The Hyundai i40 takes on the Mondeo, Superb and Insignia. But can it win?

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The growth of South Korea’s most prominent car maker, Hyundai, has been considerable over the past few years – and over the next few it could be even more so. This i40 will form part of Hyundai's expansion, now into D-segment family saloons.

Riding on a wave of interest ignited by various scrappage incentives and fuelled by a raft of consistently improved models, Hyundai doubled its UK market share in the three years since 2008.

The i40 is Hyundai’s first truly competitive entrant into the family-orientated D-segment

The aim is to keep growing and put Hyundai on par with the likes of Toyota, BMW and Audi for volume. The 2015 facelift gives the i40 a fresh look, a new transmission and a raft of new safety and convenience technology.

You need look no further for a symbol of the maturity and stature of the Hyundai brand than the i40. Forget any memories of Sonatas, XGs, Grandeurs or other big Hyundais that have gone before; this car was designed by a team of Europeans, developed in Russelsheim and, on paper at least, would appear to meet or exceed every European class standard.

The i40 has all the makings of Hyundai’s first truly credible and competitive entrant in the family-orientated D-segment, and is available in both saloon and estate forms.

But should the makers of the Ford Mondeo, Insignia, Volkswagen Passat and others really be concerned? Let's find out.

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Hyundai i40 rear

Here’s another sign of the new-found maturity of the Hyundai brand: the firm is now employing designers with the talent to create cars as handsome and contemporary looking as any in the mass market. The i40 is proof of that.

Unfortunately, they’re also the kind of designers who gush in largely meaningless terms about the inspiration behind their work. ‘Fluidic sculpture’ is how those designers describe the philosophy behind Hyundai’s current crop of cars.

The i40 has its own, distinct visual identity

In the i40’s case, the creases in the bodywork are supposed to remind you of water flowing over rocks. The car’s headlights are inspired by “the eyes of a falcon”, they say, and the sculpted flanks by “desert sand dunes at dusk”. Both of these areas have been toned down significantly since the 2015 facelift, giving the i40 a subtler presence.

Leaving all of that nonsense to one side, what really matters is that the i40 has its own, distinct visual identity. European tastes have been taken into account, and Europe gets its own version of the car, designed and engineered for us and us alone.

Unusually, sales began with the five-door Tourer version, half-way between an estate car and a hatchback, but now a four-door saloon has joined the range.


Hyundai i40 interior

Hyundai clearly understands what most families want from an affordable everyday holdall. In the i40, it has delivered a roomy car made of robust materials and fitted with plenty of standard equipment.

This cabin is appealing, and not at all budget-flavoured. It's also comfortable, simple and easy to live with. Hyundai claims that you’ll find more shoulder space and headroom in the front seats of an i40 than you will in a Ford Mondeo.

The car’s primary ergonomics are faultless

To our testers the car felt slightly smaller than that suggests, the driver’s seat in particular seeming a little too high-set for the very tall. But apart from that, the car’s primary ergonomics are faultless, with plenty of reach and rake adjustment on the steering column and three well positioned pedals.

There’s also more than enough room for adults to travel in the rear in comfort. The rear backrests recline through several positions, while maximum legroom is 10mm greater than that of an Insignia, with 70mm more as a minimum.

The car’s centre stack of heater and entertainment controls is surrounded by glossy black trim, as is the centre console, which lends some richness to the cabin ambience. The positioning and functionality of the main rotary menu controller, the design of its slanted air vents and the shape of its dished steering wheel will make any Honda Accord owner feel at home. Although the cabin’s basic design might lack a bit of originality, there’s nothing wrong with its execution.

As a load-carrier, the i40 Tourer measures up favourably, too. As standard, it comes with a useful cargo net that fits together with the tonneau cover and would prevent high-up items from sliding forwards towards the heads of rear passengers under hard braking.

The boot has a low load lip and with all five seats in place it holds 553 litres, which is more than a Mondeo. Load space expands to 1719 litres with the seats folded almost, but not quite, flat. Only the Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Superb, Mazda 6 and Mondeo swallow more.

Saloon versions are spacious too, with 525 litres of storage capacity even with the seats up.

On the equipment fronts, there are four to choose from - S, SE Nav, SE Nav Business and Premium. The entry-level S models get 16in alloys, air conditioning, heated door mirrors, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard, while upgrading adds parking sensors, DAB radio, sat nav, reversing camera and heated front seats to the package.

The fleet-friendly SE Nav Business trim adds an electrically adjustable driver's seat, lumbar support for the passenger, leather seat upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry and start. The range-topping Premium models gain luxuries such as lane departure warning, a panoramic sunroof and ventilated front seats.


Hyundai i40 side profile

The i40’s mechanical make-up conforms to the class norms. Hyundai offers two different four-cylinder engines that are mounted transversely under the bonnet and drive the front wheels.

Power outputs range from 114bhp for an entry-level 1.7-litre diesel, through to the range-topping 140bhp version of the same engine. That low-power diesel also comes with economy-enhancing technologies that Hyundai gathers together under its ‘Blue Drive’ banner.

Few will hope for more than average outright performance from a big diesel car like this

An automatic engine starter-generator, intelligent alternator, low-resistance tyres, a gearchange indicator and an automatic radiator blank all combine to lower its emissions to just 110g/km and boost fuel economy to 65.7mpg on the combined cycle.

That makes this Hyundai one of the most frugal family cars you can buy at the moment. From a car manufacturer that, until quite recently, had very little experience in producing diesel engines at all, that’s quite some achievement.

Few will hope for more than average outright performance from a big diesel semi-estate like the i40. Good mechanical refinement, good fuel efficiency, reasonable accelerator response, decent grip and a strong and progressive set of brakes will surely satisfy most expectations – and in most of those areas the i40 does that.

Perhaps most impressive is how quiet its 1.7-litre common-rail diesel engine is during typical use. When we originally road tested the i40 at Mira, our test car seemed far more hushed than other diesels in the class, and that’s confirmed by our noise meter readings; the last generation 2.0 TDI Skoda Superb was 8dB noisier at idle.

That base i40 is also much more responsive than some economy-biased rivals. Fitted with a shorter final drive ratio than its more powerful diesel sibling, and with an engine that produces peak torque from just 1250rpm, our i40 responded quickly to the accelerator pedal and with enough outright urge to suffice in most everyday situations. Our tests also suggest that it’s slightly quicker than Hyundai’s official claims; 12.9sec to 62mph seems a little conservative, given that we recorded an average 12.2sec dash to 60mph.

For those who desire greater performance, the 140bhp version of 1.7-litre diesel is claimed to dispatch the benchmark sprint around two seconds quicker. However, opting for the higher-powered variant results in a CO2 penalty of 4g/km, which isn't too considerable if the i40 is being considered as a company car purchase.

The i40’s performance in our brake tests was decidedly poorer than expected. Running on low-resistance Hankook Kinergy Eco tyres – and relatively skinny 205-section ones at that – it needed 53.5m to stop from 70mph on a dry track. Other cars of the Hyundai's size have hauled themselves up a full eight metres sooner.


Hyundai i40 cornering

Although the i40 meets or exceeds European class standards in so many other respects, Hyundai is struggling with the last piece of the jigsaw in building cars that rival the best from Volkswagen, Ford, Peugeot-Citroën and Europe’s other established motor industry powers.

Like the ix35, ix20 and Hyundai i30 before it, the i40 handles and rides well enough – much better than owners of older Hyundais would believe. But it’s missing that final fraction of driver involvement, dynamic composure and polish that separates great mass-market cars – the kind that keen drivers are naturally drawn to – from the merely good ones.

Driving the i40 is a perfectly acceptable experience

Driving the i40 is a perfectly acceptable experience. Its controls are light enough and easy to get on with, and its handling is precise, predictable and benign. Only when you begin to ask more of the car do you discover any dynamic shortfalls. For example, a steering system that seems light and responsive enough in town takes on unwanted weight and stickiness around the straight-ahead as speed rises.

Meanwhile, the i40’s suspension, which has enough compliance to deal quietly and comfortably with speed bumps and potholes at everyday speeds, begins to run out of damping control. The car’s body feels a little too easily disturbed by small intrusions taken on motorways.

And at higher speeds on country roads, the i40’s body control lacks the subtlety and tautness of the best. Strangely, these damping issues are not rectified by selecting the 100kg lighter petrol model, which in fact appears to further upset the i40's compusure.


Hyundai i40

The short-legged final drive partly explains why a i40 Blue Drive diesel fell so short of the official economy claim during touring economy runs at our test track; 50.5mpg for a typical 30-mile, 70mph motorway cruise isn’t bad, but it’s a far cry from Hyundai's claimed 65.7mpg. So, tax advantages apart, you might be saving little in fuel costs over the more up-range diesel versions, which will also give you a livelier drive.

Hyundai may be making much more desirable cars than it used to, but it is still charging pleasingly little for them. It could be harder to negotiate a discount in a Hyundai showroom than elsewhere but, even before you try, an i40 has typical advantage of around £600 relative to its next cheapest rival.

An i40 has a typical advantage of around £600 relative to its next cheapest rival

Better still, it comes with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, five years of roadside assistance and five years of free Hyundai dealer car health checks. And for bargain hunters, that’s just the beginning of the story.

With an insurance rating of 12E, the i40 Blue Drive is five groups lower than Volkswagen’s cheapest Volkswagen Passat. For fleet drivers, it combines low emissions with a lower ‘P11D’ value – the one that counts towards your company car tax – than an equivalent Ford Focus.

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3.5 star Hyundai i40

The i40 is a car that Hyundai can be proud of. Combining compelling value with commendable practicality, quality, refinement, style and efficiency, it easily deserves a mention in the same breath as, say, the excellent Skoda Superb.

Just as good in most respects as Europe’s best, the i40 isn’t quite a match for the most finely tuned cars in the class in its ride and handling.

No Korean car-maker has ever offered a car with this breadth of talent

However, it’s more than good enough to ensure that many owners won’t discern any shortcoming. No Korean car-maker has ever offered a car with the breadth of talent to stand up in Europe’s most established market segment – until now.

The world’s fastest-growing automotive brand has stepped up to the mark with yet another important model.

Those who overlook the Hyundai i40 do so at considerable cost.

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Hyundai i40 2012-2020 First drives