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There’s no denying it – the new car buyer is winning at the moment, in a big way. While the small car segment is showing signs of decline, there has never been as much buyer choice as there is right now. And, it’s especially the case if you’re after a sporty hatch.
Hyundai has fired out of the blocks with a brand new 2017 Hyundai i30 range, headlined (for now) by a pair of warm hatches that have spurred our interest. One of the most enticing is the Hyundai i30 SR manual and we wanted to find out whether it’s cheap and cheerful, or if there’s more beneath the skin.
To spot an i30 SR in traffic, you'll want to look for dual exhaust outlets, chrome highlights and SR badges. It’s particularly impressive in Premium trim, where LED elements take over the exterior and make it pop at night time.
The SR range consists of the entry-level SR manual (as tested here), which starts from $25,950 (plus on-road costs) and moves all the way through to the SR Premium automatic, which taps out at $33,950 plus on-road costs.
Sporty alloy wheels show off a small set of brakes, while a hunkered down stance signals the vehicle’s sporty intentions. Hyundai will build on this design when the newly revealed i30 N hot hatch is released later this year – a car that will go head-to-head with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Inside the cabin, the racy theme continues with red seat and dashboard highlights, along with contrast stitching in the steering wheel. It’s subtle, but quite nice, flagging the intentions lurking beneath the skin.
Under the bonnet is a pumped-up turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. Producing 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, the 1.6-litre engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. On the combined cycle, it consumes just 7.5L/100km with the manual gearbox.
Hit the starter button and… and… well, it’s actually not that exciting. In fact, it sounds almost identical to the starter motor noise of the old Hyundai Getz. Instead of greeting the driver with a mild burble or splutter on start, it sounds incredibly docile and innocent – not ideal for a car meant to be a ‘warm’ hatch.
Unfortunately, lack of noise is a common theme amongst Korean cars. In fact, Kia's Australian arm is currently working overtime to ensure the Kia Stinger actually sounds good when it launches locally in September.
Noise aside, it’s a manual release of the emergency brake (non-SR and non-manual i30 models use an electrically actuated emergency brake) and a slot into first gear before things get moving.
The six-speed manual is a relatively short shift, but it could be a touch shorter and more accurate. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’d just be nice to see a bit of sportiness in the gear shift to match the SR badge. Luckily the clutch is light enough for peak hour traffic, but easy enough to use for the occasional spurt of faster driving.
Unlike the outgoing i30, the manual i30 SR doesn’t have customisable steering feel. The previous generation could switch between three levels of steering weight. While the SR Premium has switchable drive modes, the SR manual can only be driven in one mode.
That also means most of the buttons that flank the gear lever are blank. These would otherwise be reserved for drive mode selection, steering wheel heater (not available in Australia), and a host of other features. This makes that area look a little cheap, but it’s not the end of the world.
All concerns about buttons and emergency brakes are thrown out the window the first time you assault the throttle. This thing has some serious pep. Give it a squeeze in any gear and the tough little engine begins hurling torque at the front wheels.
Line up a set of corners and the i30 SR really comes to life. The direct and communicative steering gives you the raw elements of a fun hatch, while the sharp throttle response helps keep the engine on the boil. The brakes are excellent too, responding eagerly with each application.
At the top end of the rev range the exhaust really comes to life, too. While it doesn’t have the crackle and pop of many more expensive hot hatches, it’s still emotive and fun, especially during a quick gear shift.
One thing that will begin irritating you very quickly is how intrusive the stability control is. If you take off too quickly in first, you’ll see that evil traction control light flashing before it immediately cuts torque and leaves you in a dead spot for what feels like an eternity.
Be a little eager on the throttle out of a corner and the inside wheel tries to spin up, which awakens the wheel spin nannies. A relaxed tune would have really made this car so much more enjoyable to drive closer to its limits.
With that said, the i30 SR is exceptional to drive over any surface. Unlike the non-SR i30 range, SR models come with independent rear suspension, which helps the car track true over bumpy surfaces.
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 setups have received extensive tunes for the Australian market (as reported here), with both torsion beam setups custom tuned for their particular engine calibration.
Around the city, visibility is excellent and the rear-view camera is good. The new 8.0-inch infotainment system is absolutely excellent and comes loaded with features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a very fast and accurate inbuilt satellite navigation system.
Strangely though, voice commands don’t work unless you have your phone paired to the car with a cable. Most other cars in this segment allow you to issue navigation or telephone commands using voice. The Hyundai system only allows this when paired with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Rear legroom is good, but SR models miss out on rear air vents, due to the space taken up by the manually operated emergency brake. That aside, both SR models come with dual-zone climate control as standard and offer 395 litres of cargo capacity, which expands to 1301 litres with the second row folded flat.
In keeping with the rest of the Hyundai range, the i30 line-up comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and affordable capped-price servicing, which costs $807 over three years if you average 10,000km a year or $1820 if you average 20,000km a year.
Which i30 SR model would we pick? Well, I’m a sucker for both safety equipment and fun features, so I’d be going for the SR Premium. But, if you’re content to compromise on potentially life-saving safety equipment, the i30 SR manual represents incredible value for money.