The Hyundai i30: not exactly interesting, is it? File the first generation car as ‘dull’, the second generation car as ‘ugly’ and the all-new third generation model as… well, hang on a minute, this one has a little more promise.
For a start, it looks a damned sight more appealing than the outgoing model. Gone is the frumpy, bulbous styling of the second generation i30, replaced by a sharper, leaner exterior.
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A little too generic, perhaps – Peugeot 308 at the front, Volkswagen Golf at the back – but if Hyundai wants to muscle in on a segment dominated by the Europeans, it might as well channel a little Euro-flash.
Hyundai will point to the ‘cascading grille’ inspired by ‘the flow of molten steel’ and ‘muscular wide rear design’ as evidence of a chiselled new look, but all you need to know is that the new Hyundai i30 is more Prada than Primark.
As you’d expect, the i30 looks its best in the plusher, more expensive trim levels. Order a Premium or Premium SE model and your car will come with showroom-friendly trinkets such as 17-inch alloy wheels, full LED headlights and LED rear lights. All but the entry-level S model get a black and chrome grille.
Hyundai i30: the kick inside
The positive vibes continue on the inside, with a clean and uncluttered cabin that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the old model. Quality is up a notch or two, while the specification is impressive for a car of this size and price range. You’ll pay £16,995 for the poverty-spec 1.0 S, rising to £24,745 for the bells-and-whistles 1.6 diesel in Premium SE trim.
Things start to get interesting at the mid-range SE Nav specification, which adds sat nav, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, voice recognition and wireless phone charging to the likes of DAB radio, rear park-assist, rear-view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels. Opt for the £1,000 Visibility Pack and the car benefits from LED headlights, 17-inch alloys and dual-zone climate control.
The infotainment system is one of the best in the segment, being simple to control on the move and easy to pair with a smartphone for the first time. The map is perhaps a tad dated, but there’s no faulting it in terms of clarity, while the sat nav was easy to program.
There are multiple storage bins and pockets, too, especially in Premium and Premium SE models, with space freed up by the fitment of an electronic parking brake. This even includes a pocket large enough to house an iPhone 7 Plus.
Hyundai i30: moving
So far, so good, then. The question is: how does it drive?
This all depends on your choice of engine and what you expect from your Korean hatchback. Forget Focus-rivalling dynamics – there’s a performance N model waiting in the wings to cater for enthusiastic drivers – and instead revel in the excellent ride comfort and poise. Over some rough Cornish roads, the i30 rode beautifully, even on the larger 17-inch rims.
It’s all adding up to a wonderfully refined car, before we mention the significant amount of tyre noise entering the cabin. In fairness, it was more noticeable in a pre-production model, and the back lanes of Cornwall are hardly velvet-smooth, but on one particular stretch of road we were tempted to tune into Radio 1 and crank the volume to the max. Yes, it was that bad.
There are three engines to choose from: a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol, a new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel. We tested all three, including the 1.4 Turbo in both manual and pre-production seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) guises.
Our pick would be the surprisingly enjoyable 1.0-litre Turbo, which does the best impression of a warm hatch. Hyundai quotes a 0-62mph time of 11.8 seconds, but in reality it feels much quicker. It’s the lightest model in the range, which was evident as we chucked it along the twisting roads of the Roseland Peninsula.
Hyundai i30: running up that hill?
On motorway climbs it will run out of puff – we were forced to change down from sixth to fourth when travelling up Cornwall’s ‘Hamburger Hill’ – but this isn’t enough for us not to recommend it as the engine of choice.
Neither is the fact that on a 35-mile drive to Newquay Airport we were averaging 22mpg at one point, before it settled to 26mpg once we had stopped having fun. Hyundai quotes a figure of 56.5mpg, although we suspect you won’t get anywhere near this if you use the three-cylinder engine to its full potential.
One-litre Hyundai i30 in ‘surprisingly good fun’ shocker. Empty Cornish roads might have helped. pic.twitter.com/TFwNRft1IL
— Gavin Big-Surname (@MajorGav) February 17, 2017
Make no mistake, this is not a true drivers’ car. The steering is too vague and lacking in feedback, while the suspension is too soft for it to feature on any list of B-road heroe. But the mere fact that we had fun in a Hyundai i30 is a reason to be cheerful.
For the majority of i30 owners – especially those who have grown up (not us, then) – the 1.4 Turbo is arguably the best all-rounder. The additional 20hp makes it more suited to long distance travel, while it should be easier to extract the best from the engine, making the claimed 52.3mpg a more realistic proposition.
As for the 1.6-litre CRDi, this was the least impressive engine on the day. There’s a welcome lump of mid-range torque, but we also noticed a significant amount of vibration through the pedals and gearstick. It’s noticeably the heaviest of the range, too.
Sure, the manual version dips below the 100g/km CO2 mark, at 99g/km, but come April that will no longer deliver the tax break of before. The figure of 74.3mpg might look good on paper, but unless you do mega miles we’d stick with the petrol versions.
On the evidence of our brief drive in Cornwall, we’d also avoid the seven-speed DCT. Whilst acknowledging that this was a pre-production model, we found it to be lethargic and frustrating at low speeds, although things did improve once cruising. Attempt any form of rapid progress, however, and the transmission will take a moment to ponder, before changing down with a thud. Not great.
Again, this was a pre-production model, so we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve had another drive.
Until then, we’ll stick with a 1.0-litre manual SE Nav: a snip at £19,645. Sadly, Hyundai isn’t offering the 1.0 Turbo in plush Premium or Premium SE trim, which is a shame, as, given the level of kit on offer, that could have resulted in one of our favourite family hatchbacks on the market.
Is it perfect? Of course not. We’d have liked more in the way in steering feel, while there are still weak points to be found in the cabin. A cheap and flimsy centre storage box lid might not seem like a big deal in isolation, but attention to detail matters in a crowded segment.
We also noticed a significant amount of reflection from the dashboard when driving in the winter sunshine of Cornwall. Another minor irritation, granted, but worthy of a mention nonetheless.
Hyundai i30: moments of pleasure
But aside from that we’re struggling to find fault with the new Hyundai i30. It’s safe – all models come with a lane departure and forward collision warning system, autonomous braking and lane-keep assist – while top trim models get blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.
It’s also connected: Bluetooth is fitted as standard, while SE Nav, Premium and Premium SE models get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Mapcare, Live services and a wireless phone charging pad. And we haven’t even mentioned Hyundai’s five-year warranty.
Hyundai is benchmarking the i30 against the Golf, Focus, 308 and Astra, and it’s more than capable of holding its own. Crucially, it no longer feels like the ‘white good’ of the segment. You can buy an i30 with your head and your heart.
It manages to tick all of the boxes without excelling in one particular area. The Kia Cee’d has a longer warranty. The Megane is a little more interesting. The Focus and Mazda3 are better to drive. And, thanks to OnStar, the Astra is better connected.
But we’d choose an i30 over the ‘big three’s’ closest challenger: the Peugeot 308. It looks the same, has a longer warranty and offers loads more space for rear-seat passengers, which, let’s face it, is a big deal in a family car.
Heck, right now we’d choose one over a Volkswagen Golf. Turns out the Hyundai i30 is interesting after all. Wow.