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.