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Car reviews - Hyundai - i40 - Active CRDi

Launch Story

5 Apr 2012

HYUNDAI has made no bones about the fact that it has designed its all-new i40 Tourer with the European market in mind – a market where the world’s fastest-growing car brand has historically underperformed.

While Europe may fall short of the US and China for sales volumes, a strong presence there brings something less quantifiable to the table. To conquer it brings with it a sense of respectability.

Consider these figures: Hyundai’s worldwide market share in 2010 was 5.2 per cent, enough to make it the fifth-largest global automotive brand, but in Europe, despite having achieved its best figures throughout the first half of 2011, its market share remains a comparatively low 2.8 per cent.

The i40 Tourer is what happens when a highly ambitious brand tasks its considerable resources with rectifying this issue.

The car was designed and engineered at its German headquarters in Russelsheim and has what it claims to be a more “polished and sophisticated interpretation” of its ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ styling language, as well as a focus on driving dynamics.

This is important because an approach like this also bodes well for the Australian market. After all, the modern-day shining lights of the medium segment – and there have been several – have all embodied this sort of European bent.

Think Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. All feature good driving characteristics, handsome exterior styling and a touch of class for those chasing more than basic family transport.

Sure, none have come close to toppling the Toyota Camry in overall sales, but take away the big Toyota’s fleet dominance and it becomes a much closer race. The message is clear: Private buyers more often than not want something with form alongside function.

The big question here, then, is whether Hyundai’s latest model addition can join this list of luminaries and speak to the hearts and minds of these sorts of car buyers.

And first impressions are pretty good.

It is the cleanest execution yet of the ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ theme, with a less chintzy grille than the more US-focused (and ever-so-slightly larger) i45 sedan that forms the other half of Hyundai’s attack on the medium-size car segment.

The Tourer’s proportions are also spot-on, with a long rear overhang and aggressive front flanks making for a stylish family wagon, while the swooping and angular lines of the car give an impression of constant movement.

Inside, the wagon’s storage space is on par for the segment. Hyundai claims the Tourer can store 553 litres with the 60:40 split rear seats upright and 1719L when folded, about the same as the Mondeo (542L/1733L), Mazda6 (519L/1751L) and Passat (565L/ 1731L).

Folding the rear row of seats is as easy as moving a simple latch, although they don’t quite fold perfectly flat into the floor.

Higher-specified Elite and Premium variants also get very handy luggage rails to organise and secure loose luggage in the back, so a big tick there.

Furthermore, the rear seats are a nice place to sit, offering good bolstering and excellent legroom. They also feature a two-step reclining function and – in flagship Premium guise at least – are even fully heated.

The downside of the high-waisted, aggressive exterior styling is the small back window, which may feel a touch claustrophobic for children. And, while the panoramic sunroof in the Premium variant may look and feel fantastic, it notably hinders headroom throughout the cabin.

Hyundai may be in the process of shaking off its bargain-basement image like a pet dog emerging from the family pool, but it has by no means left the cupboard of standard features bare.

Standard equipment on the base, fleet-friendly Active variant (from $32,490 plus on-roads for the manual version) includes an MP3-compatible sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth compatibility, steering wheel audio and phone controls, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, full-size spare wheel and automatic headlights with daytime-running lights and static cornering function.

All variants also feature a hefty nine airbags and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

However, it should be noted that Mazda recently cut the price of the ‘6’ wagon to $34,750 (plus on-roads) for the well-specified automatic Touring variant, which features leather seats with memory, parking sensors and climate control.

The Premium variant’s sticker price, which starts at $44,990 and climbs to $46,490 for the diesel-powered version, might also be an example of Hyundai’s reach toppling its grasp.

In defence of the Premium, it does offer genuine luxury car touches like heated leather seats both front and rear, air ventilation and memory settings in the front, panoramic sunroof and a rear-view camera integrated into the rear-view mirror.

It must be said, though, that the lack of an in-dash touch screen with satellite navigation is a glaring omission, and one which cheapens the overall look of the fascia on higher-specified models.

The high-class interior also gets swathes of soft-touch materials on all the major contact points (dash surface, door trims and centre console), which pays further dividends by keeping engine noise and interior creaks and rattles to a minimum. Even the chunky black and silver key-fob feels nice and heavy.

There is storage aplenty, too, with a large centre console and numerous cubby holds throughout the cabin, including full-size bottle holders in the rear side doors and a hidden compartment under the rear load floor (and above the full-size spare wheel, something that is sure to appeal to long-distance drivers).

The electric park brake also frees up space in the centre console.

The buttons and dials throughout have a nice tactile feel, with the strange exception of the cheap-feeling headlight dial.

The interior is also let down by the liberal use of glossy piano-black highlights on the instrument panel. These may look great in the showroom, but they were already showing an array of scuffs and scratches on our low-kilometre test cars, so it’s hard to see them retaining their lustre down the track.

Hyundai claims that the i40 Tourer underwent thousands of kilometres of local testing to refine the car’s springs, shock absorbers and stabilisers for Australia’s unique road surfaces, so it was appropriate that our drive took in a combination of fast and twisting passes and unsealed back roads through Victoria’s scenic Yarra Valley.

On first impressions, the local tuners can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The i40’s ride is smooth and supple, and consummately handled most of what we threw at it.

We felt, however, that the ride in the diesel-powered car was less refined, likely due to the impact on the car’s balance stemming from an extra 70kg sitting over the front wheels.

The electric power steering is super-light around town at low speeds (and for parking), but firms up nicely at speed, providing an unusually high amount of road feel for this sort of system. Turn-in is crisp and the excellent Hankook tyres must take some of the credit here as well.

Hyundai’s new direct-injection 2.0-litre petrol engine is decently smooth and refined, but lacks the mid-range torque and overall punch of the sparkling turbocharged engines in the Mondeo and Passat.

With a modest 213Nm of peak torque arriving at a high 4700rpm, overtaking means really grabbing the car by scruff of the neck. It is by no means slow, but falls short of the class benchmarks.

This isn’t helped by the auto transmission, which is smooth and fuss-free but far from the quickest-shifting in the segment. A widely-expressed sentiment at the car’s launch was that a dual-clutch transmission such as Ford’s Powershift or Volkswagen’s DSG would be a real Godsend.

The presence of an ‘auto hold’ feature across the range is a great addition, though. A flick of the switch stops the car from creeping forward when the car is stationary and in ‘D’, making the burden of stop-start driving a little easier on the right foot.

The overly-regulated and limited paddle shifters showed no sign of being more than a gimmick (it wouldn’t let us downshift from third to second until we hit 58 km/h, for instance), while the in-dash ‘Sports’ button didn’t noticeably affect shift times, either.

Fuel economy was respectable with careful driving, but the rev-happy nature of the engine pushed the figures up.

A better bet is the turbo-diesel engine option, which despite its humble 1.7-litre capacity had no trouble carting the family wagon and two hefty occupants across the 60km drive route.

We noticed very little turbo lag over the rolling and hilly roads, and the extra 100Nm of torque over the petrol made this a much more agreeable companion for – here is where the car’s name becomes appropriate – touring.

It’s not especially quick, and doesn’t pin you to the seat like some European diesels (or the Hyundai Group’s own diesel donk from the Santa Fe for that matter), but it is refined, frugal and acceptably brisk.

There was also barely a trace of diesel clatter from inside the well-insulated cabin, and the relaxed automatic was more suited to the lower-revving diesel engine.

Finally, and this is where the benefit of diesel becomes apparent, we couldn’t get the trip meter to display a consumption figure higher than 7.5L/100km – and that was certainly not for lack of trying. For our money, it would be worth the extra $2000 Hyundai charges.

Unfortunately, we were unable to try the six-speed manual variants.

In summary, the i40 is a very promising effort from a highly ambitious car-maker. It looks great, rides and handles well courtesy of its local tuning, has a stylish, spacious and well-built interior, and represents a value equation on par with its main rivals.

And Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty should also be a pretty big carrot for the average buyer.

The most notable weak points include the petrol engine which, while being far from bad, falls short of the class-leaders, the slow-shifting automatic transmission and the lack of satellite navigation on even the flagship Premium variant. Some buyers may baulk at paying up to $46,490 for a Hyundai passenger wagon as well.

Despite these gripes, the i40 remains very impressive, and one which feels right at home rubbing shoulders with the cream of the medium-size wagon crop.

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