Hyundai Australia understandably made quite a song-and-dance about the i40 when it premiered the model — in Tourer wagon guise alone at first — in October of 2011.
Penned in Germany by a team led by former BMW designer Thomas Burkle, it marked yet another step upmarket for the aggressive South Korean brand. “New Thinking. New Possibilities,” went the accompanying slogan.
Over the car’s life cycle, we’ve seen the addition of the i40 sedan variant in June 2012, the discontinuation of the more US-centric i45 sedan in early 2013 and the subsequent return of its replacement, the reborn Sonata, this February.
And all the while, the most Eurocentric Hyundai has weathered the continued diminution of the sub-$60K mid-sized passenger market dominated by the Toyota Camry. In 2012, total sales from all brands in this once-mighty segment added up to 68,847 cars, but the rise of SUVs has eroded this to 49,517 in 2014. Sales are down a further 4.4 per cent in 2015.
And yet over that time, the i40 has remained largely steady, with market share generally hovering somewhere around 5.0 per cent.
Now it’s time for a mid-life update, that customary spruce-up that car brands generally launch a few years into a model’s life-cycle. And given the hive of activity taking place at this end of the market, it comes not a moment too soon.
In the last six months or so, we’ve seen the arrival of the updated Mazda 6 and Camry, and the all-new Subaru Liberty, Ford Mondeo and the Sonata. Not to mention the new Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat are both launching before year’s end.
So what has Hyundai done? You can read a more detailed breakdown of all the changes here, but it has added equipment to the base variant, subtly tweaked the styling — the new grille is particularly striking — and fitted a brand new DCT dual-clutch automatic to diesel versions to improve what was already excellent fuel economy.
It has also — wisely — dealt with what loomed as an obvious issue of cannibalisation. How? It has axed all petrol-powered versions of the i40 sedan, because that void is already filled by the Sonata. Making the sedan a diesel-only offering makes it unique to the market, and gives Hyundai better segment coverage.
Finally, there’s a range of price cuts of $1500 on all Active variants (diesel sedan, diesel Tourer and petrol Tourer) and $3600 on the Premium variants, reducing the walk-up cost to this spec, from the Active, to about $9000. The mid-range Elite spec has been deleted altogether.
The i40 1.7 CRDi Active sedan now retails for $33,090 plus on-road costs (making it the second-cheapest diesel mid-sized car on sale, after the Holden Malibu), while the Premium 1.7 CRDi sedan is now $41,990.
The 1.7 CRDi Active and Premium versions of the Tourer wagon are $35,090 and $43,990 — $2000 more than the equivalent sedans. That starting price makes the i40 the cheapest diesel-powered mid-sized wagon you can buy.
The i40 Tourer petrol (yes, you can still get a petrol wagon), meantime, now costs $32,490 in Active 2.0 GDi petrol form, making it the new range entry point. The i40 Tourer Premium 2.0 GDi costs $41,390. The starting price makes it the cheapest mid-sized petrol wagon after the Skoda Octavia.
It all adds up to what should make a solid package all the more convincing. But competition for sales in a shrinking market is absurdly tough.
Step into the cabin and you’re greeted by a familiar layout — there aren’t many changes here. Everywhere you look on higher spec Premium variant there’s leather and soft-touch silvery-trimmed plastics, and everything is screwed together beautifully.
The fascia itself is a little narrower and cluttered with switchgear than the Sonata, and bears sharp resemblance in parts to the cheaper i30. But it’s all ergonomic nevertheless. The TFT screen between the dials and the 7.0-inch screen with navigation on the Premium is good, if not great.
The entry Active variant trades in its old dot matrix unit for a new touchscreen — a 4.3-inch unit sans sat-nav. It has all the requisite USB/iPod/Bluetooth connections, and audio storage, but it’s a little titchy and cheap to behold for a pseudo-premium vehicle.
You can read the full specification list here, but some standard highlights on the Active include nine airbags, LED daytime running lights, front/rear parking assist, a new rear-view camera, and an electric parking brake. The Tourer also gets a cargo barrier net, cargo blind and roof rails.
The addition of the reverse-view camera and standard touchscreen are both very welcome.
Some additions on the roughly $9000 pricier Premiums include larger 17-inch alloy wheels (the Active has 16s), the aforementioned bigger screen with sat-nav, panoramic sunroof, Lane Assist (that nudges you back between the line, but only spasmodically), proximity key, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control and 4.2-inch TFT screen between the dials. The Tourer versions also get hands-free electric tailgate opening.
The i40’s seats, especially the lovely heated (but no longer cooled, or heated in the rear, which is a loss) leather ones in the Premiums, are soft and comfortable. In the rear, though, shoulder room, foot room under the front seats and headroom (especially with the Premium’s sunroof) are below class-toppers such as the Sonata and Mondeo.
Back seat passengers enjoy air vents, individual reading lights, good door pockets and outboard ISOFIX anchors. The i40 sedan offers 505 litres of cargo space (with a full-sized spare wheel underneath the cargo floor), while the Tourer offers 506L with the rear seats occupied, expanding to 1672L. There are also excellent loading rails to partition your cargo.
For some context, that’s 24L more than the Mazda 6, but more importantly for segment cross-shoppers, appreciably more than any compact SUV.
Under the bonnet of our test cars was the carryover 1.7-litre turbocharged diesel unit, fettled for a power increase of 4kW to 104kW at 4000rpm, and a torque increase of 20Nm to 340Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm.
The big news is the seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddles that you'll never use, in place of the old six-speed with torque converter, helping to improve fuel economy from a claimed 5.6 litres per 100km to 5.1L/100km on the combined-cycle. We averaged about 6.5L/100km on the launch.
It’s still a very refined engine that transmits few vibrations into the cabin, though it’s no ‘performance diesel’ like the Mazda 6’s 129kW/420Nm unit. It shuffles the circa 1600kg-1700kg i40 along well enough, and is a comfortable cruiser, but lacks the 6’s immediate punch from take-off. You'll also feel the odd downshift on hill climbs, though it's not overly deficient in torque.
As with all dual-clutch transmissions, you trade quicker shifts for the odd moment of initial hesitation in urban confines, and it will not rapidly change two cogs in the manner of a Volkswagen DSG. A colleague a CarAdvice found the odd patch of shuddering in stop-start traffic, though if you adjust your driving style I found it smooth enough in general duties.
We didn’t drive the petrol, but the updated 2.0-litre unit, according the spec sheet, generates 121kW/203Nm — 10kW/11Nm lower than before. We’ll have to get one through the garage soon…
The i40 has always been one of the better-handling Hyundais, but Hyundai’s Australia suspension tuning team has gone to work nevertheless. It says it has shrunk the stabiliser bars to boost road feedback through the steering wheel, which is hooked up to a re-jigged electric motor.
The steering system has a linear arc (it maintains its weight consistency) and tows a decent line between feeling pleasantly ‘meaty’ — albeit without much feel-and-feedback — and being light enough to twirl about.
Hyundai’s local team also played around with dozens of suspension systems with the final aim of smoothing out the ride over pocked roads, and dispatching mid-corner bumps more effectively.
The i40 feels firmer than its Sonata cousin, but remained calm over most surfaces we through at it on the launch, while body control and chassis balance is pretty good (though in no dynamic metric does it outgun the Mazda). It’s middle-of-the-road for tyre-noise suppression, which negates a bit of that premium feel.
Ultimately, the i40 occupies its own middle ground, given it’s firmer in the dampers than the ultra-comfortable Sonata and Ford Mondeo, but less-tied down and sharp in its steering/engine response as the Mazda 6. You might call it a compromise…
Always a highlight for Hyundai, the i40 gets a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, sat-nav update plans and up to 10 years of roadside assist. There’s also life-of-vehicle capped-price servicing, with 12-month/15,000km service schedules.
When you consider the i40 against its rivals, it remains an above-average player in a number of areas. It’s now a sharper looker now — it’s a genuinely premium thing to put in your driveway — and significantly better value across the board than before.
It's a good buy, this Series II Hyundai i40, especially in the well-priced diesel guise. Still certainly worth a look if a Mazda 6 or Ford Mondeo has previously caught your eye.