Hyundai hits new high with i30

Hyundai's new i30 is a serious rival to the big guns and no longer just on price, says Andy Russell.

People often ask me why I choose to drive top-of-the-range test cars, loaded with costly extras, rather than models that people buy.

The answer is simple – that's what many car-makers tend to send me because they want to make a good impression.

But there are times that it is actually the entry model that makes a big impression and so it came as a refreshing change when the new-generation Hyundai i30 that turned up in the office car park really was the starting point of the range when it came to both specification and engine.

The i30 cause a stir when first launched in 2008. A big step forward for the Korean car-maker it sold on its price, equipment and value which tended to make up for any shortcomings against the established class leaders in the shape of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf. But the new model has raised the bar again to the point that the i30 can now compete across the board as an equal.

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Hyundai set it sights high with the new i30, benchmarking it against the Golf… and with considerable success.

Power comes from 100PS 1.4 and 120PS 1.6-litre petrol engines – the latter automatic only – and 90PS 1.4 and 110 and new 128PS versions of the 1.6-litre turbo diesel.

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But you won't be disappointed by the smaller petrol engine which is most willing and able. Boasting a healthy 100PS, it will trickle along in high gears at low revs which boosts fuel economy but needs to worked to get the best out of it. Fortunately it's refined and revs freely without sounding coarse and, once up to speed, cruises comfortably on the motorway. Mixed real-world driving returned 40mpg, rising to 45mpg with a longer run – pretty good for what is one of the larger cars in its class.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox on my test car had a light, if not the smoothest, gearshift.

One of the key areas where Hyundai pitting the i30 against the Golf comes out is in its ride and roadholding. The suspension is firm but supple, quietly and capably going about its business absorbing bumps and lumps for smooth, comfortable progress regardless of speed. But the ride hasn't been at the expense of handling with the i30 coping with corners and twisty road impressively with an agile feel and little lean with the wide track between the wheels making the i30 well planted on the road. The electric power steering on the Classic model makes light work of parking but retains a well-weighted response at speed – higher-spec models get variable steering with comfort, normal and sport modes.

What adds to the comfort factor is the spacious cabin. With the new i30, wider than its predecessor but sharing the same long wheelbase, there's lots of leg and headroom both front and rear and carrying three people in the back is not a problem with a much lower central floor tunnel that's just 54mm high.

The boot is also 11pc bigger at a generous 378 litres and is now at the top end of its class and, with very little wheelarch intrusion, it's a useful shape and the low lip makes getting large items in and out easy. The 60/40 rear seat backs fold down but you need to flip the split cushions upright against the front seat backs to get them totally flat – even so, it still leaves a little step up from the boot floor.

The interior also shows Hyundai's endeavours to match the quality of the best in the class. My entry-level Classic model was well finished while the modern, almost sporty-looking fascia, is eye-catching with alloy-effect highlights and a large central piano black panel, clear dials and well-sited controls and switches. The driving position has all the adjustment you need to feel at home. Cabin storage is plentiful and the two 12-volt power points is a wise move in this era of electrical gizmos that need regular charging.

The i30 comes loaded with kit – even the entry Classic includes six airbags, Bluetooth with voice recognition, air-conditioning, front fog lights and LED daytime running lights, steering wheel audio and phone controls, electric/heated door mirrors, radio/CD with auxiliary and USB points, stability control and remote locking with alarm. Active models gain alloy wheels, cruise control with speed-limiter, electric rear windows and rear parking sensors while Style adds bigger 16in alloys, dual-zone climate control, static cornering lights, automatic lights and wipers and front parking sensors and the Style Nav model also has satellite-navigation with seven-inch screen and rear parking camera.

Hyundai has been a fast learner during its relatively short car-making history. Its products just keep getting better and better and can now compete on their own merits rather than just price and equipment.

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