Is this the new Kia Cee’d in disguise?
Not really. The Hyundai i30 may share the same basic platform and engines as the Cee’d by sister brand Kia but its exterior, interior and ride and handling set-up is different. This one’s still made in Korea rather than Europe too. There are a few similarities, though. The side window graphic and interior centre stack look related, but the i30’s smarter in the detail – from its more stylish raked front headlamps to the BMW-esque concave details like the rocker line on the side panels and the rear hatch. Viewed from the rear three-quarter, it has hints of the much more upmarket 1-series – if you like that sort of thing.
What’s all this ‘i’ business about?
Hyundai has decided to ditch the odd names of its past – remember the Trajet and Terracan? There is now a simpler letter and number strategy. The i30 is the start of the range revamp. It will eventually replace the Accent, but it’s slightly larger and firmly targets the small family hatchback market. Expect a whole raft of i-badged models to follow, from the i10 city car next spring, to the i20 supermini and i40 (replacing the Sonata) later in 2008. Hyundai says ‘i’ stands for ‘inspiration’ – one of its three Euro brand pillars – and also ‘intelligence’, ‘integrity’ and ‘innovative’. The fact that they all sound a bit like ‘iPod’ might have had some influence too.
How ‘inspiring’ is it behind the wheel?
Not very, to be honest. The electric steering often feels too light and lacking in precision, and the ride has been set up to be a bit softer than the Kia Cee’d. It’s fine for bump-smoothing and steady cruising but not so good on winding roads. Still, the 115bhp 1.6-litre diesel is torquey and copes well with most driving conditions without getting noisy. It’s the best all-round unit of the bunch, and offers an excellent 60.1mpg plus low 125g/km CO2 emissions for decent tax bills. If you want more power there’s a chunkier 140bhp 2.0-litre diesel, but economy (51.4mpg) and emissions (191g/km) suffer. Of the two petrol units coming to the UK, the 109bhp 1.4 is the quieter and more refined. Avoid the 122bhp 1.6 petrol – it seems comparatively noisy and gutless.
Where have all the dull, cheap interior plastics gone?
The inside of the i30 is a genuinely smart and spacious place. Calming, blue-lit dials and centre console information screen sit in a simply arranged dashboard, of upmarket black and dark grey plastics and chrome-effect detailing. Even the indicator stalks are now on the left side to conform to European tradition. While it’s no prestige experience, nothing looks cheap. All versions get steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a cooled glove box. Seats are comfortable and six-foot adults can sit where they please without scraping knees, heads or shoulders. The boot is a reasonable 340 litres but the i30 can swallow an enormous 1250 litres with the seats folded flat.
What do you get for your money?
High spec is one of the key selling points of the new Hyundai i30, right across the range. The entry-level Comfort model comes with 15in alloys, ESP and traction control, brake assist, CD player, electric windows, air-con and USB and Aux connections. Plus there’s the company's strong five-year unlimited mileage warranty. Upgrade to the Style and the alloys grow by an inch, with automatic lights, a tyre pressure monitor and part-leather seats. The top-spec Premium gives you 17in alloys, climate control, full leather plus rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors. The only real omission for the UK is a modern colour screen sat-nav, although you can opt for an integrated SmartNav system for just over £400.
What else should I consider?
The small family hatchback market is not short on competitors. The Focus and Astra are more entertaining to drive, and the Civic and C4 better designed. But the i30’s real trump card is its high quality and specification for less money. From £10,995 to £16,595, it undercuts all mainstream rivals at each engine and trim point except the Kia Cee’d – and even against the Kia the Hyundai still offers extra kit.
It appears as though Hyundai is gradually catching up with the big names. Following in the footsteps of the Santa Fe, the doors shut satisfyingly and nothing rattles or sounds hollow. There’s a general feeling of quality to the i30. The whiff of cheapness of old Hyundais is banished. The new in-house diesel and petrol engines are competitive in power, response, fuel consumption and emissions. The i30 is a true step up in quality for the Korean brand in this sector. The next job for Hyundai – already underway behind the scenes – is to inject a little more design flair, to differentiate the brand further from its sibling Kia and the other marques it now – finally – competes with.