Price: $20,000 to $30,000
Five years ago the original Hyundai i30 was a game-changer. It was, arguably, the best car out of Korea at the time and equal in many respects to its Japanese competitors. It also had the all-important advantage of being the well-priced underdog. But five years is a long time and the rules have changed.
The new Hyundai i30 is no longer an underdog and the competitors haven’t been resting on their laurels. Perhaps most crucially, buyers now expect more from Hyundai than ever before, but still in the same value-for-money proposition that made the company popular in the first place.
The company has also claimed that the Volkswagen Golf was one of its key benchmarks when developing the car, so expectations are at an all-time high.
The new Hyundai i30 is a completely different car to the one in replaces. So much so that if you were to park the two side by side, you’d find it a challenge to tell the new model was a successor. Like its larger brother, the Hyundai i40, the i30 is primarily designed for Europeans. This is borne from the styling as well as the experience from behind the wheel.
From the outside there is certainly plenty to like: the new Hyundai i30 looks sharper, cleaner and much more modern than many of its competitors. It was penned under the watchful eye of Thomas Bürkle, chief designer at the Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center, so it’s far less Korean in its appearance than before.
It’s the most recent expression of the company’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ design language first incorporated into Hyundai styling with the Hyundai ix35 compact SUV, with the new i30 featuring multiple lines and creases running through nearly every body panel.
It’s an automotive design trend seen at other car makers, not least the oldest – Mercedes-Benz.
The hatchback’s Australian launch is actually only a few weeks away, but we headed to South Korea to test drive two new i30s around the outskirts of Seoul.
The 105kW/186Nm 2.0-litre petrol in the outgoing model is replaced with a 1.8-litre MPI with a bit more power but less torque (110kW and 178Nm), though the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel will continue in the range with more power and torque (94kW and 260Nm). Transmissions have been upgraded to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic for both engines.
Behind the wheel of the 1.8-litre petrol (with a six-speed manual), the initial feeling is a little lacklustre (similar to our experience in the new Subaru Impreza).
It’s a matter of always being in the right gear at the right time. 110kW of power is sufficient for moving the i30’s ~1300kg mass though you’ll need to keep it in the lower gears if you’re looking for good throttle response.
Like most new models popping into the small car segment, the main focus has arguably shifted from drivability to fuel economy, resulting in specific gear ratios that help save you fuel but can mean less oomph when you need it.
Overtaking on freeways, for example, will mean dropping down to at least fourth gear if you want to pass quickly.
As for fuel economy, the 1.8-litre petrol is rated at around 7.4L/100km in combined city/highway driving for the North American cycle (Australian specifications still unconfirmed). However, given the new Hyundai Elantra is rated at 6.6-7.1L/100km (manual-auto) and has the exact same engine/gearbox configuration (and similar weight), we suspect the i30’s figure to be under or about 7.0L/100km for the official Australian fuel cycle.
Our 1.6-litre diesel i30 test car was equipped with a six-speed automatic, which is a significant improvement over the old four-speeder and in line with the segment competition. With 94kW of power and 260Nm of torque, this is certainly the logical choice in the range for buyers who are happy to pay the inevitable premium over the petrol engine.
When coupled to the automatic transmission, you can instantly feel the difference. The diesel i30 is simply easier to drive, with overtaking manoeuvres or climbing hills a stress-free process. Even so, it has got some way to go to challenge the Volkswagen Golf for diesel supremacy. The German engine and gearbox combination provides better in-gear acceleration and is quicker to respond.
The same diesel engine in the current i30 uses less than 5.0L/100km for the six-speed manual and a bit above when coupled to the ancient four-speed automatic. This is likely to be improved with the new car given the gearbox advancements and overall tune.
Engines and transmissions aside, a popular criticism of recent Hyundai models has centred on steering feel and ride quality (though ironically more so recent models rather than the outgoing i30).
Both Hyundai and sister brand Kia have taken the criticism to heart and have been extensively fine-tuning their recent vehicles, though Kia has been having more consistent success.
Although the two cars we drove didn’t feature the Australian steering or suspension tune (nor were they tested on the substandard roads we have in parts of Australia), they were surprisingly good.
The main improvement is the addition of the flex-steer system, which allows the driver to change between comfort, normal and sport mode. This inherently changes the steering assistance and feedback. With sports mode selected, the i30 is a pleasure to drive with heavy steering and good turn-in response. It’s actually better than the Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which doesn’t have flex-steer), i40 wagon and i45 sedan.
Around Korea’s hilly countryside we were generally pleased with the i30’s overall ride and handling. The manual gearbox is simple and smooth to operate while the six-speed automatic will finally put the i30 in the same league as its major competitors. Although Hyundai does have a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), as offered in the standard Veloster, the i30 will for the time being make do with a standard automatic. Given the company has already built an eight-speed automatic and is working on a 10-speed auto, it’s unlikely that the i30 will find itself behind in the gearbox wars in the future.
The interior has also been subject to much change and a great deal of improvement. Much of the interior’s inspiration comes from the i40, which means a relatively clean and uncluttered design (but a lot of blue). Soft touch plastics and use of largely dark colours are also a welcome change (at least for some).
We suspect satellite navigation will be standard kit on at least the mid- and high-spec models, which will help it match the market-leading Mazda3 that offers the feature from Maxx Sport models upwards, and have an equipment advantage over most other rivals.
The i30’s front and rear seats are comfortable and offer a little bit more room than before. You can cater to four large adults easily and fit in a fifth if you must.
Boot space has slightly increased, which is useful considering Hyundai Australia has decided not to import the new i30cw wagon owing to its single-production facility in the Czech Republic .
Overall, the new Hyundai i30 is a huge improvement over the car it replaces. With the current model range starting below $20,000, Hyundai Australia is likely to keep a similar pricing structure. With a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and an expected list of class-beating standard features, the second-generation Hyundai i30 may make just as much of an impact as the original when it goes on sale in June.