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Facing increasingly formidable opposition, the Hyundai i30 has been overhauled for 2017. The result is a recognisably mixed bag

Our Verdict

Hyundai i30

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

Nic Cackett
17 January 2017

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quicker is the all-new engine added to the line-up: a 138bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder to replace the outdated Gamma unit and supplement the 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.6-litre diesel carried over.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

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Comments
17

17 January 2017
£22,200 ouch, yes it has leather (the rest is just bling or the competition has it too) but that's nearing Golf, A3 territory and passes a top of the range Astra with full heated leather, MUCH faster 1.4T Elite Nav for £21,000 some £1,200 less.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

17 January 2017
An A3 will be in a basic spec for that price. Spec for spec this hyundai will be thousands cheaper.

Of course you fail to mention that the Astra is actually £21,000 over priced.

17 January 2017
winniethewoo wrote:

An A3 will be in a basic spec for that price. Spec for spec this hyundai will be thousands cheaper.

Of course you fail to mention that the Astra is actually £21,000 over priced.

Which is why I said ‘nearing’ and mentioned the bling word. A3 SE 1.4(COD) is just £300 more, add in leather and Sat Nav and you’re looking at just 10-15% for a quicker, more economical and slower deprecating car.
The thing you have with Vauxhall’s is beyond help however.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

17 January 2017
I just won't believe that an Astra has a more 3 dimensional driving experience than this Hyundai. Matt Saunders group test where is criticises a stodgy gear change, bad body control and inconsistent steering weights sounds exactly like the Astras I have driven in the past. Evo magazine are similarly critical of the new Astra basically saying there is potential there for a nicely driving car but its potential that hasn't been realised. Of course you could qualify such comments by framing them in terms of the mythical average punter who always seems to revel in mediocrity, but people arent stupid. They can tell. The Astra will still have to trade on low price rather than talent.

17 January 2017
Yawn - Winniethewoo on another anti-Astra / Vauxhall rant.

About as predictable as the sun rising and setting today.

Winnie - stick to driving a Golf or some other such dull-machine and the rest of us will know how to avoid you.

22 January 2017
odie_the_dog wrote:

Yawn - Winniethewoo on another anti-Astra / Vauxhall rant.

About as predictable as the sun rising and setting today.

Winnie - stick to driving a Golf or some other such dull-machine and the rest of us will know how to avoid you.

Oldie the dog on another vw rant....etc etc. See above for further details.

Spanner

17 January 2017
'Tis true odie. This i30 seems super boring and just my sort of car. Astras make me curse and swear. I don't need that sort of drama in my life, at least not from my car. My wife on the other hand...

17 January 2017
Excellent news - I'm just debating whether to go for an Astra estate as my next company car - that their very presence on the road causes you such problems makes it all the more attractive.

And certainly much more attractive than a Leogolfvia from the VAG stable.

17 January 2017
odie_the_dog wrote:

Excellent news - I'm just debating whether to go for an Astra estate as my next company car - that their very presence on the road causes you such problems makes it all the more attractive.

And certainly much more attractive than a Leogolfvia from the VAG stable.

What else is on your short list?

18 January 2017
The list of choice is huge - its lease based.

For me it's about keeping costs under control and minimising what I pay the government for the privilege of having a company car, so I've narrowed it down to:

- Astra, strong on CO2, low list price.
- Hyundai Ioniq
- Peugeot 308 SW - emissions and price not as good as Astra
- Honda Civic - depending on price and CO2 of 2017 model.
- New Insignia - per the Civic, depending on price and CO2.

I've already discounted a load of other options as either too small to be a useful family car, too high on CO2, or the "I don't want one of those".

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