Hyundai's mainstream charge goes on with its sharply styled and highly refined i30, writes Kyle Fortune
VALUE. The single motivating factor that used to drive any new Hyundai purchase. That is simply no longer the case.
This new i30 hatchback -- and the enormous success of its bigger relative, the i40 -- demonstrate that the Korean firm's quest for mainstream respectability is pretty much complete. Hyundai is now a brand that can be convincingly uttered in the same breath as Toyota, Ford and even that bastion of upmarket mainstream hatchbacks, Volkswagen. And the i30 is everything you want from a family car.
The kids will think it's cool; and why wouldn't they? From the dramatic front end with its neat lights and pronounced Hyundai badge, to the sharp lines down its flanks, it is unquestionably a great-looking car. The rear looks great too -- even if it lacks the assertive presence of the nose.
That attention to detail and styling flair has also found its way inside. Gone are the rather lacklustre, hard plastics of the old i30, which have made way for some soft-touch tactility, neat silver-finished inserts and an overall upmarket feel that betters both Toyota's Auris and Ford's Focus for fit and finish. The i30 moves Hyundai on to another level for interior quality and style.
It is spacious inside too, with plenty of head- and legroom, both front and rear. The boot is bigger than a Volkswagen Golf's, whether you've got the seats up or the split-fold backs down. Simple white-on-black instruments and an unfussy centre console add appeal in what is unquestionably a smart and comfortable cabin.
Comfort here can be measured in refinement too, with Hyundai working very hard to produce a family car that's as hushed as the very best inside. Road and wind noise are notable by their absence.
The engines are also quiet, so long as you keep them at sensible revs. That's something of a problem with the 1.6-litre diesel. While it has peak power of 110hp, it's lacking in the sort of effortless mid-range flexibility that typically characterises turbocharged diesels of this size.
It picks up a bit from 3,000rpm, before quickly tailing off again at 4,000rpm, so it requires you to be busy with the six-speed manual transmission to keep up a decent pace.
Still, where it counts, economy, it's hard to beat. Blue Drive technology helps it achieve its impressive fuel-economy figure, with stop-start shutting down the engine when idle.
There is obviously the now must-have gear-shift indicator, dictating to you which of the six gears you should best be in. Follow it religiously and you might manage the impressive official 4.1 litres/100km figure (57.3mpg). Just as useful is that the 109g/km CO2 figure for the 110hp version, which puts it in the €160 Band A for tax.
With that focus on efficiency, it's surprising that Hyundai has bothered to offer its Flex Steer system (standard on Elite Plus models). Utilising the infinitely variable resistance levels of an electrically assisted system, Hyundai offers the i30 with three different steering modes: comfort, normal and sport.
Comfort is too light and lacks any real feel as a result. Normal feels pleasingly, err, normal. And sport adds some heft without any increase in feedback. Leave it in normal and forget you've got a choice.
Do that and the Hyundai steers decently enough -- though pitch it into a corner quickly and the chassis soon reveals that it's set up with comfort in mind, rather than precision.
That's no bad thing on the sort of scarred, underinvested tarmac that passes for roads sometimes, the Hyundai doing a fine job at isolating the driver and occupants from even the most crumbly surfaces.
Equipment levels are, as you might expect, more comprehensive than the mainstream norm against which the i30 competes. LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, a multi-function steering wheel and electrically adjustable heated mirrors feature on both trim levels. But pay €500 more for Elite Plus and you get Bluetooth, alloy wheels, cruise control and a few other bits and pieces.
What's always difficult to ignore with Hyundai is its so-called Five-Year Triple Care plan, including a five-year unlimited mileage warranty, five years' roadside assistance and a five-year health check. That's unquestionably a draw for private buyers and one of the reasons that Hyundai is Ireland's fastest-growing car brand.
The i30 is certain to attract more customers into Ireland's 29 Hyundai dealers. It's unlikely that the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel engine will get the biggest sales, nor will the proposed hot hatch version that's expected to borrow the cool Veloster's turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol unit.
No, it's the smaller 1.4 CRDi engine, with 90hp and 1.4-litre petrol option with 100hp, that will inevitably represent better value for money, as they start at €19,995 and €17,995 respectively.
There it is again, value, the word that used to always be associated with Hyundai. It still is, but only now it's less so as, along with Hyundai's mainstream push, comes a move towards more mainstream prices. Not that the i30 doesn't feel worth every euro Hyundai asks for it, but it's no longer a car you'll pick on price alone. And it's all the better for it.