Playing to its full potential? Two sides of Hyundai i30
Rock solid buy but it's dull in parts
The new Hyundai i30 hatchback reminded me of a footballer I knew. He was good, worked hard and according to shrewd observers, who know these things, he showed 'great potential'.
If the last Hyundai i30 was a footballer on the way up, then the new one - just on the market here - should by all measurements of progress be shining in the first team now.
After driving it, I think it is in the first team squad with the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Opel Astra, to mention three stalwarts of the small-family hatch club.
But has it made enough strides to have the others worrying about their names being first on the team sheet?
Put it another way: has it made the step up from 'good' to 'better' sufficiently to drag you away from your Golf or your Focus? I'll tell you what I think in a moment, but before that I'll tell you something else, regardless of what anyone says: It will sell. People will buy. Because it is a Hyundai hatch and the brand is, to coin another sporting phrase, 'on fire'. It sells cars at a phenomenal rate these days. It has gone from being Division 2 to Division 1 in next to no time.
But can the new i30 be another match winner like the Tucson SUV that was the country's top-selling model last year?
Initially, I have to say I was quite disappointed. My test car was dull black and I felt the design was not even moderately enterprising. The cabin was dull, too, enlivened only by the protruding touchscreen interface. I'd describe the layout, the colour of materials, the overall impression as conservative.
I can understand that to an extent because as a car matures, an automaker feels less need to play to the gallery, especially if, in this case I suspect, they are trying to move it 'upmarket'. And who says the Golf is a wonderful example of revolutionary design? Yet, I still say this was an opportunity missed by Hyundai to take the game to the established pros and rattle them; show it had confidence in its own ability to score highly on looks.
Pretty negative so far, am I not? Well that was my sense of things early on.
Over the following few days, however, as the kilometres sped by, hidden abilities emerged. Driving it over some awful roads on short, sharp journeys, on stretches of motorway, I became better acquainted with its abilities.
Here was a car that felt like a German motor: strong, sturdy and assured in mopping up and absorbing bumps and lumps (tyres played their part too). It managed the difficult task of mixing solid and pliant suspension. Not alone that, but when pushed hard, it seemed to get even better - a good sign. It wasn't far off the Golf or Focus in feeding back that on-road assuredness, though it did not have the Ford's agility. I was seeing it in a much different light. This car can slug it out with the A team. It mightn't beat them all the time, but it is not going to be hammered 3-0. It is too cautious for me; my preferences would have been for something with edge (in fairness, a snorting performance model is planned). But buyers will look at this version and reassure themselves they are getting into a solid, roomy, reliable hatch that carries a five-year warranty; they will not be too worried about the aesthetics. It will stand comparison with the top cars because it has been made that way; it is a bluer-chip buy now; a more proven scorer of, albeit unspectacular, goals but as the cliché-afflicted sports commentators say: they all count.
And you can expect your Hyundai salesperson to energetically compare equipment levels with rivals. I'll leave that to them because I've had a look at the bewildering comparisons; I had to sit down with a mug of tea to steady my nerves.
For all that, I'd have loved something to get a bit excited about. Sure, it carries hues of the larger i40 and, I feel, the Audi A3. But the i30 could have blazed its own trail and conformed less. Or is that the next step?
Maybe I expected too much? Talk of potential can do that.
It is well set up, does the basics better than most, has plenty of rear room, a good boot and a fine 1.6-litre diesel engine. I worked it hard yet it yielded 6.1l/100km (excellent because there were long periods of near-static driving).
So by the end of my week, I had made a stronger case for buying it and a less convincing one for not doing so.
Yes, I would buy it. Why not? I wouldn't expect it to give me a minute's trouble and it has all the hallmarks of a hard-wearing, comfortable motor.
It's good; it's even better than that in some areas. But is it as good as it should be? Ultimately, I didn't think so. It's got the potential to be so much more.
Just like that footballer I knew.
Facts & figures
Hyundai i30 small-family hatchback; 1.6-litre diesel, 110bhp, 99g/km, €180 road tax; 6spd gearbox.
Price: From €22,745 for 1-litre turbo petrol; 1.6-litre diesel from €24,495. Delivery, related charges extra.
Standard spec includes: dual-zone climate control; cruise control/speed limiter, driver attention alert, Autonomous Emergency Braking, 16ins alloys, front fogs, lane keep assist; LED daytime running lights, electric and folding mirrors, rear parking assist; rear-view camera, electric windows.
Deluxe-Plus adds 8ins touchscreen, Android auto and Apple Car Play, sat nav.