What is it?
Hyundai’s presence in Europe is now so extensive that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the family-sized i30 hatchback has slipped somewhat in importance – trumped by cooler products (the Ioniq) - or else more profitable ones (the Santa Fe). Not a bit of it, though. The first i30, launched in 2007, effectively set Hyundai on its current trajectory on the back of a eurocentric development programme.
The car's insurgency into the continent’s biggest single market segment continues with this the third-generation model - first shown at last year's Paris motor show, accompanied by the tagline: “the people’s car” – a broadside statement of ambition if ever there was one. Hyundai, as usual, makes no bones about its approach: the competition – all of it – has been ruthlessly benchmarked with the intention of getting the i30 to measure up to the best.
As a result, while the old car’s architecture remains, it has been comprehensively overhauled; doubling the amount of high-strength steel in the body and shedding weight along the way. Rigidity, unsurprisingly, is better too, as is size, with the model being marginally bigger. It's also lower-riding, which is good, because Hyundai wants the i30 to look better, too, citing design as one of the primary reasons why buyers chose the previous model.
Increased dynamism is also high on the agenda. The last i30 was worthy enough, but largely forgettable to drive. This time around, while it has retained the front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension, the firm claims to have opted for more performance oriented dampers and quickened up the steering by around 10%.
Another thing that's quicker is the all-new engine added to the line-up: a 138bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder to replace the outdated Gamma unit and supplement the 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.6-litre diesel carried over. Until the N-badged performance arrives later this year, it’ll be the quickest accelerating version of the i30 and the direct competitor for a raft of like-minded options. We sampled it in Premium trim (or what passes for that grade in Spain) with the standard six-speed manual gearbox.
What's it like?
Differentiating your five-door family hatchback in possibly the continent’s most congested marketplace has become crucial, and despite drafting in the indisputable talents of Peter Schreyer as overseer, Hyundai hasn’t necessarily triumphed in the subjective eye candy test. Quips about mistakenly being on the Peugeot 308 or Fiat Tipo launch felt a little too on the money in Málaga.
Inside, the i30 is heavily altered – but remains a familiar Hyundai jumble nonetheless. From mid-spec SE Nav onwards there’s a centrally mounted 8.0in touchscreen, but Hyundai has put too little functionality onto it, meaning there’s still a Millenium Falcon’s worth of blue-tinted switchgear floating about on the dash. However, buttons for both heated and cooling seats on the centre console offer a reminder of just how lavish the i30’s toy list is among the costlier trim levels. The space on offer is adequate; the driving position and ergonomics good.
Fixture and fitting build quality remains sturdy. In the lighter, stiffer body and the revised chassis it graduates to downright solid. Gains made in construction and damper budget pay off here admirably: the i30 is exceptionally quiet and as nullifying as a mattress topper. If there is a tangible benefit to the Korean preoccupation with benchmarking, it is located here in high production values of a suspension set-up devoid of sharp edges or the clatter and clunk of moving metal parts.
The new petrol engine is a willing participant in its serenity. Don’t expect to hear any more than a background flutter at idle or a distant hum when cruising. Its purported spiritedness from 0-62mph is somewhat overblown; sub nine seconds it may very well do, but you’ll have to work it dramatically beyond its comfort zone to replicate the claim. Realistically, the new motor wants to be gently amenable; humbly supplying 178lb ft of torque from 1500rpm, and encouraging you to change up long before 138bhp appears at a breathless 6000rpm.
More often than not, you’ll defer to the suggestion – because it’s as plain as the nose on the i30’s front end that there is scant reward to be gained from any extra effort. Of the car’s fundamental composure, there is little doubt. There’s acres of progressive, front-wheel-drive predictability massaged into the handling. But it’s as starchy as a bowl of rice thanks to the soggy control weights that work to suppress any real rapport with the road. Possibly the ponderous weight felt in the clutch engagement, gearshift and steering response is meant to convey dependability – an organic trait to Hyundai – yet it works to throttle the kind of accurate and spirited ease of use that a Ford or Seat or Mazda driver would take for granted.
Should I buy one?
Objectively - practically, financially and logically, too - the i30 still qualifies as an upstanding choice, and the palpable gains made in refinement, comfort, kit and performance duly strengthen its hand.
However, be that as it may, the car still doesn’t reach to satisfy a deeper dynamic itch – and that’s no less of a problem for this generation than it was for the last; particularly as recent inclusions to the segment, such as the Vauxhall Astra, have striven to deliver a more three-dimensional driving experience. The i30’s chosen compromise is plainly more staid - and while rigorous benchmarking has ensured no downturn in quality, it has not necessarily inflated its likeability or roundedness much, either.
Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi Premium
Location Malaga; On sale March; Price £22,195; Engine 4cyl, 1353cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 138bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 178lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox Six-speed manual; Kerb weight 1352kg; Top speed 130mph; 0-62mph 8.9sec; Economy (official) 52.3mpg; CO2/BIK tax band 124g/km, 21% Rivals Seat Leon, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra