will be disheartened to learn that the old car’s multi-link rear suspension has been binned for a cheaper torsion beam item.

So let’s begin there, because it sums up Hyundai’s curious attitude towards its global C-segment hatch.

In the Premium CRDi as tested, the i30 is equipped with 225/45 R17 tyres, which provide plenty of surface grip in all kinds of conditions.

But the suspension feels like it needs more spring travel to soak up bumps better, for the ride seems stiff. Except on smooth roads, the Premium’s wheels seem to act as jolt and noise conduits.

Plus, while turns can be taken quickly thanks to the car’s flat cornering ability, the tail becomes a little unsettled once the surface gets bumpy – not enough that it skips off line, but sufficient for it to feel less surefooted. In contrast, neither Focus nor Golf displays such characteristics on the same-sized rubber.

One of our tests involves braking hard at 80km/h on dirt roads (where the Hyundai performed admirably), and another where only the left wheels are on loose gravel while the right ones stay on bitumen most cars pull up straight, and so did the Premium. But when the surfaces were reversed the hard-braking i30 would repeatedly spear to the left. This needs to be looked into.

In every other driving scenario our car performed within more than acceptable parameters.

That three-mode steering, for instance, is pleasantly light in Comfort for city manoeuvring yet still responsive – if a bit devoid of feel – while in Normal it’s a bit heavier yet sharp enough. Sport lends extra heft that will likely better-suit performance-oriented drivers.

But, again, there is little in the way of feedback or finesse – which won’t be an issue for 99 per cent of i30 buyers, but those who want to feel connected to the front wheels will be left, well, wanting. This is no inspired handler.

It’s a shame because the new, uprated 94kW/260Nm 1.6-litre CRDi unit doesn’t weigh the nose down like most diesel engines do in small cars, and displays refinement every bit as impressive as its European rivals.

Plus there isn’t the massive lag that many similar engines suffer from (like VW’s 2.0 TDI), so acceleration from standstill is sprightly, while there’s a very decent wad of torque for the taking from very low revs.

For a small-capacity motor, the i30 relaxes into a gentle stride in top gear (engine barely breaching 1900rpm), so it is clearly tuned for economy. We hovered around the 7.2L/100km mark, and were quite happy with that. Yet even a small flex of your right foot will have the Hyundai whooshing forward with surprising vigour.

Kudos, too, goes to the six-speed auto, which does a great job matching gear ratios to revs. Don’t bother with the Tiptronic-style manual mode, because the software will still change through the gears automatically if you try to reach the red line.

The drivetrain, then, is up there with the best Euro diesels, and eclipses the rather leaden chassis.

Inside, the i30 also makes a convincing case for itself.

From the attractive symmetry of the T-shaped dash, with its quality rubberised plastics and matt silver/piano black finishes, to the electric blue/brilliant white illumination of the instrument dials, there’s a cutting-edge ambience to the way this company presents its cars nowadays.

We’re especially pleased with not only how clear the dials and switches are, but also how nicely damped and finished they feel to the touch. There’s an almost obsessive attention to quality that really puts Hyundai on a different plain to other Asian manufacturers.

Being a Premium, there’s more leather bandied about than in lesser i30s, to help justify the extra asking price, but the whole shebang is really set off by the massive front-to-rear panoramic sunroof, centrally mounted GPS screen, and the proliferation of buttons finished in luminous, glossy goodness.

There’s a fundamental ‘rightness’ to how everything is designed and presented.

Opening and shutting the door (keyless in the Premium, with proximity sensors that activate the puddle lights by the mirrors even as you approach the car) feel good, the driving position is faultless, the wheel is a delight to hold as well as behold and IKEA couldn’t come up with better storage solutions.

Some familiarisation is essential to get the most from the sat-nav system, but even novices will not be intimidated by how easy and intuitive the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming set-up is.

If you’re very tall, you will rue the sunroof and its headroom-hindering ways, particularly if you’re sat in the back. Otherwise, that rear bench area boasts easy entry/egress, a well-thought out backrest, ample foot and knee space, a quartet of cupholders, a duo of tiny reading lights, a pair of knee-high air vents, grab handles and a (shallow) pair of netted map pockets.

Note, though, that the shallow windows make seeing out of a reversing i30 tricky, while the Premium’s standard rear camera is too slow due to its meagre memory on a couple of occasions we were backing up faster than the images would show.

If we were being picky, we’d complain that the large and concise GPS screen is too bright at night, that finding the dimmer setting requires too many sub-menu searches, and that we’d like an auxiliary digital speedo.

Other than those minor items, it is clear Hyundai has worked long and hard to create an appealing and upmarket cabin environment.

We especially like the heated seats, the way the sunroof blinds electrically open and close together with a seamless precision, and the way the music streaming info is displayed and easily scrolled through via the steering wheel buttons.

The boot, too, is useably shaped, aided by split/fold seating, and features an underfloor luggage box as well as a 12V outlet. With the backrest erect is offers a sensible 378 litres, increasing to 1316L with the rear seats folded.

Remember, though, a Golf and Focus are quieter, and feel roomier inside, with more legroom for taller people.

And, as we said in the beginning, they ride with more suppleness while providing a more interactive and dynamic driving experience, which, of course, they ought to, since they cost considerably more.

So, for that reason, the Hyundai isn’t quite there with the class best.

But, as a competent and capable all-rounder with a touch of class, superb diesel economy, and heaps of standard luxury features, the i30 Premium represents compelling buying.

For your undemanding small car owner, then, the Hyundai is king of the averages.

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