2017 Hyundai i30 Active, Elite and Premium review

The 2017 Hyundai i30 is a more appealing entry level small car than the Mazda 3 or Toyota Corolla, but can the higher grades step up to the plate as well? Here are our first impressions on Australian roads.

After a long build-up, including an overseas preview drive, we’ve finally landed behind the wheel of the all-new 2017 Hyundai i30 range on Australian roads.

Here we’ll take our first look at the entry i30 Active version that will once again account for the majority of sales, as well as the comfort-focused models called i30 Elite and i30 Premium that add luxury bits, active safety tech and diesel power.

For initial impressions on the sportier SR and SR Premium derivatives that round out the five-model range, with their 150kW punch and fettled independent rear suspension, read our separate review here.

The launch of this new-generation 'PD' i30 is a significant event, given its predecessor was often Australia’s top-selling car. Even at the end of its life - thanks to discounting - the old i30 still sat in the top five alongside the Corolla, Mazda 3, HiLux and Ranger.

Just as the first i30 in 2007 redefined Hyundai in its day, and the second bought new style for the brand in 2012, this third iteration is billed as a game-changer. Every facet is better, claims the Korean company.

It needs to be good to compete not just against the Corolla and Mazda 3, but also impressive new-generation rivals launched inside the past six months, including the Subaru Impreza and Honda Civic hatch (about to go on-sale).

Stylistically the new i30 isn’t as adventurous as its predecessor, trading in the aggressive curves for a more rounded and mature look. It’s handsome, though, and the new grille makes the right first impression. Dimensionally, it’s about bang-on with the Corolla.

The cabin largely ticks the right boxes, too, with a far more elegant and contemporary look, more horizontal in layout and cleaner, with spot-on ergonomics and decent seat bolstering.

Key is the 8.0-inch tablet screen standard on every member of the range, fitted with satellite-navigation, SUNA traffic updates, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. That’s notably more than you get in a Mazda 3 Neo or Corolla Ascent.

It’s a real selling point on a car that kicks off at $20,950 before on-road costs, or $22,990 based on Hyundai Australia’s public drive-away calculator, and should persuade a few people who got used to the old car’s slashed $19,990 drive-away pricing to plunge in.

This price is for the 2.0-litre petrol version with six-speed manual gearbox. The six-speed auto model is $2300 more. Active buyers can also get the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel for $23,450 before on-road costs (manual) or $25,950 (seven-speed dual-clutch automatic).

Other standard features on the new i30 Active include a reversing camera and sensors, cruise control, digital speedo, seven airbags, five-star ANCAP rating, alloy wheels and hard-wearing cloth seats with driver’s height adjustment. Metallic paint is $495.

MORE: 2017 Hyundai i30 pricing and specs

There’s not much to dislike up front, aside from the cheap-feeling urethane steering wheel and some fairly average-grade plastic scattered about. It lacks the premium feel of a Golf, but makes up for it in the value stakes and more that holds its own against volume-sellers.

Back seat room is around the mark with the Toyota and Mazda, but if you regularly carry four passengers, the Civic or Impreza will suit you better. Or a Tucson crossover, for that matter. The base i30 Active also misses rear vents, though most other variants get them.

Cargo space is a good 395 litres, and there’s a full-size spare wheel as standard. Tick.

If you want more luxury stuff, you can look to the i30 Elite or i30 Premium, both of which only come with the diesel engine for the time being — despite Australian sales data showing an overwhelming preference in the small-car class for petrol.

The Elite costs $3000 more than the Active diesel DCT with the same drivetrain at $28,950, and adds Hyundai’s SmartSense package that includes AEB with pedestrian detection that works even at highways speeds, blind-spot warning, lane-change assist, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.

The SmartSense pack is why the Elite and Premium only get diesel, because Hyundai’s head office globally has yet to roll it out on the petrol engine. We suspect it will happen, and happen quite soon. But there’s nothing official yet.

Once this occurs, you can also expect to see SmartSense offered as an extra-cost option on the Active — though it’s clearly a little disappointing for us (and for Hyundai Australia, which is at the mercy of HQ overseas) to not launch with tech such as AEB on all variants.

The Elite also adds 17-inch alloys, leather seats, a better digital instrument display, Android wireless charging pad (for compatible devices), climate control, electric park brake, luggage net and keyless start. That’s a lot of gear for $3000, though without a petrol option it may struggle.

Ditto for the i30 Premium diesel DCT which costs a further $5000 at $33,950, and adds LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, and heated and cooled seats. You’re getting up towards mid-sized car money here. The Golf makes more sense in this echelon, frankly.

We’ve mentioned the petrol and diesel engines, but skimped the details.

The 2.0-litre petrol makes 120kW at 6200rpm and 203Nm at 4700rpm, which outguns the Mazda 3’s 2.0-litre and the Corolla’s 1.8. Claimed combined-cycle is a middling 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle, though it’ll happily drink cheap 91 RON fuel.

It’s perfectly adequate for an entry engine, either in manual form or with the six-speed torque-converter auto that most people will buy, with sufficient pulling power to overtake and plenty of refinement at 110km/h. It lacks the mid-range of a small turbo like you’d get in the Ford Focus, Holden Astra or Golf, but it’s fine for urban driving.

The 1.6-litre turbo-diesel makes 100kW of power but a very healthy 300Nm of torque with the DCT from 1750rpm (or 280Nm with the manual), giving it ample mid-range surge and an even more relaxed manner for cruising at high speeds. There’s little in the way of coarseness or vibrato.

Fuel use is also about 50 per cent lower than the petrol at 4.5L/100km, so high-milers might make an economic argument for it. Reassuringly, the DCT — which is just like Volkswagen’s DSG from the Golf — also feels relatively well calibrated, largely free of urban ‘jerkiness’ on our brief introductory drive.

The other big story with the new i30 is the Australian ride and handling calibration work, conducted in NSW to localise the vehicles compared to their soft and wallowy Korean cousins.

The team assessed extensive data from 168 test-drive data runs involving 208 different damper specifications, front and rear. Also tested and assessed were seven different anti-roll bar combinations together with 13 spring set combinations.

True to form, as we have seen on recent offerings like the Elantra and Tucson, the i30 offers a pretty good dynamic balance between ride comfort and sharp cornering. The car stays flatter through corners against lateral inputs and has more resistant steering than before, with a faster rack, to suit Australian-market tastes for engaging character.

Few people will ever drive the proverbial wheels off their i30 Active, but we had a good fang about nevertheless and found it more than competent, albeit not quite at Focus levels — unlike the great i30 SR range — despite the less sophisticated torsion-bar rear end.

The ride errs towards firm but never crashes or loses its cool over big hits and square edges. The one area we weren’t entirely sold on was road noise insulation, with some tyre drone from the base Kumho economy-focused tyres making its way into the cabin.

We’ll need more wheel-time to make a final call, but the i30 isn’t shamed by the Astra, Impreza and Civic — though a comparison test is certainly needed. Against the Corolla and Mazda 3, the car will definitely hold its own.

Cost of ownership is always a Hyundai strength, and the i30 brings the familiar five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, roadside assist plan and lifetime advertised servicing prices to the table — the latter with good 12 months/15,000km intervals at $259 per visit (petrol) or $299 (diesel) for the first three years.

On first impression, the 2017 Hyundai i30 Active, Elite and Premium range does an above-average job for a bread-and-butter small car.

There are flaws such as the lack of active safety at base level, the lack of petrol power for higher grades and the modest rear seats, but the cabin layout, value for money and driving character are all better than before, and the ownership should prove painless.

We’d be inclined to award the i30 Active and Elite a solid 8/10 apiece, though the Premium doesn't float our boat nearly as much. We'll be conducting more thorough reviews of each variant once they come through our garages, but first impressions are good.

Click through to our gallery for more images of the new-generation i30.


Podcast

Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Hyundai i30 below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.