Capable, looks good and a joy to drive
New Zealand is increasingly spoilt for choice in the small five-door hatchback section of the new vehicle market.
There are some lovely cars in there. The likes of Ford Fiesta and Focus, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic Euro, Kia Cerato, Peugeot 308, Volkswagen Polo and Golf, and most recently the new Toyota Corolla are all vehicles that are not only easy and economical to drive, but they make brilliant use of their limited space between the wheels.
And one of the leading models in that segment is the latest Hyundai i30.
The German-designed, Korean- built hatch is one of best lookers around, featuring the 'fluidic sculpture' design philosophy that has already resulted in such Hyundai product as the Elantra sedan, i40 wagon, and i45 sedan.
Actually the i30 is built on a modified version of the Elantra, and with this new model Hyundai has chosen to drop the previous model's 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engines and replace it instead with the Elantra's 1.8-litre unit. Meanwhile the diesel models continue to use the same 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine as before, albeit with some minor improvements.
The new i30 also gets a new six- speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous model's four- speeder - and that makes all the difference.
This is especially the case with the diesel models, which in their usual flexible way, make efficient use of those extra ratios, but performance is very good with the petrol versions as well.
I've just been driving a petrol version specified to the top Elite level, and I found it to be a lovely car. The engine offers 110 kilowatts of power and 178 newton metres of torque, which is more than, for example, what is available in the brand-new 11th generation Corolla that has just come on the market.
It's also more than the power and torque that used to be available from the 2.0-litre i30.
And thanks to those two extra ratios the fuel consumption is an average of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres. That isn't as economical as the 5.6 L/100 claimed for the i30 diesel automatic, but it's still pretty good - and there are none of the dreaded Road User Charges to pay.
Every i30 model has air conditioning, iPod/USB and Bluetooth, push-button brake, and cruise control, and up at the Elite level the hatch also get leather upholstery, heated front seats, exterior mirrors that automatically fold away when the car is locked, 'welcome home' lights, and rear park assist, which includes a nifty reversing camera that pops out when reverse is selected. All this combines to give the Hyundai a luxurious air. The interior looks well designed anyway thanks to the use of aluminium accents, black trims and soft-touch surfaces, and the inclusion of the leather and various other luxuries adds to all of that.
Now, I wouldn't describe the i30 Elite to be a performance-oriented vehicle. I see it more as a highly capable conventional hatch that is enjoyable to drive even on long distances.
Helping in this regard is a new electronic feature called Flex Steer, which Hyundai has debuted on the i30. This is a steering wheel- mounted button that allows the driver to choose from three different modes that control the car's electronic power steering. There's a Comfort mode, which lightens the steering around town, a Normal mode for ordinary motoring, and a Sport mode, which adds more weight to the steering. I did enjoy the Sport mode, because it helped give the car a sort of heft when out on the open road, which I prefer.
The i30 also features a wide selection of ride and handling aids that constantly monitor road conditions and adjust accordingly. They include Vehicle Stability Management, which detects grip levels on various road surfaces and applies steering and brake assistance, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, and ABS brakes with Brake Assist.
This new i30 is marginally larger than the model it replaces. It is 24mm longer and with a wheelbase that is 40mm bigger, and while vehicle height has reduced by 28mm and width is down 35mm, the cabin space has increased and room in the boot has gone up from 340 to 378 litres. This translates to good room front and rear, and while the cargo area is a reasonably small 378 litres with all seats in use, it grows to 1316 litres with the rear seats folded down which gives to easily enough room to accommodate my golf clubs and trundler.
Bodyshell design is easy on the eye. The new hatch features pronounced wheel arches and a big sweeping character line for the dynamic look that is now such a feature of all Hyundai product.
This new i30 is one of the standout vehicles to enter the New Zealand market this year - so much so in fact that it is currently under serious consideration for various car of the year awards. If it achieves such an honour, it will be the first vehicle from South Korea to do so. And as far as I'm concerned, it will be thoroughly deserved too.
I30 ELITE POWER PLANT: Choice of 1.8-litre 16-valve four cylinder DOHC petrol engine, 110 kW at 6500 rpm, 178 Nm at 4700 rpm, or 1.6-litre 16-valve four cylinder DOHC turbocharged diesel engine, 94 kW at 4000 rpm, 260 Nm at 1900-2750 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front- wheel drive. Six-speed automatic transmissions. MacPherson strut front suspension, coupled torsion beam setup at the rear. Electric power steer with three modes. Full suite of handling and ride aids.
HOW BIG: Length 4300mm, width 1780mm, height 1470mm, wheelbase 2650mm.
HOW MUCH: Petrol model $39,990, turbodiesel model $43,990.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, beautifully built, high specification, sound drive.
WHAT'S NOT: Rear load area fairly small.
OUR VERDICT: Car of the year honours this year? Maybe.
Taranaki Daily News