Development drive reveals a very competent Mondeo rival

What is it?

This is Hyundai’s first serious entry into Europe’s hard-fought Mondeo market. Based on the same all-new platform as the US-market Sonata, the i40 will come as an estate (from April 2011) and then a saloon (from autumn).

There won’t be an i40 hatchback because, aside from the UK, Europeans overwhelmingly buy estates, which make up some 65 per cent of this market segment.

The i40’s exterior is modern and striking, though the deeply sculpted sides and odd, curved D-pillar detail are rather less restrained than is the norm in this segment.

Hyundai engineers say they benchmarked the i40 against the Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Avensis. A longer wheelbase than a Passat ensures greater interior space.

The company is also claiming the i40’s body shell is 11 per cent torsionally stiffer and 23 per cent stiffer in bending than the Passat. A significant 62 per cent of the i40’s structure is made of very high-strength steels, which should pay off for ride and handling as well as safety.

What’s it like?

Even five months before the start of series production (we drove the 17th and 25th i40 estate models to be built), the i40 is surprisingly good.

We tried both the diesel engine and the petrol engine at Hyundai’s Namyang proving ground, albeit in heavily disguised development cars.

There are two 1.7-litre diesel engines, offering 113bhp and 134bhp, with the lower-tune motor offering CO2 emissions of just 113g/km and the more powerful one 124g/km. In 2012 a more powerful twin-turbo version of this engine will be launched.

While the new the 2.0-litre GDI direct-injection petrol engine pulls strongly at high revs, there’s some way to go on engine refinement, as Hyundai acknowledges. However, it is claimed to return around 50mpg, significantly better than rivals can manage.

Even at this stage, however, it’s clear that the 1.7-litre diesel engine will probably be the power plant of choice. Already more refined than the GDI engine, the diesel also pulls more readily from low revs and is well matched to both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes.

On the high-speed bowl, the i40 was very stable and well planted at 100mph, which bodes well for long days on the UK motorway network, though it wasn’t possible to estimate the likely effect of side winds.

On the handling circuit, the Hyundai was more than competent, refusing to understeer when pressed on long, fast bends. The steering feel and weighting also held up on the fast curves, allowing the driver to make accurate inputs as the corner’s radius shifted. It’s likely that the car’s super-stiff body is paying dividends here. Overall, the i40 appeared to hit a very happy medium between comfort and alertness.

The i40 also benefits from a wide and well laid out cockpit, with plenty of storage space and an attractive centre console that is dominated by a large control wheel. The material quality and the attention to detail (especially the mix of chrome highlights and satin finishes) look to be up there with the best Europe can offer.

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Rear seat passengers are particularly well provided for, with excellent rear legroom and good headroom. The boot is also sizeable, although it’s not very deep between the load bay floor and side windows. There’s room for a full-size spare wheel, though.

Should I buy one?

Hyundai acknowledges that the European Mondeo sector has shrunk dramatically over the past few years and it will be tough for it to break into the market. But it feels it needs a car of this size to compete, especially for fleet orders.

These pre-production i40s were extremely promising: distinctive and spacious, with a fine interior and excellent interior packaging. Even the handling felt impressively European, although we were testing the car on its home ground.

We’ll know more next spring, but the i40 looks very competitive.

Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDi Tourer

Price: tba; Top speed: tba; 0-81mph: 18.4sec [only figure given]; Economy: tba; CO2: 124g/km; Kerb weight: 1485kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1688cc, turbodiesel; Power 134bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 243lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: six-speed manual

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Add a comment…
marj 21 December 2010

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CDTi Estate

michael knight wrote:

Hyundai and Kia know what they're doing. While GM, Ford, and everyone else seems obsessed by chasing VW and Audi and 'premiumising' their product (and prices), the Koreans step into their place. Now they have decent designers on board I'm seeing less and less reasons not to buy one...

As someone has previously commented that the i40 looks very German, I really wonder who is chasing VW and Audi. It is often said that these are the benchmark (as much as I hate them) so to beat the benchmark you have to at least allude to it.

My ony beef with Kiaundai is that everything seems a bit too contrived. The styling is a mix of countless European boxes, the quality is mimicing that of Audi, the driving feel of a Toyota, I could go on. I still think these are soul-less cars, purchased by soul-less people who will neither stress or abuse their cars. Perfectly capable of going from a-b without any fuss. Do any long term testers have them up to 150k miles or more in 3 years? That would be a true test of reliability. Much like the 'interim' Samsung vacuum cleaner that gradually disintegrated in 13 months of ownership and never quite felt the 100% real deal (Dyson). The Koreans are good at making well engineered, more stylish than they were before products but they never quite feel 'it'. A bit like creating a part that looks like the item off an Audi, without fully realising why it is formed/designed that way. It is that core essence and understanding I feel is missing from these cars. They will learn, I am sadly old enough to remember just how bad the Pony was, on a par with an FSO Polonez. Now look at them. I am sure it is only a matter of time, but then, where and how will the Europeans be?

thebaldgit 21 December 2010

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CDTi Estate

I will wait to see it without its disguise before I make any comment regarding its looks but there is no doubt that this is a fast improving car company. The fact that it outsells VW in the US is a good example of this.

steven211 21 December 2010

Re: Hyundai i40 1.7 CDTi Estate

Locknload66 wrote:

michael knight wrote:
Now they have decent designers on board I'm seeing less and less reasons not to buy one...

I agree.

Hyundai and Kia make such great cars now, who's laughing now Clarkson taking the piss out of these two companies for years and now look at them, up there with Ford and Vauxhall, my uncle has a Kia Venga and its a great little car, decent to drive and spacious, with 7 year warranty, I am impressed.