Wednesday 13 December 2017

Good fit with great kit

RATING 84/100

I don't know much about women's dresses, skirts or clothes generally. Honestly. That whole area is a mystery to me. Occasionally I hear some of the ladies in my family going 'love that' or 'hate that' and keep my mouth shut.

But I do know -- and have seen -- how one dress can be transformed by a hitch, stitch or pitch here or there. It can take a long time but it is deemed worth it as I do know how easy or uncomfortable people can feel in something that just doesn't have that 'liveability' or 'suitability'.

By the same token men's clothes don't really work that way. Either a jacket or trousers are all right or they're not. We (well, those of my generation anyway) don't tend to spend that much time sifting and sizing and wondering and trying on again.

Okay, I admit I'm in sticky territory here so I'll move on.

I just thought it was one way to make the point about how all motorists -- men and women -- are more 'feminine' when it comes to that near-intangible 'liveability' of their cars.

The Hyundai i40 Tourer (estate) is a significant case in point -- but at the same time don't go getting the idea it is some kind of mould breaker or the herald of a brand new future. It is not. It has its faults. I'll come to them.

But I'd like to think it carries a bit of a lesson for us all in that it shows how we are increasingly approaching our cars.

I thought it a good example of the distinction between getting the big things mostly right -- such as engines, space, size, looks etc -- and taking care of the critical smaller elements we spend so much time with every day.

I admit that week in, week out I tend to concentrate on the big things. Of course it is absolutely essential to do so. It is the material upon which the core motoring fabric is woven. However, technical and design proficiency these days are often a matter of nuance and personal preference between the vast majority of cars in a given segment.

For example, most diesel engines (yes there are one or two exceptions) are particularly good at what they do. So are transmissions and, to a lesser extent, space (fine luggage area in this) and suspensions. In other words, within a relatively narrow spectrum of tolerability, most car makers are not far off the mark.

Our choice nowadays comes down to how easy we find it to live with a car, how it 'fits' us as a vehicle and as a monetary proposition. And that is where it is ever more difficult to differentiate.

There are now so many boxes ticked by the strategists on the key 'must haves' that you can narrow down your preferences fairly quickly.

And so to the i40. I think it is fair to say this is Hyundai's first realistic attempt to offer something that really fits into the larger-family car market. They've a lot of boxes ticked, not least the sort of peace of mind that comes with a five-year warranty/care plan.

For now we have just the estate; the saloon goes on sale in December. The estate is large, roomy, practical and stylish with a lot, I mean a lot, of equipment and comfort; there is a decent, frugal, 1.7-litre diesel engine, not a bad suspension and a notable coherence to the package.

So you see what I mean about covering the bases.

Yet it was the little things, the little hitches and stitches if you like, that impressed me -- that stood out. For some reason they made me feel quite at home in this. Not a bad way to feel if you are putting up big mileage.

Hyundai has put an amount of hard work into making the obvious easy. By that I mean switches and instrumentation are where you intuitively expect them to be. So many cars fall down badly on that. As I've written here before, some cars are prohibitively complicated and off-putting with their clutter of pinhead knobs and fobs.

A couple of simple little driving 'aids' are well done here.

Press the little 'hold' button when you start up and when you stop at lights or places like that, the car is automatically held. No jerking up and down of the handbrake (electronic on this as it happens) or quick-feet shuffles from brake to accelerator. No big deal; others have it too. This just worked so well, it made an immediate impression.

I had the more expensive, but probably most popular, Executive version and one of the extra 'stitches' I wanted to tell you about came with it.

There in your rear view mirror is inserted a clear view of everything behind you as soon as you slip into reverse gear.

Neat that. Liked it a lot. Took a lot of stress out of driving. It fitted me well, the i40, but of course there are elements I'd criticise.

Despite its nice looks, I think there is a disproportionality to the design: the wheels seem too small for the deep, long sweeping body -- there's a lot of metal.

I also felt I wanted more absorption of rougher roads from the tyres/suspension and the steering was just a shade on the softer side of feedback.

And a couple of passengers said they thought there was a fair bit of tyre/road noise. I agreed with them.

But on the open highway with a few passengers and bits and pieces of luggage on board, this swept along with a real swish. That is a more-than-decent 1.7-litre diesel which certainly sipped the fuel -- no wonder the road tax is just €104 a year.

Normally we'd be talking about a great price for a Hyundai but those days are over. Now it is all about value and when you look at the level of spec and equipment on this you can see why. Yes it is well priced -- critically it has the stuff to go with it.

They're pushing hard on this and emphasising their five-year warranty.

I think, with one or two caveats, this could 'fit' the bill for quite a few.

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