First Drive: Hyundai i30

Hyundai tries to out-Golf the Golf…

Some cars are important to the manufacturer, representing their bread and butter. Some are niche models, adding a sparkle to a range but not making much of an impact on the bottom line. Hyundai’s i30 falls into the former camp, a car so important to the Korean firm that it’s calling the family hatchback its ‘DNA car’.

No pressure then. Something needs to change though, as the outgoing i30, while competent, was lost in a sea of equally competent competitors, from budget options from Fiat and Kia, mainstream rivals from Ford and Vauxhall, and even premium choices from Audi and Lexus.

The new i30 seems to borrow from a number of these rivals; there’s a bit of Volkswagen Golf at the back, hints of Peugeot 308 in the profile, and Fiat Tipo scattered around, all focussing on a new grille that we’re told is meant to resemble a pair of cupped hands. While it may not be the most distinctive car on the road, it actually works well in the real world, appearing far smarter than the pictures suggest, and a noticeable step up in perceived quality from the old model.

The same holds true on the inside, but the changes are more profound and, arguably, more successful. Useable space has grown with plenty of space for even the sturdiest of passengers in both the front and back, while the boot, at 395-litres, can accommodate more family detritus than a Golf.

The perception of quality has gone up too, with the i30 having every touch point covered in materials that feel surprisingly expensive, whether that’s solid, smooth plastics or plush feeling leather on this top-spec model’s cabin. Ergonomically it’s all top-notch too, with everything laid out logically, if not particularly excitingly.

While you’ll be left unexcited, but happy, with the design, you’ll be very pleased with the amount of toys included to keep you occupied. Even the entry-level model gets air conditioning, automatic headlights, cruise control and a digital radio, while moving up the grades adds luxurious extras such as electric heated seats, LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, and an excellent eight-inch infotainment screen that also incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

That’s all backed up with plenty of life-saving safety kit, too. Autonomous emergency braking is fitted as standard across the range, as well as lane keeping assist, driver attention alert and, unusually at this level, high beam assist. If there’s something missing, it’ll be available as an option, so you and your family can be enveloped in what is effectively a mobile safe house.

Despite all the options available in terms of equipment and safety, the engine range is relatively sparse. Petrol options range from a 1.4-litre producing 100PS to a 1.6-litre that provides 120PS. This test model is fitted with the only diesel option, a 1.6-litre unit that manages to output 110PS in a smooth, reasonably quiet and, torquey fashion. With 280Nm of torque, it’s flexible enough to make driving easy, and that’s helped by light controls and handling that’s entirely benign. It also promises good economy, with an official figure of 74.3mpg.

By focussing on making life easier, the i30 ends up being a car that doesn’t encourage being hustled around twisty roads enthusiastically. There’s next to no feel through the steering, which is also a little oddly weighted. Three assistance levels, from eco to sport, add nothing but artificial resistance, and leaves the car feeling short on front end grip. However, the reality is that the Hyundai holds on as tight as any other mid-size hatchback and is reassuringly well-balanced when approaching the edges of its performance envelope. Emergency maneuvers shouldn’t be a cause for any additional alarm, but don’t go on thinking this is some sort of hot hatch – that’s the N30, coming soon…

The lack of sporting pretensions means there’s been some effort made on ride quality, with all but the most inconsiderate of bumps in the road disappearing beneath the car with nothing more than an audible thunk. It’s impressively smooth, but that thunk interrupts the serenity of the cabin, which is normally remarkably quiet while cruising.

The Hyundai i30 does most things rather well, clearly being designed to match the class leaders in almost every area – the build quality is superb (with a five year warranty to back it up), there’s plenty of space, high levels of equipment, good economy, strong safety, excellent ride quality, acceptable handling, and so on. By the numbers, it’s a strong contender for best in class. However, it lacks any sort of excitement or interest, a if every emotion was stripped out at the initial design stages. For those that just want bread and butter motoring to get from A to B with zero effort, then the i30 is simply excellent. For those that want a bit of character from their cars, the delights the i30 offers may just get overlooked.

Model Tested: Hyundai i30 Premium SE 1.6 CRDi 110PS Manual
Price: £23,690
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 118 mph
0-62 mph: 11.0 seconds
Power: 110 PS (108 bhp)
Torque: 280 Nm (207 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £348
Official fuel economy: 74.3 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 99 g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£120 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 12E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 36%.

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