Until Gangnam-style came along, Hyundai was South Korea’s most famous export. The car brand may not have quite as many YouTube hits as Psy’s catchy video (889 million at the last count, making it the site’s most watched video), but it’s been notching up some impressive numbers of its own.
The first-generation i30 hatchback has sold more than 360 000 units in Europe since its 2007 launch, a notable feat on a continent that’s so in love with its German and French cars and shows Hyundai’s ever-growing credibility.
It’s been a while since the Korean brand was seen as a “cheap and cheerful” alternative to European cars. In build quality and sophistication its products now stand more or less toe-to-toe with any class competitor and the pricetags have crept up too, although you still generally pay less for a Hyundai than a VW.
The second-generation i30, launched in South Africa earlier this year, is a case in point.
The top-of-the range i30 1.8 Executive on test here sells for R249 900, and while some people might catch their breath at such an “un-Korean” pricetag, an equivalent VW Golf still sells for 40 grand more.
There’s little about the new i30 that feels like you’re buying-down. Step inside the cabin and it’s perhaps just a half-notch under the class-leading Golf in terms of perceived quality, but also a little less conservative in design. The passenger quarters are pleasingly modern and upmarket, with soft-touch dashboard plastics adding to the quality feel.
In the flagship 1.8 version (there’s also a 1.6) this mood’s enhanced by partial leather seats, although it’s imitation leather covering the steering wheel and gearknob.
CHIMES AND FLUTES
There are gadgets galore, including a multifunction steering wheel which has no less than 12 buttons controlling features such as the audio system and cruise control. Cruise control, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, a parking distance sensor, six airbags, and stability control are also part of the standard kit.
So too USB ports and Bluetooth connection for phones and music devices and, if you like that sort of thing, a welcome and goodbye chime whenever you insert and remove the ignition key.
Seating space is what you expect of a C-segment hatch and the i30, while not outstandingly roomy, will happily take four adult passengers without complaint. What I liked most about the cabin is its abundance of storage nooks, including a large bin between the seats and a separate receptacle under the dash. The boot’s one of the biggest in its class at 378 litres, expanding to a huge 1 316 litres with the rear seats folded.
NEEDS TO BE KEPT ON THE BOIL
The normally-aspirated 110kW/178Nm 1.8-litre engine offers more than adequate commuting and cruising pace, but at Gauteng altitude it’s not quite as peppy as its turbocharged rivals. Where competitors like the VW Golf, Renault Megane, Peugeot 308 and Opel Astra all use turbo engines which feel livelier on the Reef, the Koreans are still sticking to atmospheric engines which are muzzled at high altitude.
It doesn’t feel lazy or underpowered, but the revs need to be kept cooking to entice some real pace. At least the gears snick with smooth precision, and it’s an impressively refined engine that doesn’t sound strained when you rev it hard. Hyundai quotes a useful 190km/h top speed and a 0-100km/h sprint of 9.7 seconds at sea level, along with 6.5 litres per 100km fuel consumption claim (our test car averaged 7.9 litres).
Ride quality and roadholding elicit no complaints, and Hyundai’s suspension engineers have nailed a good balance between comfort and handling sharpness. Aware of criticism that its cars tend to have numb and artificial-feeling steering, Hyundai has given the new i30 three steering modes – normal, comfort and sport – which changes the sensitivity of the electric power steering at the press of a button. To be honest none of the modes will necessarily appeal to driving enthusiasts, but I found that sport mode offered the least artificial feeling.
Nice that the steering column has both tilt and telescopic adjustment, as well. The aftermarket peace of mind is taken care of by a five-year/150 000km warranty and roadside assistance, and a five-year/90 000km service plan.
A very good effort by a brand whose Elantra sedan is SA’s reigning Car of the Year. Impressive refinement, good value, easy-on-the-eye styling, and one of the industry’s best warranties make it a compelling choice.
At Johannesburg altitude it could do with a bit more oomph though, and it’s time Hyundai considered using petrol turbo engines. - Star Motoring
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