Hyundai's i30 is a Focus-sized family hatch that's been improving, generation by generation. This MK3 model really accelerates its aspirations. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
If, in choosing a Focus-sized Family Hatchback, you merely want to buy a very good one and pay as little as possible for it, then Hyundai has a proposition for you - its much improved third generation i30. With more efficient engines, a smarter look and the option of an impressive dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox, it's certainly a more competitive proposition than before. Spacious, sensibly-specced and value-laden, this is one car that all the other big volume manufacturers are keeping their eye on.
Cast your mind back to 2007. That was the year the very first Hyundai i30 family hatchback appeared, a Focus-sized model that completely changed the way we thought about Korean cars. Since then, this Asian maker has transformed itself from budget brand to the point where it's now a mainstream quality choice. Can this significantly improved MK3 model i30 help Hyundai progress further in its relentless march to full automotive credibility? It's very firmly a product of evolution rather than revolution. But there's an upgraded engine line-up including a more efficient 1.4-litre T-GDI petrol powerplant. Buyers also get a high-tech dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission option. And cutting-edge standards of electronic safety and media connectivity. It all sounds quite promising doesn't it? But then, if this i30 is going to be able to keep pace in this closely-fought segment, it's going to need to be.
We've yet to drive this MK3 model but the prospects look good. Let's look at the engines on offer - there are three petrol units and one diesel. The range starts with two older units, an old-tech 100PS 1.4 MPI four cylinder petrol powerplant and a 1.6-litre diesel offering a choice of 95, 110 and 136PS outputs. Better are the new generation T-GDI petrol options. We're already familiar with the 1.0 T-GDI powerplant from the i20 - here it develops 120PS and 170Nm of torque. New though is the 1.4 T-GDI variant. This unit puts out 140PS and 242Nm of torque. Mated to the engines is either a six-speed manual gearbox or Hyundai's efficient and direct-responding '7DCT' seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Go for the auto and the car will offer you two drive modes: 'normal' and 'sport'. In 'sport' mode, you get a different shift pattern that holds gears longer before shifting, plus the steering provides a sporty feel and the throttle response is adapted. Hyundai says it's put a lot more work into ride and handling this time round, developing this car in Europe at venues like the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe. This is where the marque's first high performance 'N'-branded i30 model was developed, a variant we'll see shortly. In more mainstream i30 variants, the completely reworked chassis should certainly make the car feel more responsive, aided by more accurate electric power steering that is supposed to be 10% more direct than before.
Design and Build
The upright front of this third generation i30 uses the brand's latest stylistic signature, its so-called 'Cascading Grille'. In combination with the three-projector LED headlamps and the vertical LED daytime running lights, this gives the car a much stronger visual presence than it had before. To further enhance this, projector-type front fog lamps are integrated into the air curtains. Under the skin, the structure is much stronger, with 53% of the framework now fashioned from Advanced High Strength Steel. It's much smarter and classier inside too. The floating screen of the optional eight-inch navigation touch screen on the dashboard integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features and there's a redesigned multifunction three-spoke steering wheel too. For enhanced comfort, the front seats can be heated or cooled in three stages. When customers choose power seats, these can be adjusted in 10-ways including lumber support. There's an optional panoramic glass roof to fit with the current segment trend. And bootspace has been slightly increased - to 395-litres. Overall seats-folded space is slightly down on before though, now rated at 1,301-litres. Versatility is enhanced with a practical two-stage luggage board and a ski hatch in the rear centre seat.
Market and Model
The only thing that can really sink the i30 is if Hyundai start getting a bit optimistic with the pricing. On first acquaintance, this car looks to meet and beat most of its key rivals, but a lingering badge snobbery in the UK means that were it priced at or slightly above these cars, it would still be a tough sell. Still, 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. Plus niceties like a panoramic sunroof and a heated steering wheel are option, as is a Navigation system you operate via an 8-inch touchscreen on the dash. Safety has been a particular feature of the development of this car. The key news is that all variants get Autonomous Emergency Braking, a system that scans the road ahead as you drive, the set-up looking for potential collision hazards. If one is detected, you'll be warned. If you don't respond - or aren't able to - the brakes will automatically be applied to decrease the severity of any resulting accident. Other key i30 safety features include a 'Driver Attention Alert' system, 'Smart Cruise Control', a 'Blind Spot Detector, 'Rear-Cross Traffic Alert', a 'Lane Keeping Assist System', a 'Speed Limit Information Function' and 'High Beam Assist'.
Cost of Ownership
The introduction of new engine technology has kept Hyundai right on the pace of the class best when it comes to efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions are as low as 95g/km. Even the 1.4-litre T-GDI petrol engine gets some creditable figures, returning a CO2 emission figure that can be as low as 109 g/km. 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. All of this is aided by a slippery drag coefficient and the 7DCT auto gearbox provides an improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of up to 20% compared to a conventional six-gear automated transmission. Residual values of the old i30 suffered a little due to market oversupply which is a nice problem for Hyundai to have but one that can come back and bite them when looking for repeat business. That problem tailed off a little towards the end of the previous model's life when buyers were able to negotiate bigger discounts from the new list price, offsetting the depreciation somewhat. It'll be interesting to see how this model fares as take-up is bound to be high if Hyundai get the pricing right.
In summary then, an effective package - as this i30 has always been. For complete desirability in this segment though, you sense that in the future, a touch of unpredictability might be needed from Hyundai when it comes to a car of this sort, something truly ground-breaking that still ticks all the boxes on every Family Hatch buyer's wish list. We've little doubt that one day, the brand will provide it. In the meantime though, what we already have here is still enough to leave the industry's more established car makers with furrowed brows. Ultimately, it's hard to do too much better for the money. Which means that for the time being at least, the i's still have it.