The problem with rapid progress is that people get used to giant leaps – it becomes an expectation. Hyundai’s rapid evolution in recent years, as evidenced by excellent products such as the Elantra and ix35, has changed perceptions of this Korean brand dramatically. Suddenly, customers expect every new Hyundai to be as good or better as the established competition. On the other, consumers still regard Hyundai as new and as a “value” brand, and as such it expected that Hyundai must match the quality and ability of its fiercest rivals, but offer its products at a much cheaper price. This, of course, is unfair, but it’s a reality that Hyundai increasingly faces. Its latest i30 hatchback is a case in point. Is being as good as the rest good enough when it also costs the same as the rest?
Flamboyant looksThe previous i30, which arrived in South Africa fairly late in its model life, was never much of a looker. This new i30 model is however a different story, with very flamboyant styling. There’s the new and very expressive Hyundai grille design, strong curves over the front wheels that flow into the shoulder lines and, at the rear, large tail lamps that stretch around the corners of the vehicle. Attractive 17-inch wheels and a subtle tailgate spoiler are also part of the strong visual package. With a dash of chrome here and there, as well as standard fog lamps, the i30 GLS looks upmarket and… expensive.
Inside, however, the news is not so good. Relative to the bold and futuristic facia design of the Elantra, the supposedly sportier i30 gets a neat but more conservative front panel. Sure, there are some excellent details, too, including a very attractive instrument cluster with cool blue backlighting and a particularly neat fuel consumption meter, but overall the design is a bit generic. And although soft-touch surfaces can indeed be found on the facia and elsewhere, the overall effect isn’t as reassuringly sophisticated and solid as, for example, in a Golf… or an Astra.
Where the i30 hits back is in its standard features and spaciousness. The i30 has a relatively long wheelbase, which translates into very good rear legroom. There’s also a big 378 L boot. In front, an excellent driving position is assured through the rake/reach adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable seat. And it lacks little in the way of surprise and delight items – included are; dual-zone climate control, park assist, Bluetooth, cruise control, auto lights and a sound system with USB/aux plug-in support. The safety package is also comprehensive and consists of six airbags, an ESP (electronic stability) system and Isofix child-seat anchorages at the rear.
Where’s the power?With its sporty looks and an engine that, on paper at least, appears to develop good power, the i30 creates performance expectations it struggles to live up to. Yes, the 110 kW of power is impressive, but the torque (178 Nm) only comes on stream at a relatively high 4 700 rpm. Consequently, you have to rev the engine quite hard to extract the performance there is, and at higher engine speeds the powerplant does start to feel less than refined. Besides, the 0-100 km/h time of 9,7 seconds is nothing special and the claimed fuel consumption of 6,5 L/100 km is very difficult to match.
Perhaps the driving experience wouldn’t have been as frustrating as it is if the six-speed gearbox was slicker. As it stands the disappointingly rubbery shift action is another black mark against the i30’s drivetrain. But let’s put this all into context. If the buyer has not previously experienced the refinement of, as one example, the VW Golf’s 1,4-litre drivetrain, he (or she) would be none the wiser. In isolation the i30 does an acceptable job. But the point is this – the competition is offering smaller-capacity, more efficient, turbocharged engines that not only offers greater driveability than the 1,8-litre in the i30, but also superior economy and refinement.
Controlled ride and handlingOne of the much-talked about features of the new i30 is its FlexSteer system. It allows the driver to set the steering weighting and feel according to one of three settings (Normal, Comfort and Sport). Predictably, Comfort makes the steering very light and is great for parking. Sport, meanwhile, adds some weight and “feel”. We found, however, that Normal offers a great compromise. Ironically, this complicated system probably gives the best balanced steering feel of any recent Hyundai/Kia offering.
On the road, the i30’s large wheels and relatively sporty suspension set-up have not resulted in a bone-jarring ride. In reality, the ride is comfortable and the car stays reassuringly flat during cornering. It’s clearly a capable chassis that could do with even more power.
Hyundai i30 - VerdictPerhaps Hyundai has become a victim of its own success, and perhaps we have come to expect too much. The problem is that the i30’s price puts it in direct competition with the established (and excellent) players such as Golf, Astra and Focus. Yes, it offers more features and the best warranty and service plan, but ultimately those items can’t make up for the relatively unrefined drivetrain. It’s a pity, because the rest of the i30 is truly excellent.
- Expressive design
- Standard features
- Ride comfort
- Warranty and service plan
- Rubbery gearshift
- Not as refined as Golf, Astra etc.
Fast FactsEngine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol Power: 110 kW @ 6 500 rpm Torque: 178 Nm @ 4 700 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 190 km/h 0-100 km/h: 9,7 seconds Fuel economy: 6,5 L/100 km
- Volkswagen Golf 1,4 TSI Comfortline: The undisputed king of the C-segment hatchbacks offers excellent refinement, a punchy and economical engine, great ride/handling balance and a decent mix of standard features.
- Opel Astra 1,4T Enjoy: In this spec level can’t quite match the Hyundai i30, so you may have to spend extra for Enjoy+ trim, but either way you’re getting a quality product that deserves greater success.
- Ford Focus 2,0 GDI Trend: Quite expensive in 2,0-litre Trend form, but you do get significantly more power and a comprehensive specification level. In its latest for the Focus also boasts greater refinement and a very “cool” interior design.