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Raisin the bar for hatchbacks

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HYUNDAI
i30
RATING 85/100

HYUNDAI i30 RATING 85/100

HYUNDAI i30 RATING 85/100

I remember being so bitterly disappointed as a young lad after someone gave me a huge Easter egg. It was a rare enough event to get such a present in those days, believe me. I can still vividly recall the sense of anticipation when I scraped off the silver paper. The smell of the chocolate; the promise of goodies inside.

And then, the awful sense of deception when there was nothing only a few ould Smarties beneath the wafer-thin chocolate skin. Sure, I had the whole thing chomped and swallowed in the time you could say 'household charge'.

I didn't get too many more Easter eggs. Anyway I'd much rather have a good, solid bar of fruit and nut chocolate -- remember how long the big, chunky ones would last as your salivating pals looked on? Now there was something to sink the young teeth into. It did what it said on the wrapper.

I like my cars that way, too. It doesn't always happen, you know. A lot of the time they are not on the inside what they promise on the outside.

How did the Hyundai i30 do, considering I liked the look of it on the outside? (Something about it in black appealed to me.) The last one didn't look nearly as well at all but was not bad inside. However, it never really took off for some reason.

This new 5dr hatch is not flashy but has that modern design that mixes smart with strong, edges with curves. No big promises hinted at here, no subliminal visions of delicious treats. So when I sat in there was no Easter egg disappointment flashback (I think the memory will never leave me).

Instead, Hyundai served up a smart, modern cabin with more room perhaps than its outward dimensions suggest. The big thing to look out for is the quality of the plastics used on the inside.

For once, I did things a bit backways. After driving for a little while I sat in the back and found decent space for someone of my size, really good headroom. Out front, I got the seating sorted quickly and hardly had to check on what was where on the dash -- always a good sign of well laid out switches and dials.

Of course, there was a fine diesel engine (there is also a petrol) under the bonnet and, of course, there was a six-speed gearbox. We take all that for granted these days. So far so good. Give or take a percentage point or two, the i30 was not strikingly better or worse than three or four of its closest rivals.

That is saying a lot because we are talking about some serious cars here. But what came through most was the sense of solidity of build (it's made in the Czech Republic) and the ability to deaden the reverberations that come through from road surfaces.

Doing that and still keeping a good, lively feel to the steering is the hard part. I think they did well on that score with the i30. Maybe the roads I covered weren't all that awful but there were poor stretches and bad, rickety surfaces.

I'd take a bit from the car overall because the front seats in my test car were a shade too narrow. What's wrong with a decent broad seat?

I'd also take marks from it for a rear tailgate that should open more easily and because they could have had the opening 'button' higher. There was a slot on the fob for the boot but I could never get it to work. Reasonable sized boot, though.

And it could do with a bit more visibility out the rear hatch window -- a common complaint in cars such as this.

However, Hyundai certainly didn't skimp on the 'Smarties' inside. There was lots of comfort and safety stuff. I found it an easy car to drive, park, get into and exit.

But it was the driving that left the best after-taste. The engine had enough power and grunt to make it a satisfying drive while they managed to get a good bit of liveliness into the chassis, so handling was surprisingly good.

Against all that, I could argue that some of the others do as well if not better. The Focus is a formidable handler, the Golf a rock-solid favourite, the Auris a traditional alternative . . . and so on. And, to be fair, the i30 is not that recognisable a name, is it? Well not yet anyway.

But I've no doubt Hyundai would claim to beat rivals on equipment levels overall. And you can be sure it will tell you all about the five-year care deal which, in large measure, takes risk out of purchase.

At times likes these, that sort of reassurance counts for a lot. No wonder other marques are consistently upping their warranty periods.

I think the i30 is a big improvement, indeed, a real new challenger.

A solid bar of fruit and nut rather than a frilly chocolate egg.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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