Plenty to like about new i30

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The i30 lifts its game in the areas of design elegance, finish, comfort and technology. Photo: Hyundai

Has the maker of Korea's most European compact car grown out of drawing comparison with a certain German other?

More likely it has decided there's too much risk in doing so.

The media presentation for the third generation of Hyundai's i30 diverted from past practice in glossing over how a car releasing locally mid-August results from a design and development programme run in Germany and involving a fair swag of ex-VW Group, and Golf, engineers and stylists.

Yet, while the certain brand and its certain car didn't get a mention, a certain headache did.

Questioned about the absence of a diesel hatch in the new line, a brand executive suggested interest in a variant that had always been on the fringe - achieving just 5% of sales over its six years here - fell when VW's so-called ‘‘dieselgate'' troubles made headlines. The feeling is that reputational damage spread across all small diesel cars. ‘‘The VW diesel issue has killed the market.''

That's only for passenger cars, mind. Fleet operators can stand easy. The workhorse i30 wagon coming in a few months from the Czech Republic (whereas the hatch is ex-South Korea), will probably continue in diesel and petrol formats.

It will be interesting to discover whether the wagon's sourcing adds any additional ‘‘Euro'' cachet because, on the strength of two days' driving, the hatch certainly doesn't lack for it.

The past generations of this car were fun enough, but this one lifts its game considerably in the degree of driving pleasure it imparts, but also in the areas of design elegance, finish, comfort and technology.

The one disappointment - and this decision comes from Seoul, not locally - is that an impressive safety assist package debuting with this third-generation car is restricted here to the top-priced Limited. In the car's biggest right-hand drive market, the United Kingdom, all versions have it.

Hyundai NZ has no explanation why a suite providing the key support feature of autonomous emergency braking and associated tech that contributes to its operation (driver attention alert, lane keep assist and a smart cruise control) doesn't spread to the starter and Elite models. It just isn't and they cannot say if, or when, that will change.

There's no suggestion the non-provisioned cars are less crash-worthy - the whole range has an impressive Ancap five-star safety standing - and it is a plus that all have seven airbags, Blind Spot Detection System and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. However, NCAP also says AEB is ‘‘the most significant development . . . since the seat belt''.

Perhaps it might help if someone told Seoul a certain German hatch now has AEB as standard in New Zealand.

All I'd say is that the Hyundai system is obviously cost effective - the Limited costs no more now than before - and isn't window-dressing. The system's well-judged sensitivities proved worthy when the vehicle ahead of me on a busy Auckland motorway braked suddenly the i30 was reacting assertively before I could.

Meantime, Hyundai NZ has good reason to feel confident about this edition of the i30 lifting its status from sixth best-performing model in its category.
From hours of wheel time in the entry model, which has the same normally-aspirated 2.0 litre and six-speed auto as the mid-spec Elite, and a whole day in the Limited, which takes a turbocharged 1.6 engine and seven-speed dual clutch transmission, it seems very well sorted in respect to its driving attitude.
The steering feel is beautiful and, while the Limited is clearly sportier, the base car also delivered good balance and confidence.

Hyundai cannot be blamed for our awful road surfaces, but the Limited seems blemished by loud roar on coarse chip, over which the entry car on its smaller tyres was markedly quieter.

The new engines have decent outputs for the category and focus on improving fuel burn has paid dividends. The factory cites mid-seven optimums, yet a morning of running at easy highway pace saw the 1.6 smash that. Assuredly this effervescent unit is up for play; the 2.0 litre is more relaxed but delivers decent mid-range torque and, either way, it's just great to drive a car whose transmission uses cogs rather than pulleys and drivebelts.

The i30's exterior styling is a development of what has been seen previously, but the descending grille - a pair of hands cupping the nose badge (I don't quite see it) - and headlight shapes preview a new family look. The crease lines are bolder.

Many of the interior's major touchpoints feature good-quality materials, the displays are all pin-sharp and crystal clear and 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 European cars and mainly serves as the infotainment and sat nav portal.

I thought the entry car's driver's seat was better-suited to long distance comfort than the Limited's leather-covered version, regardless that the latter offers a lot more adjustment. 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 will win favourable comment.

Plenty to like about new i30
At a Glance

HYUNDAI i30

SPECIFICATIONS

Prices:$35,990, $39,990 Elite, $43,990 Limited
Engines: 1591cc turbocharged petrol four-cylinder, maximum power 150kW@6000rpm, maximum torque 265Nm@1500-4500rpm; 1999cc normally-aspirated direct-fuel injected, maximum power 120kW@6200rpm; maximum torque 203Nm at 4700rpm
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic, seven-step dual clutch
Brakes andstability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, VSC, RCTA, BSDS; Limited adds AEB, DAA, LKAS, SCC
Safetyrating: Five-star Ancap
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 205/55 R16, 225/45 R17 Elite, 225/40 R18 Limited tyres
Fuel and economy: 7.5/7.4 (1.6/2.0) litres per 100km, tank capacity 50 litres
Emissions: CO2 175/173 g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4340mm, width 1795mm, height 1455mm