June Neary is surprised by Hyundai's impressive i30 family hatchback
Will It Suit Me?
Hyundai's second generation 130 is the most complete family hatchback the Asian market has yet produced - period. Based on Kia's cee'd but offering a more polished design for just a little more, it's a surprisingly impressive effort.
I always found the styling of the original version of this model a little bland - but this MK2 version's a lot more interesting to look at. The latest model tweaks the look a little with a few minor changes such as the slightly more assertive hexagonal grille. It's also smart inside as well as out. There's still hardly what you would call avant garde design-wise but the quality of the materials and the construction is convincing. As for cabin space, well despite the fact that this car rides on a wheelbase no larger than its predecessor, Hyundai insists that there's more of it. True enough, up-front, there's significantly more leg and shoulder room than before - and better headroom too, even if you opt for the large panoramic glass room. Sizemic gains are less noticeable in the back, but there is slightly more shoulder room and it is now a little easier to squash in a centre adult passenger if you have to thanks to the way that the designers have reduced the size of the central transmission tunnel. Rear passengers even have their own air vents. Out back, there's 378-litres on offer in the hatch version. If you need more, talk to your dealer about the Tourer estate version. Either way, there's plenty of room for push chairs, childseats and all the other paraphernalia of family life.
Behind the Wheel
The i30 has been designed specifically for the European market and benchmarked against class leaders like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Like those two cars but unlike many of the other established names in the sector, the i30 has fully-independent suspension all round or at least a version of it. Which is why it handles a great deal more competently than you might be expecting it to. Lewis Hamilton-wannabees will still opt for the Focus - and rightly so - but for the majority of buyers for the majority of the time, the 130 is everything you need and more. All but entry-level variants get what's called a 'Flex Steer' system, with a button on the wheel that enables you to switch between 'Comfort', 'Normal' and 'Sport' modes. Given that 'Comfort' is rather light and 'Sport' artificially heavy, you end up leaving it in 'Normal' all the time, which rather defeats the point. I know electric steering is difficult to get right but it'd be better next time for the engineers to simply develop one set-up that's direct and incisive. Engine-wise, at the top of the range, there's a 186PS petrol Turbo model, but of more relevance to the vast majority of i30 buyers are the revised petrol and diesel engines that make up the rest of the line-up. Buyers have a choice of two diesel options - a 1.6-litre unit available in either 110 or 136ps outputs. Those who prefer petrol can choose either a 1.4-litre 100PS powerplant 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.
Value For Money
Prices start at around £15,000, but I'd want to pay a little more for the stand-out model in the line-up, the mid-range diesel version, the 110PS 1.6-litre CRDi. Though this variant offers ready performance, it's also by far the most economical option in the range thanks to Hyundai's clever Blue Drive technologies. 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 is now 100 per cent Euro6 compliant and carbon dioxide emissions are as low as 94g/km. The 1.4-litre petrol engine gets some creditable figures, returning a combined fuel consumption of 50mpg and CO2 emissions of 129 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.
Could I Live With One?
If, before the i30's original introduction, you'd asked me which of the South Korean makers would be first to introduce a family hatchback that was properly on terms with cars like Volkswagen's Golf or Ford's Focus, I'd have said Kia or maybe Chevrolet. With this model, Hyundai surprised all of us - and continue to do so with this car in this improved second generation form. Even so, the i30 will probably continue to be one of the best kept secrets in this market. Don't ignore it.