It’s hard to see a milestone until it is in the rear-view mirror. But Hyundai’s third-generation i30 stands out as a marker for the South Korean car maker.
It is a car that is appealing beyond a bargain price tag, with the latest safety and connectivity features, sharp styling and a model range that offers something for everyone.
The all-new i30 arrives in local showrooms this month, bringing with it a five-model range that is anchored by the entry-level Active and then splits into two channels that are dictated by the opposing characters of luxury or sportiness.
All variants are based on new underpinnings that are lighter, stronger and marginally larger than the previous i30 and each brings more standard equipment for less money than before, including an 8.0-inch multimedia system with sat nav, digital radio and a reversing camera across the range and the latest in active safety systems on top-grade models.
Even in its most basic form, the Active comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth interior trim, air conditioning, cruise control and the full multimedia system. It is available with a choice of two engines, an upgraded version of the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated direct injection four cylinder that has been handed down from the previous i30 SR and now produces 120kW and 203Nm or a carry-over 1.6-litre turbo diesel four cylinder that generates 100kW and 280Nm when fitted with a six-speed manual transmission or 300Nm when hooked-up to the more modern seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The Active models start from $20,950 (plus on-road costs) for the petrol/manual powertrain combination (a conventional six-speed automatic is offered for an extra $2300) while the diesel starts at $23,450 (plus on-roads) with the dual-clutch auto costing an extra $2500.
Splitting off to one side, the Elite and Premium models are only offered with the turbo diesel engine and dual-clutch automatic and cost $28,950 and $33,950 respectively. The Elite adds a leather-appointed interior trim, dual-zone climate control, push-button start and keyless entry, wireless phone charging, larger 17-inch alloys and Hyundai’s SmartSense suite of safety systems, which uses radar and ultrasonic sensors as well as a windscreen-mounted camera to offer automated emergency braking, forward collision, rear cross traffic, blind spot and lane departure warnings as well as active cruise control. The flagship Premium adds front parking sensors and LED headlights to the safety package while improving the cabin’s convenience with heated and ventilated front seats, power adjustment for the driver and a full length sunroof.
For those looking for a bit more spice from the driving experience, the SR and SR Premium variants are powered exclusively by a revised version of the 1.6-litre turbo charged petrol four cylinder that was first introduced in the Veloster coupe. Even though it has a new turbo charger fitted (with a conventional impeller rather than a twin-scroll set-up), it maintains the same outputs of 150kW and 265Nm and is offered with either a six-speed manual or the DCT in the SR (costing $25,950 and $28,950 respectively) or as an automatic-only proposition in the $33,950 SR Premium.
Both sporty variants run a unique independent rear-suspension system (whereas all other models have a simple torsion beam set-up), ride on 18-inch alloy wheels and have dual exhaust outlets while the cabin is equipped with special sports seats and alloy pedals. In all other regards, with the exception of the SmartSense safety pack not available with a manual transmission, the SR mirrors the specification of the Elite while the SR Premium matches the regular Premium in upgraded features.
Hyundai gave us access to every model variant during a challenging preview drive on a return loop to Albury through the Victorian high country this week, and first impressions are extremely positive.
Even at the bottom of the range, the i30 no longer appears to be just a cheap small car alternative. Sure, its mostly black cabin looks and feels relatively humble but the quality of the plastics are better than before, the overall fit and finish is improved and the design of the dash is modern, not only due to the floating-style multimedia screen but the overall appearance is more appealing.
The ambience is vastly improved the higher up the model ladder you move; The optional beige interior in the Elite and Premium models adds an element of prestige and airiness to the cabin while the SR’s anodised red trim highlights, bolstered seats with red stitching and alloy pedals give it some genuine sportiness.
In all models, there’s decent space in both the front and rear seats, plenty of small item storage with big bins in each door, a deep binnacle in the bottom of the dash and twin cupholders in the centre console, and excellent connectivity with two USB and two 12V power outlets in the front to keep mobile devices topped up.
There’s good vision out of the cabin too, clear and legible instruments and the multimedia system is easy to use. One gripe we did have is that the front seat cushion is rather short and lacks under thigh support, which can be uncomfortable on long journeys.
Its exterior styling is also pretty generic from every angle other than the front. But, all in all, it is generally a smart looking car from the outside, particularly the top-spec models with LED headlights, larger alloys and additional brightwork.
The 1.6-litre turbo diesel in the Elite and Premium variants still has a degree of lag at low engine speeds, which doesn’t make for smooth getaways with the dual-clutch automatic, but once on the move it feels strong under acceleration and effortless while cruising. It can’t hide its configuration when you step on the throttle as it emits a clattering exhaust note under load, but it is mostly refined when cruising.
The SR’s 1.6-litre is the pick of the bunch though. While it isn’t a completely new powertrain, it seems much more responsive and refined than it does in the Veloster, especially when teamed with the dual-clutch auto which shifts seamlessly when left to its own devices and reacts positively to inputs when using the steering wheel paddle shifters.
Even though it produces healthy power outputs, the engine doesn’t feel all that quick and it doesn’t have a lot of character. But it feels nicely integrated into the whole package, with Hyundai Australia’s local tuning program creating a car that is both comfortable and engaging to drive thanks to suspension settings that balance excellent body control with good bump compliance, steering that is well-weighted and feels natural across the ratio and an unobtrusive stability system that allows for a bit of fun before it releases the safety net.
The torsion beam rear suspension in all other models is slightly less sophisticated over heavy hits and small frequency bumps, the steering in the diesel models feels a little more elastic in its weighting and the Kumho tyres on the Active don’t have as much purchase and squeal louder than the Hankooks on the Elite, Premium and SR variants. We’ll also reserve final judgement on how it handles in urban areas, as we predominantly drove it on country roads where it displayed plenty of road noise on coarse chip surfaces.
The i30 SR stands out as an excellent warm hatch against its rivals and one that leaves plenty on the table for the upcoming hot hatch developed by Hyundai’s high-performance N division. But it also shows the new-found strength in the foundations of the i30 as a whole.
In fact, Hyundai’s latest small car is more convincing across the board than it ever has been. It could easily be the milestone that finally drives Hyundai away from its cheap and cheerful reputation.
2017 Hyundai i30 SR Price and Specifications
Price: From $25,950 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 150kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 265Nm at 1500-4500rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual/7-spd automatic, FWD
Fuel use: 7.5L/100km