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Hyundai’s next-gen bedrock model gets a ‘new era’ look and shrunken turbo petrol, but is it enough to take on the Volkswagen Golf

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As recent industry feats go, Hyundai Motor Company’s incursion onto the European continent must rank among the most impressive. A decade ago, when the original Hyundai i30 was launched, the Korean manufacturer was little more than a sideshow in volume terms.

In 2015, it registered 470,130 vehicles here – which was nearly 11 percent more than it managed the year before.

Expect to see a lot more of the i30’s new grille as it’s due to begin ‘cascading’ its way through the rest of the Hyundai line-up

Its success story owes something to good fortune (the scrappage scheme of 2008 benefited no other firm quite so vigorously) but mostly it has been achieved by adroitly supplying buyers with what they want: build quality, equipment, keen pricing, practicality, reliability and a long, unlimited warranty to underpin it all.

Moreover, and no less important, there is Hyundai’s rapacious appetite for refreshing its line-up.

This latest generation of the i30 is the third, and although it might not quite qualify as ‘all-new’ (the platform has been overhauled materially rather than switched out), the new model’s introduction is significantly more impactful than many will believe.

Not least among its alterations is a new look – delivered by Peter Schreyer, the Hyundai-Kia design demigod – that will inform (another) new generation of product. There are new engines, too, most notably the 1.4-litre T-GDi fitted to our test car.

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Also bolted on is the Tourer configuration, which, the firm believes, will achieve close to a 20 percent share of total i30 sales in the UK.

The reason for that is simple: the estate’s starting price is £1500 lower than its predecessor’s, and there’s now only £500 between it and the hatch across the rest of the range.

And if Hyundai’s meteoric rise proves anything, it’s that customers respond very kindly to evidence of good sense.

Now the car just needs to prove at least as good as a Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Peugeot 308, Renault Mégane and Seat Leon. Acid test time.

Hyundai i30 design & styling

Schreyer’s influence over Hyundai’s design language has been well earned.

The foundation of the success of sister brand Kia is partly built on the sophisticated, clean-cut look that the German design chief is justly famous for delivering.

However, the i30 finds him in a relatively conservative mood. Despite the firm touting design as the “number one buying reason” among European customers, the car – in both Tourer and hatchback format – is a thoroughly conventional-looking C-segment prospect.

Its most notable feature is the new ‘cascading grille’, a tapering affair apparently inspired by the flow of molten steel and destined to become a hallmark across the line-up, but even this is a rather conformist affair and makes the i30 no more likeable or distinctive than a regiment of similarly modern-looking mainstream rivals.

Arguably, of course, there is no overriding need to stand out from the crowd (overly quirky family hatchbacks have a history of falling flat with buyers) and most repeat customers will likely settle for the idea that the model is marginally more appealing than the car it replaces.

Underneath, it is very much like its predecessor. Although marginally larger, the i30 essentially has the same architecture – albeit in a notably lightened, stiffened format.

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The car’s gain, particularly as far as torsional rigidity is concerned, is a direct consequence of a doubling of the proportion of high-strength steel used in its construction. The lower-riding chassis – still a conglomerate of front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link – has inevitably been retuned for the enhanced setting, with Hyundai claiming a 10 percent improvement in steering response.

The new engine line-up is considerably more sturdy, too. The previous generation, certainly by the end of its lifecycle, was handicapped by a number of powerplants well past their sell-by date. Only the 109bhp 1.6-litre CRDi diesel four-pot makes the transition and, in line with the rest of the segment’s revised attitude to oil-burners, expect that unit to be soft-pedalled in retail terms.

Instead, the real choice is between the three-cylinder 118bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi motor, which has made its debut elsewhere, and the new four-cylinder 138bhp 1.4-litre T-GDi engine of our test car. This 1.4 is important because it finally provides the i30 with a forced-induction, petrol-burning engine that promises a very European compromise of power and parsimoniousness.

Better still, despite the additional single-scroll turbocharger, Hyundai insists that the four-pot is 14kg lighter than the venerable naturally aspirated Gamma unit it replaces.

We drove it with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, although a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available as an option.


Hyundai i30 interior

Perhaps even more so than the exterior, the i30’s interior has been comprehensively rethought.

The changes are wholesale, although the most notable alteration is also the most contentious: Hyundai has opted to extract the infotainment screen from its integrated position in the centre stack and plonk it on top.

Just looking at the Tourer’s boot gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. An Octavia estate might be larger, but the i30 has better applied the ‘simply clever’ strategy its rival boasts about

The advantage of doing so is that it permits a liberal shrinking of the dashboard, thereby enhancing the perception of light and space, yet Hyundai also remains wedded to the use of physical shortcut keys, which are functionally useful but make the new stand-alone display a little unsightly to behold. As disagreeable as the i30’s 8.0in touchscreen is to behold, there’s precious little that’s fundamentally wrong with what appears on it.

The shortcut keys are well chosen — splitting Map and Nav is a wise choice — and the system sensibly retains old-fashioned knobs for the volume and zoom functions.

Doubtless, a Volkswagen Group engineer would point out that Hyundai has preserved such outmoded features because the technology behind the system isn’t fast or glossy enough to make everything happen on screen — and compared with the lustrous sheen coming from the new Volkswagen Golf’s infotainment, the accusation wouldn’t be entirely unfounded.

However, most i30 buyers are likely to think that the upgraded system is entirely adequate, not least because it comes as standard with Apple CarPay and Android Auto on board.

The stereo is the only glaring weak point: four speakers and two tweeters is probably insufficient given our test car’s range-topping spec. It’s a regrettable state of affairs because elsewhere the overhaul is well thought out.

The layout is now far more horizontal in its design theme than the previous iteration, and although no one would accuse it of over-indulging on imagination, it is a generally satisfying place to pass the time.

All of the switchgear has been thoughtfully reconsidered – the new three-spoke steering wheel is a vast improvement on its button-addled forebear – and although the material choice leans heavily towards dour, cloudburst-coloured plastics, they all fit together well enough, save perhaps for the lid of the centre console cubby, which feels as flimsy as a pound-shop-bought biscuit tin.

In the back, the Tourer’s added-value practicality comes predictably to the fore.

The i30’s leg room isn’t peerless in a segment that includes the Skoda Octavia but it’s easily worthy of adult-rated knees and the head room – obliged by the longer roof line – is plentiful.

The boot doubles down on the theme: its pleasingly rectangular, very well appointed load space easily equals the appeal of anything made by direct rivals.

The 60/40 seat backs are on the heavy side, but they flop forward to turn a very generous 602 litres of capacity into 1650 litres. Throw in the underrated presence of additional cubbyholes under the boot floor and the Tourer nails its USP with tick-box aplomb.



Hyundai i30 side profile

With regard to the i30’s turbocharged petrol engine, Hyundai’s main objective is obviously twofold: more peak torque of the low-down, accessible kind, along with a commensurate improvement in the four-pot’s efficiency. In both respects, the unit represents a middling achievement.

Its basic manners, certainly of the audible sort, are generally creditable. Via a thickset gearchange and clutch pedal, normal progress is dispatched with a dependable, innocuous air. The engine’s function is palpable in the cabin but muffled into the kind of nondescript hum that makes it difficult to immediately identify whether it runs on petrol or diesel.

There’s understeer at the limit – lots of it – and there’s precious little you can do about it

The performance being meted out is barely any more effective a guide: the 178lb ft of torque, available from 1500rpm, is unequivocally the unit’s primary source of propulsion, with all the hard work done before 4000rpm.

Any subsequent industry feels like an afterthought in the modern oil-burner mould, the motor feeling sufficiently stifled by the appearance of peak power at 6000rpm that one wonders if Hyundai expects its buyers to remain almost permanent strangers to the power output they’ve paid for.

There’s enough obliging energy low down to paper over this subsequent crack, but the idea of a claimed 9.2sec to 62mph being dispensed spiritedly is given short shrift.

The 9.5sec the Tourer on test took to reach 60mph from rest is just spry enough to parry any accusation of real lethargy yet simultaneously too pedestrian to rebuff the thought that you’d be whisked forward plenty more consistently in, say, a Seat Leon ST equipped with the equivalent 1.4-litre EcoTSI.

Deeper consideration of the competition does the T-GDi no favours at all: the downsized petrol engines of most mainstream rivals – all similarly encumbered with turbochargers – do a better, keener, freer job of working at higher crank speeds.

Even allowing for the likely modest requirements of a Tourer driver – which the petrol motor ought to adequately indulge – the absence of any real dynamism is detrimental nevertheless. 


Hyundai i30 cornering

It is possible – tempting even – to be reductively unkind about the way the i30 drives.

It strives so belligerently for a benign and nondescript sort of inoffensiveness that journeys are frequently terminated without a single salient detail having been marked for praise or admonishment.

It wants for more body control in the off-camber corners; unswitchable stability control on top of a stability bias makes any weight transfer innocuous

Nonetheless, while that makes it the mortal enemy of any jobbing reviewer, it is not necessarily to the detriment of the buying public.

For anyone seeking to flitter away a commute with the blithe detachment of an airline passenger, it is potentially ideal.

After all, the i30 steers, rides and handles with steady, heavy-set competence. The onus, very overtly and familiarly, is on refinement and comfort – not an unwelcome set of virtues.

The problem is that the aspiration settles on the car like a sedimentary layer of insulation, depriving it of anything that might be construed as verve or even chirpiness.

Certainly, the well-oiled dynamic sparkle made palpable by the responsiveness and control service elan of a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus or even the latest Vauxhall Astra is made conspicuous by its continued absence.

Instead, the i30 focuses on evincing dependability and meekness and geniality.

As a result, the car ambles just about as peaceably as anything else you might reasonably consider in the C-segment.

Unlike the aforementioned models, where the running gear tends to harmonise in the outside lane of a motorway, the i30 feels tuned to best complement the kind of progress made at 45mph on an archetypical A-road.

It is here where the coagulated steering, staid engine and permissive dampers collude most proficiently, fading impressively into a background of muffled and very assured moderation. It is here where the Hyundai, very firmly and consistently, does what it says on the tin. Measure out your expectations accordingly, and the Tourer barely puts a foot wrong.

Faced with the myriad of trials on the hill route, the class-leading C-segment models tend to rise emphatically to the challenge.

Under duress, some — the Golf and Focus certainly among them — exhibit the cute sense of balance carefully and considerately plumbed in during development.

It is this deft sense of control that underpins each car’s handling character across the board — and it is the attribute still manifestly absent in the i30.

Which isn’t to say that the Tourer lacks a general sense of competence. Its suspension settings are inevitably too lenient in places but otherwise it copes as well as might be expected.

Rather, it’s the gratuitous, stability-obsessed obstinacy that starts to grate; not least because the alternative, invigorating and no less safe approach to front-wheel drive is customary among so many of the rivals that feature on Hyundai’s benchmark list.


Hyundai i30

The days of Hyundai furiously undercutting the competition are long gone but the firm is not above appealing to bargain hunters.

The entry-level S-trim Tourer, furnished with the 1.0-litre three-pot exclusively and Bluetooth and DAB (although no touchscreen), feels almost like an homage to the i30’s budget-pleasing origins at £17,495.

Flagship trim makes for predictably high depreciation, but i30 beats like-for-like Astra and is comparable with Octavia

For everyone else, the SE starts at £19,355, which is where the car acquires the 16in alloy wheels, front foglights, rear park assist and downsized infotainment screen that it’ll need come resale.

Above it, SE Nav earns the same 8.0in display as featured on our test car and can be had with the full range of engines (the 1.4-litre T-GDi being unavailable with lowlier-spec cars).

Premium trim ditches the three-pot altogether and throws in desirable items such as 17in wheels and dual-zone climate control. Top-spec Premium SE adds a panoramic sunroof, leather seat facings and a heated steering wheel.

We would expect most to choose either an SE Nav or Premium trimmed i30. Given the difference between the two is £1500, we’d take the latter trim.

Expect running costs to be respectable rather than infinitesimal. Our test car’s 129g/km CO2 emissions are nothing to write home about (Seat’s 1.4-litre EcoTSI is 15g/km cleaner), although its 39.2mpg average is basically on a par with the 40.3mpg recorded by the Volkswagen Golf 1.5-litre TSI we road tested. Expect the 1.0-litre T-GDi to do a little better, but not by much.


3.5 star Hyundai i30

As most members of the C-segment hatchback fraternity tend to do, the i30 typifies all that is good and bad about its maker’s approach to building cars.

On the one hand, there is an attention to detail that speaks to Hyundai’s ruthless inclination for benchmarking.

Competent, servile, inoffensive-looking i30 offers little to like or dislike

Much of what the i30 Tourer does well – its quietness, comfort, practicality and functionality – feels like the product of an objective measuring tape.

But on the other hand, where a subjective, imaginative or emotional input is required – be it in the tuning of the chassis or the polish of the engine or the ambience of the interior– all too often, Hyundai defaults too readily towards the nondescript centre of a marketing Venn diagram or the aggregated outcome of several focus groups.

What results is an i30 that performs adequately across the board but rarely reaches to exceed expectations or express itself beyond the numbers.

It makes the car entirely fine – but an also-ran down to its very core. That means the i30 doesn’t make it into our top five lagging behind the Peugeot 308 SW, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer, Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia and the imperious Volkswagen Golf.

Hyundai i30 First drives