Now firmly entrenched as the fourth most popular new-car brand in New Zealand, Hyundai is a company whose confidence - both locally and globally - is growing in leaps and bounds.
The latest expression of that confidence is the new i30. It replaces the widely acclaimed original i30, which spearheaded Hyundai's push for mainstream acceptability in Europe, and which was also a significant contributor to the company's push up the Kiwi sales charts.
That confidence (a word used intentionally for the third time in as many paragraphs here) is apparent in the bolder styling of the new machine. Yes, it's still identifiably an i30, but with the windscreen sitting further forward than before, sharply creased styling lines running along its flanks, and a lower and wider stance, the new machine has a much more dynamic yet solid look.
It's a similar story inside, where there is no needless fancy to the cabin design. Defining features are the distinctive spines that run from the top of the dash to the base of the centre console, echoed in the spokes of the steering wheel. The free-floating arrangement at the base of the centre console seems to owe a little to Volvo, as does the overall clean and clutter-free approach of the interior.
Signs of increased attention to quality abound, most notably in the widespread use of soft-touch surfaces, the tight, even trim, lines, and satisfying thunk that accompanies the closing of the doors.
This i30 is roomier than the car it replaces too, thanks largely to its using the new underlying K-series platform, which is also used by the company's sporty Veloster coupe and larger Elantra. The gains include welcome improvements in front headroom (up by 30mm) and legroom (up by 11mm). Rear room remains just a little tight, but there is improved access to the rear seats, and a 378-litre boot (that's 10% larger than before).
Cabin storage needs are also well catered for, with a range of handy cubbies provided.
The i30 variant supplied for appraisal was the 1.8-litre petrol in top-flight Elite guise.
Standard equipment for the Elite includes 17-inch alloys, folding mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlamps, keyless start, a reversing camera, dual-zone air conditioning, electric park brake, leather trim, a 10-way power driver's seat, and heated front seats. These features supplement the entry-level standards of Bluetooth, cruise control, a trip computer, air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with iPod connectivity, and remote keyless entry with alarm. Key controls for the audio system, phone, cruise control and trip computer are positioned on the steering wheel.
The i30, which is equipped with seven airbags and full electronic stability programming, also holds the maximum five-star European NCAP crash test rating.
Hyundai's approach to mechanical side of the new i30 comprises both a new engine - a 110kW/178Nm 1.8-litre to replace the 105kW/186Nm 2.0-litre of old - and a six-speed automatic in place of the previous four.
The most easily measurable benefit of this new engine/gearbox combination is a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency to 6.9 litres per 100km. Performance also takes a clear step forward, with the sweet-shifting gearbox playing a central role in making progress both smoother and more rapid than before.
For those who have driven a good number of cars in this class, it's pretty obvious where Hyundai has looked for a dynamic benchmark for the i30. The answer can be found a 400km drive north of Hyundai's European design centre in Russelsheim (where the i30 was developed), at Wolfsburg, Volkswagen's global HQ.
Interestingly, Drivesouth found the i30's most obvious dynamic talking point - the Flex Steer steering system that allows the driver to select different steering modes (sport, normal and comfort) at the push of a button - one of the less impressive features. It's not that there is anything especially wrong with the concept, but just that all it does is add or remove weight to what is - in any setting - a precise but quite uncommunicative tiller.
That criticism aside, as well as being a decently quick mid-sized hatch, the new i30 commands respect for its dynamic competence. Ride quality is superb, albeit with an underlying European-style firmness to its gait. Noise suppression is generally fine too, although coarse-chip road rumble is prominent on some surfaces.
Handling also takes a clear step forward over a predecessor that, in its time, set the standard for Korean cars in this class. Turn-in is sharp, balance impeccable, and body control when cornering over poor surfaces well above average too.
All of this adds up to a mid-sized hatch that is every bit as appealing as it is capable. Top of class? Not yet, but certainly good enough now hold itself proud in the very best of mid-sized hatchback company, be it from Europe, Japan, or elsewhere.
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