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Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - SR

Our Opinion

We like
Effortless engine and transmission, nippy round town, relaxed on the open road, comfortable seats
Room for improvement
High boot lip, quite thirsty on fuel, could benefit from better tyres, firm ride a bit over-damped

Hyundai logo16 Nov 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

FOR this update, Hyundai upped the price of the i30 SR by $960 to $26,550 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual, with the six-speed automatic transmission option tested here – now with paddle-shifters – continuing to command a $2300 premium.

Sitting above the middling Active X, SR variants gain standard automatic headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, dual-zone climate-control and keyless entry with push-button start.

New leather trim with red contrast stitching and bolster panels are joined by sportier front seats with extra lateral support, while the 17-inch alloys now have a metallic grey finish to match the graphite interior trim and black rooflining fabric. The Phoenix Orange paintwork of our test vehicle is also a new addition.

Although standard satellite navigation has been binned, the i30 SR gains Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity and a new panoramic sunroof option can be had for $2000 extra. The SR Premium has this as standard, along with a raft of other luxuries, for $28,890 plus on-roads (manual).

All i30 variants include seven airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.

Interior

With an all-new i30 revealed at the recent Paris motor show and the current model nearing the end of its five-year product lifecycle, the SR and its stablemates manage to not feel too old-hat inside.

Much of this is down to the mid-life refresh that tidied up and toned down the pre-facelift version’s busy dashboard. Apple CarPlay integration is a boon and well-executed, while the rest of the infotainment setup is typically Hyundai-efficient and easy to use.

The SR’s graphite trim and dark headlining could be interpreted as purposeful or plain. We’re inclined towards the latter. The stitched instrument cowl is a nice touch and we found the perforated leather of the new sports seats to be plush and of high quality. So it is odd that the red bolster accents appeared to be of lower-grade stuff.

Heaps of steering adjustment paired with the comfortable and supportive front seats make a great driving position easy to achieve while providing ample long-distance comfort, although we wish Hyundai would drop the ratchet-style backrest adjuster. Additional side bolstering kept us from sliding about on the seat while carving up a curvy country road.

Up-front storage is plentiful, with lots of room in front of the gear selector provided by a two-tier tray occupying a void beneath the dashboard, furnished with grippy surfaces, two 12-volt outlets and USB/auxiliary inputs.

The glovebox is pretty big, as is the box under the central armrest, the capacious door bins have a drinks-bottle-friendly design and the cupholders are large.

Out back there is less to celebrate, with no central armrest , cupholders or vents. The door bins are smaller than in the front, too, as is their bottle-size capacity. However, rear passengers never complained about a lack of airflow from the front and the dual-zone AC system was effective and easy to use.

Tall adults can sit in tandem – provided the one in the back doesn’t mind ‘manspreading’ – and headroom is fine for the lofty in both outboard positions.

Downsides? The central position is comfort-compromised, and we found attaching an Isofix-compatible child seat a bit fiddly.

With its generous 378-litre boot, the i30 SR remains at the upper end of its class and provided us with plenty of practicality for small family duties. For example, it easily accommodated a large stroller plus picnic equipment.

Unfortunately the capacity comes from the depth of the boot below the tailgate shut-line, which made loading and unloading heavier items a back-troubling chore. We note that Hyundai has addressed this with the new i30.

Compounding the load-lip issue, the 60:40 split rear bench does not fold completely flat. Under the boot floor is a full-size alloy spare. We approve of that.

On the move, the cabin is relatively hushed save for the bump-thump of the firm SR-spec suspension and a bit too much noise, vibration and harshness coming from the engine bay. This is the only area in which the Hyundai really feels a bit old-fashioned and it’s minor enough to be forgivable.

Visibility is good, particularly for parking, although the reversing camera image is not great and hindered rather than helped by the overlaid static distance lines.

Engine and transmission

The Series II i30 SR models caries over the 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that develops 124kW of power at 6500rpm and 201Nm of torque at 4700rpm. That’s 17kW and 35Nm more than the 1.8-litre petrol fitted to other i30 variants.

While just about adequate in the larger Tucson mid-size SUV, this 2.0-litre engine and bestows a relaxed, long-legged character to the i30 in normal driving – especially motorway cruising – and compared with the 1.6-tonne-plus Tucson, having just 1385kg to haul around makes for sprightly progress when battling city traffic or tackling a twisty road. Hills are also a non-issue.

Being naturally aspirated, it is a responsive unit and happy to rev out so the driver can make the most of its peaky torque delivery. In the i30 SR it seldom exhibits low-speed sluggishness and the slick six-speed automatic does a great job of being in the right gear at the right time or kicking down swiftly and intuitively when the driver asks for more acceleration.

The paddle-shifters add a further layer of satisfaction in this regard too, even though there is no true manual mode and the system automatically up-shifts at the redline.

Downsides? Well, the i30 never had the best engine sound isolation and occupants are subjected to a mixture of mechanical thrashing and weird wheezing noises. Evocative it is not.

Neither is it particularly fuel-efficient. We stepped from a turbocharged all-wheel-drive Tucson into the i30 SR and, coincidentally enough, achieved the same consumption figures: 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres on average and 6.6L/100km on the motorway. However, considering the SR’s official combined and highway figures are 7.7L/100km and 6.0L/100km respectively, the figures we achieved were not way out of the ballpark.

Ride and handling

In a perfect example of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, there is no change to the i30 SR’s locally tuned suspension setup.

We initially found the ride a little firm but soon got used to it and, like the bigger engine, it actually lends the i30 the mature feel of a larger car with its surefooted, planted stance in the majority of driving scenarios, particularly high-speed cruising.

It’s not the last word in dynamic finesse – it has a basic torsion beam rear suspension setup after all – but apart from occasionally feeling slightly over-damped and abrupt, the SR rides and handles better than most people would expect from this modest South Korean hatchback.

Put it this way, it feels as though Hyundai’s Aussie tuning arm has wrung every last ounce out of the chassis without making it unbearably firm or spending a fortune on fancy shock absorbers.

Best of all, it’s fun. Regardless of expectations, by the end of our dynamic test route, our grin was from ear to ear. The i30 SR can provide genuine exhilaration, engagement and excitement at legal speeds. We almost went back for a second lap, which is rare.

The i30 SR also corners admirably flat, with great levels of feel and feedback through both steering and seat. We drove most of our dynamic route with the steering set to the meatiest Sport setting, which proved satisfyingly accurate but for a slight mushiness around the centre when making quick direction changes.

After Sport, switching the steering to Normal felt disconcertingly light while driving on twisty roads but fine for all other purposes and Comfort is to be avoided at all costs because it reintroduces the awful, artificial steering gloopiness that marred the pre-facelift i30. On the motorway, Sport mode gets annoying with the effort required to make small lane-keeping adjustments, so it is best reserved for enthusiastic driving.

The stability control calibration is excellent, working with rather than against the enthusiastic driver unless liberties are taken and something bad is likely to happen. Think safety net rather than nanny state. In any case, the i30 SR is a pretty neutral and balanced car to throw about.

Nexen Roadian tyres are never going to top anyone’s shopping list for installation on a sports hatchback, but in the dry conditions of our test they added to the fun, particularly on fast corners but less so on hairpin bends.

Comedy screeching aside, they provide a predictable breakaway and plenty of feedback to the keen driver who likes to dance around the car’s (fairly low) limits of grip.

More expensive tyres would enable the i30 SR to cover ground faster, but we liked that it didn’t hang on all that hard. It’s a bit like how Toyota fitted the 86 with low-grip Prius tyres to enable drivers to exploit the chassis at lower velocities.

That said, we felt braking performance was compromised by the tyres (the SR also tended to pull left under hard braking) and wet-weather performance might be another issue as we’ve had some hairy drives in Korean cars using second-tier tyre brands on wet roads.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP awarded the facelifted i30 a maximum five-star rating with a score of 35.69 out of a maximum 37 points. It scored 13.35 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 15.33 out of 16 in the side impact test and the full two out of two in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’.

Seven airbags (dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee), anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are standard.

Servicing intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, with the first 1500km checkup free. At the time of writing, Hyundai’s lifetime capped-price servicing program quoted $249 for each of the first three pit stops, followed by $349, $249 and $365 for the following three. The convenience of annual frequency and affordability of each visit puts the i30 up there with the best in class for cost of ownership.

Verdict

The SR badge and its sporty connotations work for and against this particular i30. For sure, the enthusiastic driver will enjoy its dynamics but the bigger engine and tuned suspension provided an enhanced everyday liveability that impressed us at least as much.

We fear the sport branding might put people off and cause them to miss out on the best i30 drivetrain. Standard i30s don’t ride particularly well and the SR’s firmly sprung trade-off is more than worth it for the combination of nippiness, surefootedness and fun handling.

Compared with, say, the more expensive Corolla ZR that promises so much visually and delivers so little emotionally, the i30 SR is a much subtler-looking car that punches well above its weight.

It doesn’t have the dynamic polish of a Mazda3 or Ford Focus but fights back with its value proposition, cost of ownership equation and long warranty.

The i30 continues to kick goals in its twilight year and we have no hesitation in recommending the SR to those who want economy daily transport with the ability to provide a bit of fun on weekends.

Rivals

Volkswagen Golf 90TSI Trendline from $26,490 plus on-road costs
Practical, super-refined and just a bit classy, with pleasing handling thrown in for good measure.

Mazda3 Touring from $26,790 plus on-road costs
If dynamics and style take priority over space and comfort the Mazda3 makes a strong competitor.

Toyota Corolla ZR from $29,570 plus on-road costs
It looks like a hot hatch, but the ride is compromised by the big alloys, it is not spacious enough and the promising styling left us wanting when it came to handling.

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