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Model Tested: Hyundai i45 Elite, four-cylinder, six-speed automatic; four-door mid-sized sedan
Words and pics: Alborz Fallah and Karl Peskett
The new 2011 Hyundai i45 is the Korean company's answer to any and all criticism of the original model launched last year.
It’s not all that often that car companies actually bother to listen to automotive journalists but when your aim is to become one of the largest carmakers in the world, the word complacent isn’t in your dictionary.
When the original Hyundai i45 launched last year, it revolutionised the medium-car segment. It put the fear of God into the Japanese and started a new era (once again) for Korean manufacturers.
Since then, sister company Kia has launched the Optima (which is essentially an i45 underneath) and once again upped the ante. The battle to gain market share in this fiercely contested mid-sized segment is not easy.
The Toyota Camry is still the best selling car in this segment, followed by the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6. So far this year Hyundai has managed to capture 6.4 percent of the segment and it’s done so mostly at the expense of Subaru’s Liberty, which has seen its market share more than halve, from 16 to 8 percent compared to same time in 2010.
So why would you consider a Hyundai i45 over a Toyota Camry, Subaru Liberty, Ford Mondeo and Mazda6? That’s a very tough and at the same time very easy question to answer. Nearly all cars in this segment present excellent choices for different buyers. The i45 however, offers a great deal of kit for your money.
The exterior styling is true to Hyundai’s current design language. It’s not as out-there as the Kia Optima but it’s certainly different enough to be noticed. The front chrome grille finishes a very modern design that can easily be mistaken for a Volkswagen if it wasn’t for the badge.
The rear is more clean and subtle and if you look hard enough you might notice elements of traditional-Jaguar design DNA built in.
As always, looks are entirely subjective but it's worth seeing a Hyundai i45 in person before judging, as they look much better in the metal.
Take a simple walk around an i45 and you’ll quickly realise this isn’t exactly a medium car. If you’re looking for a cruisy family sedan, the i45 has got tons of space inside. You can comfortably fit four adults for long journeys and still have enough room to move around.
Our test vehicle was a Hyundai i45 Elite ($34,590), which sits in the middle of the range. The reason for testing the mid-spec is due to all the under-body additions that have taken place from model-year 10 to model-year 11. Amplitude Selective Dampers have now been introduced on all variants (previously only on Premium) and Hyundai has retuned the front and rear springs to be 15 and six percent stiffer respectively.
The idea was to reduce body roll when cornering and stop pitch under heavy braking. Has it worked? The short answer is yes.
First thing's first, the original 2010 Hyundai i45 wasn’t exactly a bad handling vehicle. However, if you intend to drive a family sedan like a racecar or with extreme enthusiasm, then either you’ve completely missed the point or you’ve bought the wrong car. There is no denying that competitors like the Suzuki Kizashi or Subaru Liberty offer a better overall handling package, but for everyday use the difference between the original i45 and revised 2011 model is almost negligible.
Alas, so important was the media criticism to the Koreans that they had to improve the model and buyers will no doubt benefit from it.
The new i45 feels very similar to the Kia Optima, it’s relaxed, comfortable and absorbs bumps and bad roads rather well. Coming off speed bumps, a slight lack of body control is noticeable however the i45's ride feels good as a result. Its light steering makes it a breeze to manoeuvre around town while the additional sound deadening material means its cabin is now quieter than ever. That said, on coarse chip surfaces, some cabin rumble in noticeable, and on unsealed roads the sound isolation is on par with its competitors.
Driven around the same twisty mountain roads of Brisbane’s Mount Glorious where the vehicle was first launched in Australia, any car enthusiast can easily tell the 2011 model has been significantly fine-tuned over its predecessor.
It no longer feels uneasy in mid-corner stability and although it’s still no Liberty GT or Kizashi AWD, it now leaves the Toyota Camry for dead. Compared directly with its Korean rival, the Kia Optima, it’s hard to tell the two apart, although the Optima’s brakes do have a better feel to them overall.
Thanks to thicker stabiliser bars (+1mm for the front and +3mm for the rear) the i45 doesn’t do much wrong around fast-corners either, and although some body roll is still apparent, there is no longer a sense of falling out of your seat. Better yet, the steering no longer fights you with mid-corner jolts or the feeling that it doesn’t want to do what you want it to. Tighter, faster corners can cause the tyres to howl in pain but grip is still plentiful.
As was said before, unless you plan on driving your i45 around twisty mountain roads at 8/10ths, none of what was just written is even applicable (so if you happen to have bought a 2010 model i45, don’t feel bad). However, no-one is going to criticise Hyundai for improving the i45’s ride and handling, making it more fun to drive. The update is essentially for those of us that just have to go as quickly as possible, even if poor-old grandma is on board.
But, if you’re a normal person that just wants a family sedan that offers good value for money and don’t have a Michael Schumacher complex, what’s so good about the Hyundai i45?
To put it simply, it’s a neat package. Prices start from $29,590 for the Active manual and go all the way to $38,990 for the Premium automatic.
To be realistic, most private buyers would be buying an i45 as an automatic and herein is one of the key strengths of the Hyundai sedan. The Mazda6, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord all have a five-speed automatic whilst the Subaru Liberty and Suzuki Kizashi make do with a CVT. The Hyundai i45 is equipped with a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters (on the Elite and Premium model). The only other popular offerings that can match that are the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat.
The six-speed transmission is engineered and built by Hyundai-Kia group and is one of the smoothest boxes you’ll find. It offers effortless gearshifts and is well-matched to the 2.4-litre four cylinder engine, plus it's adaptive, holding onto gear a bit longer when given some herbs. At low revs it glides from gear to gear creamily, and never shunts or clunks on kickdown.
Speaking of which, the engine might seem small in size if compared to the ones fitted to Aussie-built sedans but in reality it’s quite a punchy little thing. Offering 148kW and 250Nm of torque, the i45 delivers more power and torque than the equivalent model Camry, Liberty, Mondeo, Kizashi and Mazda6, mostly thanks to its direct-injection design. You can’t argue with numbers. And it’s the exact same engine as the one fitted to the Kia Optima.
Around town there is no shortage of power as the i45 gets up to speed very easily, on the highway it’s pretty much the same story with overtake manouevers being a stress-free procedure. Its powerband is relatively high, with peak torque made at 4250rpm and peak power at 6300rpm, but with four adults in the car it still hauls nicely around Brisbane’s hilly roads, making a bit of noise when pushed hard. And if driven sedately, you can easily achieve the combined fuel cycle figure of 7.9-litres/100km. On some long runs we saw it dip below the sevens.
Jump out of a Toyota Camry and in to a Hyundai i45 and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The cabin is not made out of harsh, hard plastics and there is a sense that someone actually bothered to design the interior for humans. The doors and the dashboard are nice to touch and there is even a bit of Volvo interior design in there when you look at the air-conditioning mode controls.
The centre console buttons feel nice to touch and the cruise control and paddle-shifters (even if they are a bit of a gimmick) don’t feel cheap, although there are a few unnecessary cutlines at the sides of the centre stack where the silver accents could have continued through as one piece - it would have neatened up the interior's appearance a fraction more.
Full leather upholstery is standard on the Elite and Premium models and certainly helps lift the i45’s cabin ambience. It's a perforated hide on the seat base and back, and it stays comfortable for even long trips. Seat heating is available on the Premium model, too.
The back seats are comfy and have good knee room and support, plus the lack of a driveline tunnel gives the impression of more width. Headroom in the back is only going to be an issue for those taller than 6ft 2in. The boot is also enormous for a mid-sized car (523 litres).
The 2011 updates have only served to improve what was already a pretty impressive package. Now that it can hold its head high dynamically, there's little reason to cross it off your shopping list. The fact that it has a five star safety rating and that its standard equipment levels are very high (especially so on the Premium model) means it's especially competitive.
Hyundai's mantra to offer the best product possible, by responding to criticism, ensures that its Australia-bound cars are better suited to our conditions than ever. Combine that with a five-year warranty and the i45 remains a popular car that clearly holds its own in the mid-sized segment.