Ryan Bubear puts the Hyundai i30 1.8 Executive manual through its paces...
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The all-new i30 is immediately recognisable as a Hyundai.
A few years ago, this would not necessarily have been a good thing. In fact, the Hyundai offerings of old were about as visually rousing as a pile of dehydrated potatoes. So it would have been a decidedly bad thing...
But these days — what with the likes of the Sonata, Elantra and even Accent showing off the Korean manufacturer's "fluidic sculpture" design philosophy — the family face is rather refreshing. Pretty, even. Kudos to the man with the flowing pen.
The i30 is no different from its attractive siblings. This Golf-sized five-door hatchback flaunts crisp lines, the signature hexagonal front grille, and a planted stance that can be described as nothing short of sporty. Even its rear is rather striking. In short, it's dreadfully good to look at.
But is it good to drive?
The i30 comes in three guises: a 1.6-litre petrol manual, a 1.6-litre petrol automatic, and a 1.8-litre petrol manual. We had the latter on test.
This 1797cc naturally aspirated unit — also found in the Elantra — is remarkably quiet (eerily so at idle) and Hyundai says it's good for 110kW and 178Nm, which sees the range-topping i30 hit 100km/h from standstill in a reasonable 9.7 seconds. Out on the road, the powerplant gets the job done without any drama, but lags behind its turbocharged rivals in the torque department, which means the six-speed manual gearbox needs to be worked hard to make sufficient progress during overtaking manoeuvres and up steep hills. In reality, it feels a touch slower than the figures would suggest, and you're forced to drop a gear or two a little too often.
Hyundai reckons that the 1.8 is capable of returning a fairly frugal combined fuel economy figure of 6.5 litres per 100km. And despite some enthusiastic driving at times, our real-world figure of 7.5 wasn't too far off at all. Good show there, then.
The ride is stable and comfortable, even on the flagship's eye-catching two-tone 17-inch alloys (the 1.6-litre variants run on 16-inchers). Steering assistance is adjustable — on all three models — via a small button mounted on the switch-crazy multifunctional steering wheel. This allows the driver to choose between three modes — Comfort, Normal and Sport — to suit the prevailing driving conditions. Sport mode increases feedback a little but gives the steering a slightly artificial weight; Comfort mode is good for low-speed manoeuvres such as parking; while Normal mode is likely to be the most used.
Generous features list
The standard features list — a department in which the i30 has a distinct edge over pretty much all of its rivals — is remarkably generous and extends right across the range. In fact, the specification levels of the three models are almost identical, with the only notable exceptions being the partial leather seats and the aluminium pedals found in the 1.8. Of course, this makes the 1.6 manual (95kW and 157Nm) the best proposition in terms of overall value.
Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, six-speaker sound system (radio/CD/MP3/ Aux/iPod/USB), rear parking assist, electric windows, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, on-board computer, eco shift indicator, three 12V power sockets, six airbags, front and rear fog-lights, rear spoiler, and window tints are all part of the package, for all three models. You really couldn't ask for more in this segment.
The driver's seating position is fairly low-slung, without negatively affecting visibility. Overall, the interior is tastefully modern — Hyundai has thankfully avoided the tacky, space-age feel — and the instrument cluster is clear and the font easily legible. The vast majority of plastics used are not offensive at all, there's plenty of space up front (headroom is particularly impressive), and the rear bench sports a fair amount of room too. The boot holds a commendable, Golf-beating 378 litres with the rear seats in place.
The i30 is an instantly likeable vehicle, and the 1.6-litre manual undoubtedly represents the best value of the three models on offer, but the question is: would you have one over a Volkswagen Golf?
Pitted against VW's entry-level 1.6 Trendline, the 1.6 i30 is the clear winner... on paper, at least: it's slightly cheaper, more powerful, more fuel efficient, has a bigger boot, an extra forward gear, a far longer standard features list, a longer warranty, and is arguably quite a bit better looking too.
However, the 1.4 TSI Golf — with that sprightly, award-winning forced induction engine — makes it quite a bit harder to pick the bursting-with-value i30. But, whether you use your heart or your head, there's no denying that the i30 is now a viable alternative to the mainstream European and Japanese hatches.
A few years ago, merely mentioning Hyundai in the same sentence as the German manufacturer's venerable C-segment hatch would have prompted calls for the straight-jacket.
And these days, it doesn't, which is saying quite something about how far Hyundai has come.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.