Hyundai i30: Dub stepping continues

A European upbringing continues to ensure the i30 stands apart from other Hyundai cars – but it’s not quite an equal, in one respect, to the hatch it aspires to emulate.


PETER Schreyer is Bavarian and the car he is talking about, in a slick video presentation, is – he insists – as European as it could be.

Europeans designed it. Europeans engineered it. Europeans sorted the dynamics ... mainly on Europe’s most famous test track. And, in the case of the impending wagon model, a European country will build it.

More to the point, a significant count of the people who were involved with the latest i30 – certainly those who drew it up and shook it down - were former employees of VW.

Does this mean, then, that beyond considering the Hyundai badges as being almost incidental, should we also see this compact hatch itself as being a Golf by another parent?

Hyundai has made no bones that it rates VW product highly; it also used to cite the Wolfsburg hatch as being the car that the previous two generations of i30 was specifically measured against.

Assuredly, just because they are not so forward in making that kind of comment in association with the latest line – perhaps because VW, due to its Dieselgate woes, is something of an industry pariah at the moment – it is highly unlikely they have chosen any other barometer.

So, how does it compare? Two days’ driving the i30 in its key petrol hatch formats, the 2.0-litre entry and flagship 1.6-litre Limited, suggests that a back-to-back comparison would be a worthwhile undertaking.

At the same token, on the strength of this first exposure, it is clear that the cars cannot be considered full sister ships, due largely to one lapse.

The i30 has advanced its pedigree enormously in so respects, notably the degree of driving pleasure it imparts, but also in areas of design elegance, finish, comfort and technology. It really does set a very high standard.

It’s disappointing, though, in that only the most expensive of the three models coming, the Limited, takes the comprehensive SmartSense safety assist package that delivers autonomous emergency braking (AEB), driver attention alert, lane keep assist and a smart cruise control.

Fair gripe? It’s not unusual for the best tech to avail with the most expensive versions. Yet in this instance the restriction seems to be limited to New Zealand and Australia – all i30s sold in the UK and Europe take SmartSense, for instance – and, further, there’s no stated reason for it.

Also, there’s a sense that the upgrade might not have hit buyers where they feel it most: In the pocket.

The Limited, after all, costs the same now as it did in the previous range. Just as that 1.6-litre turbo car has maintained its $43,990 sticker, so too do the pair of 2.0-litres that round out the lineup, Elite at $39,990 and the entry car at $35,990.

Meantime, there’s a certain German hatch that now locally provisions all these features, including in price-comparable variants, as standard.

If you’re going to run with the best …

There is no suggestion the 2.0-litre cars are less crash-worthy; and it is a plus that all models have seven airbags and now take Blind Spot Detection System and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

On the other hand, AEB would have very much influenced the car’s five-star result crash test result from NCAP, which has described the assist as being 'probably the most significant development in vehicle safety since the seat belt.'

The Hyundai system was occasionally baffled by heavy rain during our drive but, overall, is certainly worth having, as it has well-judged thresholds and a broad speed range. Twice during my time at the wheel it enacted before I could strike the brake pedal, on both occasions when traffic ahead abruptly slowed. Quite potentially, one of those incidents would not have ended so well had I been driving the 2.0-litre car.

Hyundai NZ avoided being drawn into conjecting about what greater potentials, particularly as a fleet prospect, a more impressive safety roster might allow a car that, in outgoing form, languished as the sixth-best performing model in its category.

But perhaps it is telling that the Auckland-domiciled operation has declined to share its volume forecasts, too. All boss Andy Sinclair would say is that he expects the new car, which will be on sale in August, to improve its position.

It still could. An extensive drive, restricted to the base and flagship models, that took in highway and country roads between Auckland and the Northland luxury lodge we bunked up in overnight showed the i30 to be well sorted in respect to its driving attitude.

The steering feel, in particular, is beautiful and while the 1.6 – through having the biggest and fattest (18-inch, 225/40) wheel and tyre set and also a more complex rear suspension – being independent, whereas the 2.0-litres have a torsion bar – is clearly sportier, with ability to scarper around corners like a rat on a food mission, the other model also displayed good balance and confidence. 

The 1.6 is blemished by very load road roar on coarse chip whether this simply a tyre issue, or something also to do with the suspension is debatable, but certainly the entry car on its 205/55 16-inchers was markedly quieter - but, across the board the ride quality is pretty decent, certainly better than any previous i30 hatch.

That’s not the end of the talents. The car is bigger and stronger than the last, and, that safety lapse aside, is better-equipped too, also offering a premium cabin and build quality that again signals why Hyundai’s Korean plants continually register top quality scores.

The range has been slimmed and, most notably, it’s pure petrol now. The old 1.6-litre turbodiesel might yet make a comeback in the impending wagon, which again comes to us from The Czech Republic, but it only achieved just five percent of sales at best and has fallen into the doldrums since. There’s some thought within the brand that it’s a Dieselgate victim. As one company man put it to me “the Golf diesel issue has killed the market for us.”

The 2.0-litre engine’s outputs of 120kW and 203Nm are fair, but it’s certainly not as effervescent as the 150kW/265Nm 1.6; with the bigger capacity engine, you get smooth driveability, but the naturally-aspirated mill and the six-speed automatic it associates with are quite relaxed.

The 1.6 turbo, meantime, has more get-go urge and greater responsiveness at cruising speed. The seven-speed dual clutch automatic is also more reactive – hence why, no doubt, it earns the paddle shifters that do evidence with the orthodox auto.

For all its extra fizz, Hyundai assures the 1.6 can also behave nicely in respect to fuel burn – even better, the optimal efficiency figures of 7.5/7.4 litres per 100km don’t seem too difficult to better. I averaged 7.1 for most of my return drive from Matauri Bay and my co-driver, the local agent’s technical specialist, attested he’d hit a sub-7 average the day prior. The thrift aspect aside, it’s just great to drive a car in this category whose transmission uses cogs instead of pulleys and drivebelts.

The i30’s exterior styling is clearly a development of what we’ve seen previously, but there’s more artistry to those derivative lines. The descending grille – which is supposed to look like a pair of hands cupping the nose badge - and headlight shapes preview the new look of all Hyundais going forward. The crease lines are also bolder. Around the back, it has certain similarity to a BMW 1-Series.

The interior is very well-executed. Many of the major touchpoints are rendered in quality-feeling materials, the displays are all pin-sharp and crystal clear and the switchgear is generally laid out in a thoughtful, intuitive fashion.

The eight-inch tablet-style touchscreen centre top of the dash is much like those you see in high-quality German cars and mainly serves as the infotainment and sat nav portal. The embedded system comes with 10 years’ free mapping upgrades but the setup also allows Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity which, to my mind, already offers a superior interface and support. The car also has an inductive phone charging pad, but predictably it's only for Android phones.

The front seats are well designed, though I thought the entry car’s were better-suited to long distance comfort than the Limited’s leather-covered sort, regardless that the latter offer a lot more adjustment, including to lumber support. The rear seats are adequately spacious rather than impressively roomy (six-footers will find them tight) but the size and shape of the 395-litre boot is going to win favourable comment.

Standard features include a reversing camera and sensors, cruise control, digital speedo, seven airbags and alloy wheels.

The entry car has hard-wearing cloth seats with driver’s height adjustment; the Elite and Limited take leather and, on the most expensive model, the adjustment is fully motorised.

The i30 as it is presented for now is a pretty decent car; the design and presentation are improved and the models we drove were, despite their performance differences, united by expressing an easy-going nature that made them pleasant to be in.

Many of those traits, plus the smooth ride quality, are unlikely to evidence in the next version of this hatch, coming at year-end. When you’re set to play Golf at its own game, there’s one specific edition that demands inclusion.

Ascertaining if that hot 223kW N version is going to have the measure of the mighty Golf GTi is going to be one of the highlights of the 2017 driving year.