Four-door Hyundai isn’t quite as sensible as estate, but has plenty to recommend it

What is it?

The new Hyundai i40 saloon, which has just arrived on sale in the UK, six months or so after the estate. Regular four-doors usually come to market before larger five-door estates, so Hyundai’s UK distributor is doing this back-to-front according to the received industry wisdom. From a styling perpective, though, it’s saved the best ‘till last – which makes a pleasant change.

This is a mid-spec diesel version, which is broadly level on performance and price with Autocar class favourites such as the Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec and Skoda Superb TDi 140 SE – so if you’re expecting it to cost you considerably less than an established European option, think again. The i40 is nonetheless well equipped, and as we’ll go on to explain, relies on very few allowances to measure up, even exceed, most relevant benchmarks.

What’s it like?

Armed with the optimal proportions of a traditional three-box body, the i40 is undeniably attractive. It’s not original; the debt that Hyundai’s designers owe to those of the original Mercedes CLS here is a big one. But Hyundai is just the last in a long list of car-makers to have ‘taken inspiration’ from that particular direction.

Taking the estate rear-end away from this car has affected one of the primary facets of its appeal – but only a little. The i40 Estate earned its three-and-a-half star road test rating partly because of its generous cabin and boot; the saloon isn’t quite as practical. Legroom’s good, but if you’re taller than 6’3”, you’ll find the headlining in the back with the crown of your head. And while the boot is a good size, it’s accessed via quite a narrow boot opening rather than a bigger hatch.

The estate’s other virtues remain intact though. The i40’s interior feels well appointed, contemporary in its design and is quite nicely finished. The driver’s seat is a little high, but in most other respects the car’s ergonomics – rear headroom excepted – are good.

In day-to-day use the i40 saloon is economical, refined and easy-to-drive. Its supple, quiet low speed ride is a real advantage around town. But it’s no driver’s car. The electrically assisted power steering feels elastic and strangely homogenous; it can feel overly light at higher speeds, lacks the smooth sense of precision of the class’ best, and is too keen to self-centre around town. Throttle response can also be poor at low engine speeds.

Should I buy one?

If push came to shove, we’d have to admit that we prefer the estate version of the i40 – it’s got slightly more going for it relative to its peers. But the saloon is almost competitive next to a great many of the European alternatives. It’s no class champion, but merits serious consideration. And sub-120g/km emissions models, high equipment levels and low insurance ratings should make it popular in for fleet drivers, which matters a great deal in this class.

Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDi 136 Style

Price: £20,995; Top speed: 124mph; 0-62mph: 10.6sec; Economy: 55.4mpg; Co2: 134g/km; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1685cc, turbodiesel; Power: 134bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 240lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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thebaldgit 30 January 2012

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDi Style

Not as good as some of the previous Hyundai's but still proof that they are headed in the right direction.

K1NZ 29 January 2012

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDi Style

Seems like an attractive fleet package.. If i was in the market for a car like this i would find it hard to walk past the likes of a superb or Mondeo though.

Overdrive 29 January 2012

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDi Style

Yes, it sounds like a decent car, as does its better looking cousin, the Optima.

The Koreans have indeed progressed rapidly over the past 10-15 years. But, here's the thing, "catching up" is the relative easy part. It's the overtaking that is far more difficult.

Take the Japanese, the likes of Lexus, Infiniti etc got up to speed with the best Europeans very quickly indeed and in many ways they remain a par with the Europeans, and in one or two areas, e.g. mechanical reliability, overtaken them. However, could we say that overall the best of Japan beats the best of Europe? In a few cases (e.g. the GT-R) maybe, but I'd suggest best of Europe still has the edge.

So having a target to enable you to catch up to is far easier than beating it. I'm betting the Koreans will find this out soon enough. But it's great they are intent on having a go since it provides more choice in the market place.