Hyundai's drive for improvement continues to bear rich fruit with the new i30 hatchback, David Thomson explains, in this test of the turbo-diesel model.
Hyundai will face interesting times over the coming months as Toyota leads the Japanese into the diesel segment of the new passenger-car market. It's a niche that Hyundai has performed strongly in over recent years, carving out a solid foothold alongside the Europeans that have
been playing the diesel game for a decade or more.
Toyota is leading off this month with a diesel Corolla range, which will pitch in as a direct rival to the Hyundai i30 CRDi that is the subject of this test. It is just as well for Hyundai, then, that the i30 is - when judged against top-in-class standards - the Korean company's best vehicle
Starting with the outside, it is possessed of cohesive good looks that are distinctive yet not too quirky. Visual parallels have been drawn with BMW's 1-series, in part because both vehicles use a sloping rear roofline to create a coupe-like look. Small rear quarter light aside though, the i30
does not push the visual boundaries as far as Munich's finest.
The i30 is also taller and, with a fairly high seating position, this provides good visibility from the driver's seat. The driving position is spot-on in terms of comfort and fit, with the seat adjusting for height, and the steering column for rake and reach.
The concave scalloping of the dashboard provides an especially spacious feel on the front passenger's side. Through adopting the European standard of a long wheelbase and short overhangs, the i30 is roomy in the back by class standards. In contrast to the front seats, the rears are set quite low. This ensures adequate headroom, but makes for a slightly knees-up seating position for long-legged folk.
There is 60:40 split-folding access to the decently roomy boot, and plenty of handy storage spaces are included within the cabin.
Commendations are also due for the quality feel of the interior. Cleanly laid out and nicely finished, it is trimmed with predominantly soft-touch surfaces rather than hard plastics.
Even in standard $33,490 form, the i30 CRDi is well-equipped: air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, remote entry with alarm, and a decent audio system are all on the initial features list.
Nor does opting for a base model entail any safety compromises: front, side and curtain airbags, active head restraints, electronic stability programming and anti-lock brakes feature across the range, which has earned the maximum five-star rating in Australian crash tests.
The step up to Elite status adds $2500 to the tag for a manual or $4000 for the automatic, as tested.
The premium adds leather upholstery, 17-inch alloys, a six-disc audio unit with iPod and USB jacks in the centre bin, full climate air conditioning, reversing sensors, rain-sensing wipers, a glove-box chiller, and fold-down rear centre armrest.
The diesel chosen for the i30 is a 1.6-litre unit which delivers 85kW of power and 255Nm of torque via - in the case of the test car - a four-speed automatic transmission.
While I would prefer to see this engine mated to a five-speed automatic (or at least a four-speeder with a Tiptronic or sport mode), strong midrange torque ensures that a fifth cog is not overly missed.
Performance is strong rather than zippy, with the car holding its gears well, and the engine delivering its best from 2000-4000rpm. This makes it particularly well-suited to flowing open-road driving.
Economy is good, at 5.9l/100km standard combined cycle return, but the weakness of the four-speed automatic diesel shows when compared to the manual, which manages a truly impressive 4.7l/100km standard cycle return.
Hyundai selected cars like the VW Golf as benchmarks in the development of the i30, and the benefits of this are apparent in the road-feel of the new machine.
Compared to past Hyundai efforts in this class, not to mention some current Japanese rivals, it feels solid and very well planted on the road.
Accurate and nicely weighted steering and a well-sorted multi-link rear suspension play vital parts in delivering confident handling.
Sudden changes of direction are handled with particular aplomb and body roll is never an issue.
Pressed beyond the limits most drivers explore, the test car remained controllable and progressive, with gentle understeer and the intervention of the electronic stability control systems keeping everything in check.
Perhaps because of its 225/45 R17 tyres, ride was a little firmer than expected around town, but fine on the open road.
Road and wind roar were both well contained, and engine noise only became intrusive at higher revs.
Assured on a winding road, refined on the highway, good looking, neat inside, and well-equipped, the i30 CRDi Elite is, then, more than many would have expected, and everything Hyundai could have hoped.
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