Hyundai i45 eyes fleet market

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Strong looks may help the Hyundai i45 meet an ambitious sales target. Photos by Richard Bosselman.

Fresh start, fresh sales target. That seems to be a given when Korean No 1, Hyundai, releases a new product, and the i45 is no different.

Regardless that this new medium sedan has landed one month short of the year's halfway point, Hyundai New Zealand doesn't think it is being unrealistic by determining a sales target of 1000 units for 2010. That's three times the volume achieved by the Sonata, the car it replaces, in 2009.

To break, or at least reach, the ton means busting into the fleet market and battling again the three giants of the company carpark - the Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo and Mazda6, which last year respectively accounted for 1255, 1454 and 1515 registrations.

What's the special K cachet that will be key to the i45 joining this select club? The boss of this go-getter brand, Tom Ruddenklau, has no trouble ticking them off: strong looks, sharp pricing, an especially capacious body.

Oh, and lots of kit.

While it is not uncommon for base editions in this category to run on steel wheels and go light on airbag count, all i45s - even the "budget'' 2-litre - have alloys and six airbags. It also standardises a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, cruise, full i-Pod readiness, steering wheel audio controls, a trip computer, plus stability control and ABS.

While the 2-litre and cheapest 2.4-litre are likely to gain the bulk of fleet sales, those in middle to senior management will want to cast an eye over the Elite and Elite Limited, whose attractions run to a function normally found in much more expensive executive cars - heated rear seats.

A proximity key with auto lock/unlock and start-up, auto lights, reversing sensors, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone air conditioning, full electric adjust for both front seats (the base 2.4 has electric operation on the driver's side) and 18in alloys also feature.

The lack, however, of in-car Bluetooth might well annoy workers on the run, but Hyundai can at least offer a factory after-market kit.

On our first drive the immediate standouts were the high quality of assembly, the ergonomic excellence of the cabin and the drivetrain's refined delivery. There's ample shove and almost a six-cylinder smoothness to this four. Diesel? That will come with a Euro-inspired spin-off, the i40, now not due until next year.

The six-speed automatic gearbox has a slick shift, and due to the lever's close proximity to the driver, it's easy to operate in the sequential manual-shift function.

One touch of weirdness is the "eco'' mode; what looks like a clever-clogs electronic adjustment turns out to be nothing more than an old-school vacuum gauge.

Also, there's sports suspension but it's patently not a sports sedan. The compliant suspension, remote brake feel and low-rolling-resistance/low-grip Kumho rubber don't encourage enthusiastic driving.

Korea's propensity for going big on chrome - bling is a sign of affluence in Korea - hasn't been entirely reined in here and this "fluidic sculpture'' styling appears to have been driven by the Volkswagen CC, with a dash of Mercedes-Benz CLS-class thrown in for good measure. But if this is how every new Hyundai is going to look, who could be disappointed?

Despite the rakish roofline, headroom in the rear is fine. Indeed, for overall interior space, it really delivers. When matching against Toyota product, as most fleet managers will, it would be reasonable to think Aurion rather than Camry.



Hyundai i45 eyes fleet  market
At a Glance


Prices: $41,990 to $51,990.

Engines: 1998cc double overhead camshaft direct injection four-cylinder petrol, max power 122kW@6200rpm, max torque 198Nm@4600rpm; 2359cc DOHC direct injection four-cylinder petrol, max power 148kW@6300rpm, max torque 250Nm@4250rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, BAS, ESP.

Wheels, tyres: Alloy rims, 205/65 R16 (2.0), 205/65 R17 (2.4), 205/65 R18 (Elite, Elite Limited).

Fuel and economy: 2.0, 7.6 litres per 100km; 7.9L/100km, 2.4 (on Australian combined cycle), capacity 70 litres.

Dimensions: Length 4820mm, width 1835mm, height 1475mm.