The station wagon as we know it has rather taken a backseat to the crossover and SUV in recent years, as people try, however artificially, to 'ruggedize' their lifestyles even if most of their off-roading means turning into a driveway or negotiating the hazards of a supermarket carpark.
There are signs that wagons are having a bit of a resurgence in recent times, and such a trend is unlikely to be hindered when wagons as stunning to look at as the Hyundai i40 start to enter New Zealand showrooms.
With a familiar drop-through Hyundai grille and a signature sweeping side crease to connect it to other recent offerings from the Korean concern, like the i45, Elantra and Accent, the i40 adds a long, gently tapered five door load carrier profile to the mix and ends up better looking than any of them. Another nice touch is the rear pillar's subtle reverse curve. It could be something of a trend-setter.
The body's taper does not compromise load access, as it does with the similarly-shaped Avensis II from Toyota. I found it would gobble up an armchair without effort, something the Japanese wagon couldn't do with the same item of furniture. There's under- floor storage too, and good strong- looking "eyes" for a load net. What a pity that Hyundai doesn't offer the net as part of the package.
While the load capacity is impressive, at 553 litres seats up, and 1719 litres seats folded, back seat space is good, too, with enough legroom to cope with large adults sitting behind sizeable front seat occupants without any trouble.
But the place to be is definitely up front, where the driver and passenger seem to have at least as much room as in the slightly larger i45 sedan. Good dash materials, quality cloth and well- shaped seats combine with nice detailing - for the most part - to give the owner/user a high "feel good" rating. In contrast, the sound system's information screen is very poor, with crude graphics, a curious blue-grey background and it proves almost impossible to read in bright sunlight.
This is suprising when compared with the thought that's gone into the rest of the car, with all of its controls including those on the steering wheel being simple and clear, and its easy to use bluetooth, MP3 and iPod connections all stowed away neatly behind a console lid, next to a phone- charging plug.
While the materials are dark in the entry-point i40s, it isn't dingy at all, and surprisingly classy, all told. It has to be said that the column levers looked a little cheap, and that screen really did look rubbish, but it didn't put me off because, once tuned to desired stations, you don't need to look at it to use it!
Things get better in the more expensive Elite models which throw in leather, climate control, and a much nicer sound system and screen, more sporting alloy wheels, and a parking camera.
The range starts at $44,990 for a 2.0-litre 130kW six-speed automatic i40, while the Elite version asks $49,990, with the 1.7-litre turbodiesel version, also with a six-speed automatic, adding a premium of $4000 in each case. The ultimate i40 is the diesel Elite Limited which adds even more fruit, including a panoramic sunroof. If there's a complaint about standard equipment, I'd like to see rear parking sensors in the base models, as that smart, tapered silhouette has one drawback - a restricted view to the rear.
The Hyundai i40 was designed and built mainly for the European market and that shows in many ways. While the i45 sedan provided a comfort-zoned chassis, loads of gear and a wide chromy grin for its original American target market, the i40's underpinnings are crisply incisive, which goes with its dramatic but unfussy styling.
There's none of the numbness at the steering's straight ahead point and a few degrees either side, and the i40 can be turned into corners or guided through brisk lane-changes and overtaking manoeuvres with confidence and unfailing accuracy. In fact the car feels so tidily responsive that if Hyundai had called it a sports wagon, I wouldn't have quibbled.
Ride quality is well sorted, and I'm probably being a little picky about its initial impact response on raised bumps, which is a tad harsh. However, every other part of the car's chassis is a revelation after the cosy, over-cushy i45 sedan.
With a good, heavy load of camera gear and luggage on board, the car stayed level and I'd suggest that as a working wagon the i40 should acquit itself pretty well, with its handling characteristics not displaying any changes with extra weight on board.
The ride does change a little. Pre-loaded with rear passengers and some luggage, that initial harshness is eliminated; it wasn't a big deal in the first place.
I have driven the i40's optional 100kW/326Nm 1.7-litre turbodiesel power unit in other Hyundai/Kia offerings overseas and was impressed with its quietness, refinement and mid-range urgency. It's no slug in the fuel economy stakes either and, with 1.7CRDi versions of the i40 coming through as this is written, it's obvious that families and fleet managers alike will be impressed with its 5.9L/100km EU combined economy ratings.
For all that, the creamy-smooth 2.0-litre petrol unit has its own strengths, not the least of which is its $4000 lower sticker price. It works quietly through the standard six-speed automatic and lazes along with just 1850rpm on the tachometer at 100kmh. Although its own EU economy rating is 7.7L/100km, it's better than many similarly-sized petrol competitors' offerings.
I managed a nine-second dead zero to illegal time with the i40, shifting the automatic by way of the standard steering wheel paddles, and it didn't seem that much slower when left to its own devices in Drive.
The i40's obvious competitors are the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo wagons, which offer a little less space than the Korean for loads behind the rear seats, though with the bench folded they offer a few litres more.
Price wise, the Ford and Mazda start at the same point or thereabouts as the i40, at $44,490 and $43,795 respectively, but neither offers the power of the petrol i40, being 10kW and 22kW down on the Hyundai. The European and Japanese sourced offerings can be upgraded with larger engines or, in the Ford's case, a decent diesel offering more power and/or torque for more money but then, soon, so will the i40.
Anyone in the market for a D-segment wagon and who enjoys driving should look very seriously at this new Korean. It has no compromises in terms of load capacity compared with its competitors, offers crisp, pleasing performance, better than average fuel economy, and a head-turning look that passed muster with everyone I showed it to.
* Drivetrain: Transverse FWD 1999cc DOHC 16v four, six-speed automatic transmission.
* Performance: 2.0L petrol 130kW at 6500rpm, 213Nm at 4700rpm, Max 215kmh, 0-100kmh 9secs, 7.7L/100km, 176g/km CO2. 1.7L turbodiesel 100kW at 4000rpm, 326Nm at 2000-2500rpm, Max 190kmh, 0-100kmh 10.6secs, 5.9L/100km, 159g/km CO2.
* Chassis: Front struts, rear multi-link; electric power steering; 16x7J alloys, 205/60 R16 tyres.
* Safety: ABS with EBD; electronic stability control; vehicle stability management; cornering brake control; nine airbags, Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating.
* Dimensions: L 4770mm, W 1815mm, H 1470mm, W/base 2770mm, Weight 1574kg, Fuel 70L.
* Pricing: 2.0-litre petrol automatic $44,990. Other i40 models including diesels from $48,990 to $59,990.
* Hot: Styling; build quality; safety spec; connectivity; useful volume; refinement; taut chassis.
* Not: Impact damping; rubbish quality ICE screen; no diesel yet.
* Verdict: Great looking well sorted wagon drives well and has plenty of volume; great user-chooser car.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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