In search of family transport, DTW rents a Korean mid-ranger and exposes it to mud, apples and half a dish of aubergine parmesan gratin.
Welcome back to the dead centre of the car market. The Hyundai i30 1.6 GDI** is a Focus and Golf competitor but may gun most accurately for the likes of the Peugeot 308 and any other mid-market also-rans. This type of car is very hard to write about in isolation as most of what you experience verges on the bland. Only a spread-sheet analysis of the cost and features along with a back-to-back test would reveal the precise differences in the qualitative and quantitative elements between this car and its peers. Nonetheless, even on its own, there are aspects of the car which please and those which irritate.
Hyundai have done a good job with the i30. The styling is expressive without falling into the traps that have a caught Peugeot and Citroen. The detail design is careful. Notice the rational shut-lines which avoid ugly rat-holes at 3-way junctions (where the lights meet the wing and bonnet). The lamp apertures are filled with lampy stuff and not black plastic filler as on the Chevrolet Cruze. The frontal aspect shows flaring wheel arches and a good
stance; all the elements are coherent and congruent. Everything lines up. At the back it’s the same story. I’ve even come to accept the bodyside sculpting as providing some character without overstepping the mark. And the overall profile looks just dynamic enough for a car with no dynamic pretensions at all. It’s a pity then about the rising waistline which is fashionable but does both the driver and rear passengers a disservice. It’s a bit too claustrophobic inside. And when you look at the side mirrors you feel they are angled further downward than they are.
The test car had a 1.6 litre petrol engine and BlueDrive and a six-speed manual transmission. The engine serves up 120 HP dragging a kerb weight of 1311 kg. I will invite readers to consult Hyundai’s own web-pages to find out about the suspension details. That’s where we are at with this type of car. BlueDrive cuts out the engine when you disengage the gears and take your foot off the clutch. Re-ignition is seamlessly fast. However, there did seem to be times when I expected the car to cut out and didn’t as in the time I stopped to get out and open the car park gate. The engine remained running.
There are no major faults in the ergonomics of the car, barring the armrests. However, I did not much like the dash-mounted CD controls. While the driver can press one button to skip a track, cut sound and change modes, the passenger needed to use a twirly dial that tended to move the selection too far onward. And then one has to press to confirm the change. So, you can move to and highlight track 10 while track 5 is playing and it will continue playing until you press the knob. I didn’t study this very hard but I never confidently changed from radio to CD, but rather stabbed buttons at random until the right thing happened.
The outward view to the rear is restricted as per the modern idiom. And the falling bonnet means you have no idea where the front of the car is. For this reason parking sensors are provided.
The heating and ventilation controls are based on rotary knobs for volume and temperature. The directions are controlled by buttons. That’s a perfectly good arrangement and makes me wonder why VW are still (aren’t they?) persisting with buttons for everything. The seating caused no backache and gripped sufficiently. Indicating the level of pickiness required to find fault, I will report that three little blue lights on the centre console were piercingly bright for no very good reason.
Ingress and egress is easy thanks to doors that open wide and, for rear passengers a wide gap from the b-pillar to the seat base. There is a lot of space between the driver’s seat and front passenger seat. And when I sat behind myself I had leg room to spare. Ventilation is not so good as the car is prone to fogging up unless the fans are on medium speed.
The driver’s armrest can get in the way of your elbow but when you try to use it, you slip off because it has a slope. And you can’t rest your arm on the top of the door-casing as it is too high (that rising waistline) and rounded off. The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach. While in most areas car design has moved but slowly or backward, the IP lighting people have worked hard and this car has a clearly legible display with a cool bluish tint that’s easy on the eye. These displays really are quite complex and theatrical.
When you turn off the ignition the lights fade gradually. The little “goodbye” message grates though. No other aspect of this car suggests a personality within so this little humanoid greeting is out of place.
Surprisingly big is how I’d describe the glove box which will thus hold a lot of gloves. It’s illuminated too. And so is the boot, from left and right sides.
Rear passengers have manual windows, no ashtrays, no air vents and no storage and no centre armrest. The armrest on the door is a bit too high to use as well, by about three centimetres. Three head-restraints are provided and there is a roof-light which will suit anyone trying to fit a child into a seat at night. The window line is high, as is the current
norm, and this is not so nice for small passengers. The view forward is adequate but hardly panoramic. I noticed the safety belt on the left side was sticky and prone to catching on the feeder slot. The seats themselves are comfortable enough but the obstructed forward view, the lack of even basic elements like usable armrests on the doors and the absent storage means it would not be much fun to travel a long way in this car.
The i30’s steering is nicely weighted and light at low-speeds. The turn-in is good but I don’t suppose you’d call the overall feeling as being communicative. It’s a car for laid back driving. I chose to leave the suspension in “comfort” and ignored “sport” and “normal”. Comfort provided a pleasantly Citroen-esque floaty ride which I liked on a-roads.
It didn’t handle sharp bumps all that well and I could sense a lot of vertical motions when the road surface departed from the Danish norms of smooth and gently undulating. The gravel road test and hill climb produced a surprising result. The i30 did not deal well with pot holes or very uneven surfaces. Last week’s Aygo resented the abuse much less. I didn’t enjoy subjecting the i30 to the ascending, windy, gravelly lane and gave up rally-style driving half-way up.
The i30 is meant for calm, uninvolving driving and does this well. Asking more if it will disappoint but then again, it is patently not a car presented as one for this kind of driving. For the record, the tyres were 196/65 R15 ContiPremiums. They look fat with their high side walls and so have a nicely old school appearance.
Hyundai have set up the running lights to provide more sideways illumination when turning at low speeds. It’s not enough to cast a huge amount of extra light. Just enough to notice and wonder what is going on. It’s a kind of half-measure.
Six speed ‘boxes irritate me somewhat. This one was the same. Fifth gear seems supernumerary, a pointless step between fourth and sixth. At 60 mph the engine is turning at 2000 rpm which is relaxed but you need to drop two cogs to get moving should the need arise. It really is like an over-drive or a very tall fifth.
The other four gears worked as they did on five speed cars. The i30 has a pleasantly snicky gearchange, though fourth to fifth seemed a little harder work than the others. Reverse is engaged by pulling a slider on the gear knob and moving to first position. I found it tended to stall unless revved far more than I expected.
The engine responded well to throttle changes, doing so without delay. The brakes functioned in such a way as to be characterless: neither good nor bad but unnoticeable. I suppose that’s a decent result. Hyundai have insulated the engine well so little noise intrudes into the cabin. Oddly, this didn’t mean the stereo was clearly audible. Whatever noise does intrude into the cabin completely swamped some classical guitar music I had playing.
The i30 has no trouble moving ahead for overtaking manoeuvres and dropping a cog from fourth to third provided a surprising – if noisy –bit of forward acceleration.
The i30 burned 4.6 gallons over 188 miles, which is about 41.4 mpg driving at a pretty leisurely pace. Somewhat surprisingly, the claimed combined cycle consumption is 41.5 mpg. I seem to drive exactly like an EU official test machine. I think an autobahn dash might mean that figure dropping somewhat. 36-38 mpg might be a likely figure but I have no direct data to prove this.
The fuel tank holds 11.7 gallons of 95 grade petrol. If we assume 38 mpg at a steady 70 mph then the standard DTW Calais-Cap Ferrat trip will mean the car needs a feed after 447 miles, about two thirds of the way there. That’s somewhere around Valence so you can stock up on nougat.
It’s amazing how much car Hyundai is offering. Niggles aside, it’s a very pleasant vehicle for the driver and it has plenty of nice features to justify the blizzard of lights visible in the cockpit at night. The interior people have worked hard to avoid ugly corners. The driving quality served up will not deter any one on a test drive and many people will live very happily with this car for half a decade and never feel like they are missing anything worth another £3,000.
In the same period from when Hyundai served up Elantras and Ponies, Fiat, Renault and PSA have moved very little onward. The cars look different but have not progressed as far. The gap then has narrowed and it must be apparent that many middle market brands do not justify any price premium they still claim over the Koreans. What is also true is that the quality and thoroughness of the i30 makes VW’s claim to superiority one based on long-established preconceptions as much as the quality of their fit and finish.
Yes, the VW designers are still finding subtle ways to demarcate their cars from their competitors but there are dissolving into the subjective. How much is a cloth-covered a-pillar actually worth? Does life get any better with a chromed ring in the boot? At the upper range of VW and Ford’s ranges their mid-sizers do provide more driving excitement than the top-spec Hyundais can provide. At the lower altitudes of commodity motoring, the difference is now far from clear.
** That´s the exact description in the car’s manual.
Specifications to save you having to root around at Hyundai’s website
Engine: 1.6 120PS Petrol Manual
Euro Status: Euro V
Type: DOHC, IN-CVVT
Engine Valves: 16 valve
Displacement (cc): 1,591
Bore & stroke (mm) 77 x 85.44
Compression ratio 10:5
Max power (kW/BHP)@rpm 88/118 @ 6300
Torque (Nm/lbs ft) @rpm 156/115 @ 4850
0-62mph (seconds) 10.9
Top speed (mph)119