In the small car segment, it's a serious battle between three main players — the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 — with just one percentage point separating each of them on the sales charts.
No surprise, then, the all-new 2017 Hyundai i30 would always be an incredibly important car for Hyundai in Australia.
We jetted off to South Korea to sample the new i30 on Korean roads, as a preview of the model offering when it finally hits Australia in April this year.
While Australian pricing and specifications are yet to be confirmed, we do know which engines we will receive and we also know that the car will be built in Korea alongside most of Australia's Tucson models.
Australia's new Hyundai i30 offering will comprise three engines — a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol and a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel.
The entry-level 2.0-litre model will produce 120kW of power and 203Nm of torque, available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic (torque converter). This engine replaces the previous-generation 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
On the diesel front, an updated version of the 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel will produce 100kW of power and 280Nm of torque when mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and 300Nm of torque when teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Both the entry-level petrol and diesel will come with a torsion beam rear suspension setup.
Finally, the warm hatch of the range is the SR model, which is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque and is available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The SR is the only model in the regular i30 range to receive independent rear suspension, as opposed to a torsion beam set-up in other i30 models.
Available with 12 colours and two interior colour options, the all-new i30 is set to move the game forward with a new interior, new exterior design and a host of safety features previously not available with the i30.
Size matters with small hatches, and the i30 does well, measuring in at 4340mm long and 1795mm wide. The new PD i30 is 40mm longer and 15mm wider than the outgoing GD i30.
In comparison to its main rivals, it's 85mm longer than the Golf, 10mm longer than the Corolla, but 130mm shorter than the Mazda 3 hatch. As for width, it's 5mm narrower than Golf, 35mm wider than Corolla and identical to the Mazda 3 hatch.
The other key measurement is cargo capacity, where the new i30 offers 395 litres of storage. That's compared to 15 litres less in the Golf, a massive 115 litres more than the Corolla and a sizeable 87 litres more than the Mazda 3.
From the outside there's a lot to like about the i30. In person it carries a very premium appearance with chrome highlights, flowing lines and a range of wheel sizes to help make it stand out in traffic. Unlike the Corolla and Mazda 3, Hyundai's i30 sales are strictly hatch only, meaning this design needs to be versatile enough to cater for all buyers.
An impressive .26 coefficient of drag (Cd) helps push fuel consumption down across the range. The smooth surfaces extend to the rear, where the SR model gets a small roof lid spoiler and some models come with a shark fin antenna to reduce the air disruption you would get from a rigid vertical antenna.
Each vehicle on the Korean drive program was of a top specification with a mix of interior colour options. Each vehicle also came with independent rear suspension, which we will only get in Australia on the warm SR model.
Safety features available on the i30 include autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assistant, high beam assistant, radar cruise control, attention assistant and forward collision alert.
Hyundai is yet to confirm local specifications, but we hope the entire range comes with AEB as standard equipment, given Mazda's latest offering with the Mazda 3.
Inside the cabin is where the i30 really steps it up a notch. The materials feel high quality and any insinuation that this Hyundai harks back to a bygone era can be thrown out the window. The dashboard flows nicely from one side to the other, while a dashtop screen has been employed to contain infotainment to one area.
The bottom of the central stack is uncluttered, with drive modes and other functions now stacked around the gear lever.
While the infotainment system could look a little neater — it feels a bit busy with so many buttons — it's one of the best we've experienced in this segment. The touch functions are accurate, while the screen operates at lightning speed.
Mazda's MZD Connect was once one of the leaders in the segment, but it has become a cumbersome system with touchscreen functions only operable when the car is stationary. Hyundai's new system has an intelligent satellite navigation set-up that includes things like lane selection, toll pricing and detailed traffic information. It also well and truly trumps Toyota's offering, which is slow, difficult to use at times and feels a generation behind the rest.
There's also a voice recognition system that works very well. This system works perfectly for times when you need full attention to the road or you don't have a passenger to operate infotainment controls.
External connectivity comes in the form of two 12V ports up front with a 3.5mm auxillary plug and a USB port for audio streaming and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
But, our favourite feature is the wireless phone charging system that sits in a cavity at the bottom of the centre stack. There's a small aftermarket device that can be left in the car to allow wireless charging for phones incompatible with the wireless charging mechanism.
Rear seat legroom has increased by 1mm over the previous i30. There's also more headroom and shoulder room now, with accommodation for an extra 14mm of headroom and an extra 11mm of shoulder room. That means it now feels like a bigger space when seated alongside the door or with another passenger in the rear.
A centre armrest drops from the back of the second row to expose two cup holders and a comfortable elbow resting point. The second row also folds in a 60:40 split folding fashion to expose the 395 litre cargo space.
Both front and rear passengers also have access to extensive door pockets that are divided into sections for larger bottles. The storage areas are quite convenient and big enough to store all types of odds and ends and rear air vents mean rear seat occupants will remain sufficiently cool.
The top-specification models we tested had features like a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and cooled front seats. While Australian specification is yet to be locked in, we'd expect to see the ability for Australian buyers to option their vehicles with creature comforts like heated and cooled seats on upper-spec models.
The all-new i30 has already shown that it has the features and build to rival the best in this segment, but what are its on-road manners like?
Our drive loop ran for over 300km and included a mix of city, highway and twisty mountain roads. The chilly sub-zero temperatures made the conditions perfect to extract the best performance out of the diesel and turbocharged petrol models on offer.
The diesel was first cab off the rank. What surprised us here first up was how quiet the engine is. At idle it's hard to realise it's a diesel. Despite noise levels climbing once the car is on the move, the cabin remains a civil environment both under load and when cruising.
Korea's diesel i30 comes with independent rear suspension while Australian models will only be offered with a (cheaper to manufacture) torsion beam set-up.
A torsion beam rear suspension design uses a spring and shock absorber attached to each of the non-driven rear wheels. Then, a torsion beam attaches to a lower arm that houses both the spring and shock absorber. The advantages of this suspension setup are that it reduces the amount of underbody space required, it's cheaper to produce and it weighs less than an independent suspension setup.
The disadvantages are that any impact felt on one side of the torsion beam inevitably translates through to the other wheel, which can result in impact harshness and unwanted toe events.
Independent rear suspension on the other hand (like that seen on the Australian-spec SR) aims to isolate each wheel from the other, but adds extra complexity, weight and cost.
Both the torsion beam and independent rear suspension set-ups have received extensive tunes for the Australian market (as reported by CarAdvice late last year), with both torsion beam set-ups custom tuned for their particular engine calibration.
With that in mind, we were quite surprised with the compliance and comfort afforded to the Korean diesel model. Impacts were softly absorbed and the body remained fairly flat during faster cornering. The electrically assisted steering tune was also light enough for a comfortable drive, but could be altered to a weightier feel by virtue of the vehicle's three drive models — Normal, Sport and Eco.
Throttle response from the diesel was good, with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox responding quickly to torque requests.
Both the diesel and petrol models we tested offered smooth driving characteristics at low speeds, which is often where dual-clutch gearboxes fall down. The only curious part of the drive experience was during full throttle kickdowns. The gearbox would take a longer time than expected to drop down and select the gear before delivering torque.
The SR is where the i30's chassis is really put to the test. With 265Nm of torque, the SR really boogies in any gear. The dual-clutch gearbox makes good use of the ratios, delivering smooth torque delivery and a real acceleration run all the way through to redline.
Engine dynamics are paired with a firmer suspension tune mated to an independent rear suspension set-up. The steering also takes on a new tune that's noticeably weightier when the Drive Mode selector is shifted to Sport mode. In Sport mode the gearbox drops down one ratio and offers a sharper throttle response. Paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel allow the driver to take control and select a gear at any time during the process.
There is a hint of torque steer with wheel lock, but it remains fairly in check. At highway speeds we noticed more noise intrusion into the cabin, not helped by the fact we were moving between coarse chip and channeled roads.
Drivers will be impressed with the level of chassis feedback and the confidence-inspiring feel behind the wheel. One thing missing from the package though was an exhaust note.
Both the engine and exhaust didn't sound overly aggressive, which we would have expected on a car that will be billed as a 'warm hatch' for the brand.
When the i30 lands in Australia around April, it will come with Hyundai's five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing.
We are looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the all-new Hyundai i30 locally in the coming months. We expect the Australian ride and handling tune to offer an improved drive experience that is more resilient to sharper bumps and continuous undulations, both conditions we didn't really come across during our 300km stint in South Korea.
Based on what we've experienced in Korea, the PD Hyundai i30 is set to shake up the segment with a greater level of equipment, driving dynamics and what is likely to be sharp pricing. We'd urge anybody after a small hatch to hold off until both this and the Volkswagen Golf 7.5 arrive locally later this year.
Buyers wanting even more poke from their hatch will need to wait until the end of the year when Hyundai launches its i30 N range, which is set to launch with the availability of 205kW of power and a mechanical limited slip differential.