Early drive gives first impressions of the UK-bound Hyundai i40

What is it?

This is the new Hyundai Sonata saloon, which has just gone on sale in right hand drive form in South Africa after a successful introduction in the US last year. It’s near-identical to the i40 saloon which we’ll be getting next November, although an estate version will go on sale around five months earlier.

There are some key differences to the car we’ve been testing in the roads around Cape Town and the UK car though. Chief amongst them is that Hyundai’s engineers, based in Frankfurt, will be tuning the car to European tastes, including development on UK roads.

This car is a 2.0-litre petrol model, allied to a 6-speed auto ‘box - UK variants will centre mainly on the diesels. There is a new 1.7-litre turbo-diesel with three different outputs planned: 115, bhp, 140bhp and a ‘higher output’ version. The lower powered ones will both put out less than 120 g/km of CO2, so they should work well for company car tax payers.

We’ll also probably get two different petrol engines: direct injection units of 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacity, good for 140 and 180bhp respectively.

Finally, UK cars will get minor design tweaks to the front grille and front and rear LED lights. We’re also promised higher grade plastics than those in South African cars.

What’s it like?

There's no doubt that the new Sonata is a handsome car in the metal, continuing the great strides the Korean manufacturer has made lately with design.

The progess is the same on the inside too, as it has a smart fascia, space comparable to rivals such as the Mondeo and a good deal of comfort.

That said, as it stands it doesn’t feel as robust, or as classy, as the best of the European and Japanese competition and there are plenty of small design and material flourishes that could and should be improved upon by the time it arrives in the UK. Still, the fundamentals of driving position and comfort and blameless.

However, we got the feeling that plenty of attention needs to be paid to dynamics by the time it comes our way too. It’s a comfortable, quiet cruiser and does a good job of staying tied down over large crests and the like. But it’s too easily flummoxed by some of the worst excesses of Cape Town roads where plenty of lumps and bumps filter through into the cabin. As they would do on UK roads too if it stayed unchanged.

It’s not that engaging to steer through corners either. It doesn’t feel edgy or unstable, but vague steering and body lean hardly reward you when you up the pace in the way that a Mondeo or Mazda 6 might.

Should I buy one?

It’s too early to tell whether the Sonata, or i40 as we will get it, is going to persuade you to forgo a Mondeo, Insignia or Passat as a company car choice or private buy.

And for some in this market the badge and lack of a hatch option will always be a reason not to.

That said, prices are likely to start at £16,000, with a £1500 premium for the estate model. That, coupled with Hyundai’s generous equipment levels, smart styling and economical diesels are going to make it quite tempting to company car tax payers, while the five year warranty is going to be an added incentive for private buyers.

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If promised improvements are made to dynamics and interior quality it does, at least, deserve to get on your radar.

Chas Hallett

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MattDB 22 June 2010

Re: Hyundai Sonata / Hyundai i40

The i40 looks quite smart. A bit of a cross between a Passat CC (Window line) and Pug 308 (lights).

Bottom line is that the i40 looks pretty cheap, and will be the car for former drivers of Nissan's Primera. The combination of low list price and low co2 means it will be popular with company fleet managers who don't give a fig about ride and handling. No doubt we will see plenty of ex fleet cars at a car supermarket near you in 2-3 years from now.

The Apprentice 22 June 2010

Re: Hyundai Sonata / Hyundai i40

I have seen Mr Smokey busy on the forums of another car magazine, one without 'auto' in the name.

Bending the topic, I was mildly amused during the world cup game in which North Korea got hammered how much advertising was shown on the hoardings for Hyundai. But then I wouldn't be surprised if the North state-TV didn't develop a 'technical fault' and went off air after the 3rd goal got passed them.

jelly7961 22 June 2010

Re: Hyundai Sonata / Hyundai i40

artill wrote:
Smoke, anyone?
Undoubtedly. I wondered where he had got to. A word of warning. I had the misfortune to hire one of these in Australia just last week (badged i45 though for some reason) and it was like a trip down memory lane to say circa 1981. Appalling. Everyone keeps saying that the next gen Korean cars are going to whip the Euros on their home turf. Sorry - hasn't happened yet and I doubt it ever will. For every generation yes they do improve but so do the Euros.