Hyundai's i30 is systematically knocking over its rivals one by one. The latest model really accelerates its aspirations. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The Hyundai i30 delivers a polished performance in its updated guise, ushering in more efficient engines, a zippy Turbo model, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and some classy styling updates. Hyundai has come a long way very quickly, but it's hard not to be impressed by the maturity of this i30's execution.
This version of the Hyundai i30 launched back in 2012, so it's long overdue for a refresh. At least it is according to Hyundai's clock, a timepiece that seems to run at a different speed to most other car manufacturers. The Koreans, you see, are going places and they don't intend to hang around. If you're tilting at the best in class, the normal seven-year model life spans just aren't cutting it. Hyundai needs to keep changing, keep improving, keep striving to be better than anyone expects. They'd be forgiven if they came across as a bit chippy, but Hyundai are anything but. They're just earnest about being the best they can be. So, what's the deal with this latest i30 then? True, it doesn't look a great deal different to the car that rolled into dealers in 2012 and gave Ford, Vauxhall and even Volkswagen a fit of the conniptions, but look a little closer and it has improved in myriad ways. It's even got a sporty turbocharged model at the top of the range.
The idea of a sporty Hyundai hatchback would have had us rolling in the aisles a few years back but we've seen sister company Kia debut the genuinely credible pro_cee'd GT model, so it was about time Hyundai got with the program. The i30 Turbo does what it says on the tin, offering a 186PS turbo motor that will zip it to 62mph in 8 seconds and on to 136mph, so it's not really hot. You could probably dip your elbow in it and feed it to a baby. Hyundai trumpets its Nurburgring-developed suspension setup, and it also gets bigger wheels and tyres and more direct steering (2.78 turns lock-to-lock). Of more relevance to the vast majority of i30 buyers are the revised petrol and diesel engines that make up the rest of the range. Buyers will have a choice of two diesel options - a 1.6-litre engine available in either 110 or 136ps outputs. Those who prefer petrol can choose either a 1.4-litre 100PS unit or a 1.6-litre 120PS engine as well as the Turbo model. The 1.4-litre engine is a fresh design, 14kg lighter than its predecessor and more efficient too. The 1.6-litre diesel and the 1.6-litre petrol GDI engines are available with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (7DCT). This has replaced the previous six-speed torque-converter automatic and improves both acceleration and economy.
Design and Build
The post-2012 i30 is a car that has matured a lot from the original i30 and it's a really assured piece of design. Hyundai resisted the urge to go over the top in order to show what they could do and has instead created something that's quite discreet and classy. The latest model tweaks the look a little with a few minor changes such as the slightly more assertive hexagonal grille. There are also some different alloy wheel designs in both 16 and 17-inch diameters and three additional body colours: Polar White, Orange Caramel and Jet Black. The interior design is neat with plenty of metallic and silver painted finishes on display, the centre console not looking unlike that of contemporary Ford models with sprouting air vents. Space is plentiful for the rear seat occupants and the 378-litre boot ought to be big enough for most requirements. Build quality seems very good with a lot of attention paid to materials, refinement and panel fit.
Market and Model
Pricing start at just over the £15,000 point, which is par for the course in the Focus segment. That sum gets you the entry-level petrol 1.4. Diesels start from just over £17,000. Hyundai isn't holding back when it comes to equipment. There's dual-zone climate control will ensure a comfortable environment for all occupants during long journeys, and the addition of a panoramic sunroof provides increased natural light within the cabin. The panoramic sunroof has been designed to open fully or tilt open, offering passengers flexibility. A 7-inch touch screen sits in the centre console and keyless go, leather and a very clever sat nav system are offered. The Turbo gets sports front seats, a sports instrument cluster and contrasting red details on the steering wheel, gear knob and door trims. Safety hasn't been overlooked and the i30 features ESP (Electronic Stability Program), ABS (anti-lock braking system), VSM (Vehicle Stability Management) and Emergency Stop Signal. In terms of passive safety, the i30 is fitted with six airbags as standard - front, side and curtain - while a driver's knee airbag is optional. I was intrigued to read of Hyundai's 'Land Departure Warning System', presumably to give drivers the heads up when they're about to drive off a jetty. Actually just somebody with fat fingers; it ought to be 'Lane'.
Cost of Ownership
The introduction of a bunch of new engine technology has kept Hyundai right on the pace of the class best when it comes to efficiency. The i30's range of engines has long been 100 per cent Euro6 compliant and carbon dioxide emissions are as low as most rivals can manage. The 1.4-litre petrol engine gets some creditable figures, returning a combined fuel consumption of 50mpg and CO2 emissions of 138g/km. The 'Blue Drive' 1.6 CRDi 110PS models do much better though, in hatch form putting out a CO2 reading of just 94g/km. At 'Blue Drive' level, fuel saving technologies include Integrated Stop & Go (ISG), low rolling-resistance tyres, an alternator management system (AMS) and a drag-reducing 'active air flap' in the front grille, similar to the technology introduced on the Ford Focus.
If you're wondering why the Volkswagen Golf, the Ford Focus or the Peugeot 308 are so good these days, the reason is the Hyundai i30. Yes, really. These massive car manufacturers are all scared witless about the unrelenting progress of the Hyundai hatch and the potential it has for kicking huge chunks out of their bottom line. This latest model doesn't show any sign of a deviation in the trend line. Yes, it is a 'mere' facelift, but this is so much more than a grille, lights and bumpers job. The engines are impressive, the Turbo model underscores the extension of the i30's brand equity upmarket and everything is tuned and fettled to be a few per cent better. While it's not possible for Hyundai to make the vaulting gains it has done to be where it is, the i30 shows that improving incrementally still puts it on collision course with the very best cars in its class.