If the original Hyundai i30 was a game-changer for the South Korean brand, it’s inevitable its successor is faced with great expectations.
It was a small car that transcended Hyundai’s then limited reputation as a builder of good-value vehicles, with a well presented interior, good build quality and competent, if uninspiring, driving manners that took the challenge to Europe’s pace-setters.
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There’s already something more dynamic about the second-generation Hyundai i30 that was designed by the company’s European contingent in Germany, with the hatchback’s styling morphing from a conservative shape to the more adventurous chiselled lines of the company’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ form language.
There’s a steeply raked windscreen, pronounced wheel arches, sweptback headlights, and a rising beltline that contributes to a sportier stance.
The i30’s large, hexagonal grille could also be a visual metaphor for the wave of confidence sweeping through Hyundai as it continues to pose a threat to the usual suspects chasing the No.1 Car Maker in the World mantle – Toyota, GM and Volkswagen.
The new Hyundai i30 range is similar to the original’s line-up, with three trim levels and a choice of petrol or diesel power offered.
Trim levels gain news names, though, with the former SX/SLX/SR replaced by Active, Elite and Premium to make the i30 consistent with the majority of other Hyundai models.
Pricing increases fractionally from bottom to top, with the i30 now starting at $20,990 for an Active petrol manual and the top-of-the-tree Premium diesel auto asking $32,590 – all before on-road costs are added.
All Hyundai i30 variants include seven airbags, rear sensors, Bluetooth/iPod/USB connectivity and touchscreen systems as notable standard features. The latter is a five-inch audio system in Active models and a seven-inch satellite navigation system in the mid-range Elite and range-topping Premium.
Elite models bring the likes of electric folding side mirrors, keyless push-button engine start, one-touch window operation, extendable sun visors, higher-grade steering wheel and gearlever, dual-zone climate control, rear centre armrest, rain-sensing wipers, and reverse-view camera (cleverly concealed inside the rear Hyundai badge that flips when the camera is in use).
If you want a Hyundai i30 with the lot, the Premium trim adds front seats with heating, panoramic sunroof, electronic park brake, auto-dimming rear view mirror, xenon headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels (rather than 16s), and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
As with its predecessor, the new i30 has strong static showroom appeal with a smartly presented interior.
Prod the soft material of the upper dash and upper door trim, run your fingers over the high-gloss black finish of the centre stack or smooth hard plastic of the window/mirror switch surrounds, and there’s a clear sense that Hyundai has set out to imitate the segment’s benchmark cabin that’s inside the Volkswagen Golf.
Same goes for the sense of quality consideration when you depress buttons or rotate switches.
It’s also a practical cabin up front, with a deep console bin, large door bins, tray sections and a well sized glovebox – with a cleverly integrated hatch release button – ensuring the driver and front passenger won’t be left scratching around for places to stow items.
Comfort is also easy to find thanks to seats with a well judged firmness and good under-thigh support, with some decent side bolstering.
Rear passengers aren’t neglected, either. There’s good legroom and headroom (the latter restricted more if a sunroof is fitted), though toe space isn’t as generous under the seats.
The rear bench, matching the comfortable firmness of the front pews, has a deep cushion and is angled slightly upwards to help taller occupants avoid a knees-splayed sitting position.
Moulded rear door bins are divided into three sections including one for bottles.
The boot of the Active model we initially tested is deep and usefully wide, though it’s the only trim to lose out on a full-size spare wheel (there’s a temporary spare instead). It also misses the cargo net of the Elite and Premium models.
Seatbacks fold with the conventional 60:40 ratio and collapse into a fully flat position once the cushions are pulled forward to rest vertically in the footwell.
The Hyundai i30 continues with a torsion beam rear suspension compared with the multi-link set-ups used to great effect by the likes of the Golf, Mazda3 and Ford Focus, though it remains the best-riding and best-handling of the company’s fleet.
The i30 copes better with small lumps and bumps than bigger hits but there is a pleasant suppleness to the ride quality.
Keen drivers will still find more reward from a Golf, Focus or Mazda3 on interesting roads, but the Hyundai hatch has closed the dynamics gap with plenty of composure and grip through bends.
It shows that Hyundai’s efforts to fine-tune the i30’s chassis in Australia have paid dividends.
The steering, too, is good – especially by the usual standards of South Korean cars.
It lacks the fluidity of a Golf, Focus or Mazda3 (yes, it’s those three cars again), but the i30’s steering is accurate and mostly free of the vagueness and inconsistent weighting that all too frequently plague Hyundais (and related Kias).
We’d be happy to give the so-called FlexSteering a miss, though. The system offers three modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport.
While there is a detectable difference between the three settings, Comfort is vague and overly light and Sport overly assisted with artificial heaviness. Just sticking with the default Normal is best.
Active Eco is another mode drivers can select but we’d skip. This retards throttle response to try to help limit fuel use, but in our opinion it’s better to ignore it and simply apply lighter pressure on the accelerator pedal if you’re concerned about consumption.
And if that’s the case, you’ll want to note that the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is the thriftier of the two engines with an official combined consumption figure of 4.5L/100km (six-speed manual) or 5.6L/100km (six-speed auto).
The petrol’s figures are 6.5L/100km (manual) and 6.9/100km (auto).
It also offers more torque (260Nm v 178Nm) and in a more useable point in the rev range than the alternative (and new) 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Diesel variants, however, come at a small cost – a $2600 premium over the equivalent petrol model.
The petrol engine, while not offering spectacular performance, revs smoothly and is more than sufficient for its intended purpose.
The auto, when attached to either engine, also does a good job of selecting the right gear for the occasion. Only when you quickly ask more from the throttle pedal are the changes slower than ideal.
General refinement is impressive, too, and only let down from tyre rumble that can be audible whether the i30 is riding on its 16-inch or 17-inch rubber.
The Hyundai i30 doesn’t break new ground in the small-car class but the new-generation model, backed by a generous warranty and capped-price servicing, certainly solidifies its position as one of the must-see/must-test-drive hatchbacks in the market.