Cars do not age well in the short to medium term. Further to rapidly moving design trends that can make a car look old, there’s also the aspect of advancements in technology that can truly lock something into a particular vintage.
In a traditional sense, as gizmos become more affordable, or ‘paid off’ by other models, they swiftly trickle down to the cheaper members of the household. Given a car’s long life cycle, anywhere from six years onward, entry-level product can sometimes forgo advanced tech for quite some time.
The Hyundai i30 range seems to be holding its own, however. It’s bucking the trend of ageing as a well thought out, all-round package that does exactly what it says on the tin – provide fuss-free, safe motoring at a reasonable cost.
Despite being three years old in Australia, and a lot older in terms of design, it still looks smart. Well proportioned with a neat glasshouse and strong character lines, it’s clear that Hyundai spent time and effort reinvigorating the i30 for its second generation.
With a facelift due in the second half of 2020, the current i30 range will soon be in runout – representing great buying for the savvy punter.
Today, we’re drilling down on what we think is the pick of the bunch – the 2020 Hyundai i30 Elite.
Priced from $28,040 before on-roads, it sits squarely in the middle of the six-variant range. For context, the next-step-up models are the Premium and the N Line pair.
The Premium is the same mechanical package with even more trinkets, which to some will be considered unnecessary. The N Line is a sportier-looking option with a more powerful turbocharged engine. However, it forgoes some specification found on the Elite model.
The middle-tier Elite is a clever trim level that gives you just what you need from a driveline perspective, therefore reducing cost, but throws in plenty of goodies to split it apart from the competitor pack. It represents one of those ‘just right’ packages.
Powering the i30 Elite is Hyundai’s workhorse 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, with a modest 120kW of power at 6200rpm and 203Nm of torque available from 4700rpm. It's paired with a regular six-speed torque converter automatic.
Despite being a simple power plant, it delivers acceptable performance for a small car. When flexing, it can become a little thrashy and buzzy, which does result in some vibrations felt in the foot well. Apart from that slight niggle, you don’t find yourself expecting or wanting more from it. Tasks such as merging via on-ramps, overtaking in most regular circumstances, and general off-the-line pep are all well catered for.
Admittedly, it lacks the low to mid-range turbo torque that the Honda Civic VTi-L provides. Nor does it have the sparkle that the Volkswagen Golf’s 1.4-litre engine provides, either. But, do you find yourself asking for it when behind the wheel of the i30 Elite? No.
Which begs another question. Is the $1700 cost increase to the i30 N Line worthwhile, given it comes with less equipment, a more complex driveline and, in turn, an arguably less-smooth experience behind the wheel? Again, I’d suggest not, if you’re just after neat and easy transport.
Opting for the Elite models brings with it some heavy-hitting specification that’s seldom found in the sub-$30K hatchback realm.
Inside, you’ll instantly notice and appreciate the leather trim that's decorated with diamond-shaped perforations. Usually reserved for higher-grade models, it’s a nice touch that not only promotes confidence with regard to keeping things clean, but also lends a hand to lift the cabin’s perceived quality tenfold. It’s a shame the seats are not equipped with lumbar support, however.
Regardless, neither the Civic VTi-L, Golf Comfortline or Mazda 3 G20 Evolve offer such luxury for under $30K.
The cabin, when superficially judged, first comes across a bit dark and a little too plastic. Poking around it quickly reveals some well-thought-out design. The storage pockets around the centre console are deep, meaning a wallet and phone can be stored safely without the chance of toppling.
The steering wheel is thin and smart-looking, with a button layout that makes logical sense and is easy to navigate. Getting comfortable is another simple task in the i30, thanks to an equally simple adjustable armrest lid that gives all elbows a place to call home.
Underneath the centre stack, there’s a decent-sized storage bin that houses a USB port, 12V outlet, as well as a wireless charger. Again, the ergonomics are well thought out, with USB ports offset enough so that the USB cable is not stressed, therefore possibly damaged, when the lid is closed.
It’s also built really well, too. Everything lines up, is generally nice to touch and rattle-free. The second-row features air vents but lacks power outlets of any kind. I felt a touch cramped behind a driver's seat set up comfortably for someone around 6ft (183cm), so the taller drivers will have to readjust their seating position to provide adequate space for those behind.
Boot space kicks off from a satisfactory 395L, expanding through to 1301L with everything out and folded. The Honda Civic VTi-L hatch trumps this with 414L and a full-size spare, too, as per the Hyundai. The Mazda 3 hatch’s woeful 295L gets a mention for the sake of coming last only. Consider the i30's boot fair, but not overly huge.
Nevertheless, things get back on track in the technology space. The 8.0-inch touchscreen features native navigation, DAB+ radio, SUNA traffic updates, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Dual climate control is also standard, as is keyless entry and start. That is the sort of clever box-ticking the team at Hyundai Australia did really well with this variant.
The Elite has that balance of the right usable equipment that adds value. Stepping up to the Premium brings an opening sunroof (that’s optional on the Elite anyway), a premium audio system, electric seats that are also heated and air-cooled, LED headlights, plus a few other trinkets.
What’s the cost increase? A whopping $5000 versus the Elite we’re testing here today, bringing the Premium to $35,740 before on-roads. I honestly believe that those additions the Premium brings, as nice as they are, do not introduce some newfound ability or profound improvement to the already great Elite package.
To some who like the finer things in life, the stereo, sunroof and seats are no-brainers. But to the rational clique, you’re already getting the bulk of the beneficial fruit with the Elite variant you’re reading about here.
You could even go so far as to argue that those who do want to treat themselves have the turbo N Line and N Line Premium to pick from in lieu of the regular, naturally aspirated models.
All of these factors further contribute to why we think the Elite makes the most sense for the majority of customers considering an i30.
Another critical piece of equipment in the i30 Elite is the standard fitment of the Hyundai Smart Sense package. This includes essentials such as blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, driver-fatigue monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
If you decide to opt for the aforementioned N Line model instead of the Elite, you’ll be paying more to forgo blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. These systems are not available on the N Line versions, sadly.
Again, as nice as turbocharged oomph can be, some may see more value in pocketing the $1700, getting more safety gear and accepting the lesser performance as well as lower running costs associated with the i30 Elite’s more basic non-turbo engine.
Over the test it consumed 8.5 litres per 100km travelled. That puts it 1.1L over Hyundai’s official claim of 7.4L/100km on the combined cycle, which isn’t too bad of a result.
As with nearly all Hyundai product that comes to Australia, the i30 Elite’s ride and handling have been thoroughly scrutinised and picked apart by its local subsidiary. In this process, a team of engineers and suspension champions tune the car to suit our conditions. They make adjustments to the springs, shock absorbers, bushes and steering calibration, and their hard work is evident here.
It's as comfortable at 50km/h as it is at 110km/h. Bigger bumps and ruts, specifically those with pointy tops or sudden drops-offs, do cause for slight harshness, but it's more of a ‘just letting you know’ sort of interruption. Feedback, in ways.
The ride has the ability to firm up when required, but overall it feels great on the road and never sketchy or untrustworthy. You’ll have no qualms in taking the i30 on a country weekend away, covering ground on those lovely high-speed sweepers with a sense of calmness and surety.
The Hankook Ventus Prime tyres are noisy, however. When combined with coarse road surfaces, they emit a subtle yet noticeable whir throughout the cabin. Wet-weather grip is good, but could be improved with better tyres. I came to the conclusion that most of my criticisms with the handling package were aimed squarely at the round rubber things on each corner of the car.
In summary, good on-road manners, plentiful tech, and plenty of baubles to impress your friends, mean that the i30 Elite is a sure-bet choice if you’re looking for a set of wheels.
To most, the Elite’s basic driveline won’t raise concern or warrant the extra cash outlay for an N Line upgrade. To the same mob, it might be hard to justify a near on 18 per cent cost increase, or $5000, for things such as a fancy stereo or full-LED headlights, amongst others.
Against competitors in the segment, none stand out as much better equipped, much better on the road or much easier to live with. That’s why we recognise the i30 Elite as the smart pick of the bunch, both against its enemies and its frenemies within the same brand house.