For decade after decade, the default car category for sales reps, families and Australians in general was a big sedan. That shift is old news, with Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 jostling for the number one sales position.
The European i30, now in its third generation, signified a cultural shift for Hyundai, combining known virtues of value and dependability with style, comfort and a decent driving experience thanks to an extensive Australian tuning program.
Hyundai’s all-new PD series i30 brings very fresh styling, a modern interior with a floating touch-screen across the range and a compelling value proposition, which is best demonstrated from the base model $20,950 Active. We tested the Active in automatic and manual guise to see if it deserves to keep its best-seller status.
Cabin space and comfort
The i30 is an upright hatch with well utilised space. It is 4340mm long, 1795mm wide, 1455mm high and sits on a 2650mm wheelbase. Head, leg and shoulder room are all good for outboard passengers, even if you’re over six-feet tall.
A 395-litre boot with a low loading lip and square shape conceals a full-size spare tyre – an increasing rarity in new cars. Folding the back seats down yields a large 1301L of space, meaning you’d be surprised by what roadside treasure you can put in there when necessary.
Infotainment and ergonomics
The new floating 7.0-inch touch-screen flanked by buttons and volume/tuning knobs is exceptionally easy to use. It has nice, sharp graphics and navigation standard across the range, with speed camera alerts handy for trips out of town. Combined with digital radio, a crisp six-speaker sound system and a comprehensive instrument display that includes digital speedo, this is a staggering amount of inclusion for a base model.
The shapely new wheel has pleasant-to-touch switches for tuning, cruise and phone functions. Auto up/down on all power windows with global close is another pleasant surprise, as is a wireless phone charging mat. Luxury-oriented Elite and Premium models have tan dash inserts and seats for a more calming environment.
The latest i30 was designed by former Audi styling boss Peter Schreyer. It has been purposely penned to look European, with sophisticated grille detailing and advanced headlights giving it a distinct face, with clean overall proportions. In the metal it’s stance is quite low and wide, resulting in, we think, one of the better hatch designs currently in this space.
As for the interior, it’s also modern but in a user-friendly, Hyundai-like way. All controls are within arm’s reach, with some odd shapes and curves creating a bit of in-car theatre. Overall, the i30’s ambience is clean, user-friendly, upmarket and comfortable.
Engine and performance
The Active can be had with a 120kW, 203Nm 2.0-litre GDI four-cylinder petrol or a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel with 100kW and 300Nm. All of that torque is spread between 1750-2500rpm.
The petrol engine is actually the unit from the previous i30 SR, with the current sports variant getting a 150kW, 1.6 turbo. As a result of this inheritance, it has a power advantage over all rivals, with a delicious 7000rpm redline. It pulls strongly throughout the rev-range without being coarse or ill-mannered.
The diesel is very refined and feels distinctly effortless and European, but is a little hesitant off the line in dual-clutch auto form. The real-world economy benefits more than enough to offset this, as we’ll discuss below.
The Active comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with an enjoyably light clutch and positive shift action, with a slightly longer throw than the version found in the i30 SR turbo. A conventional six-speed automatic is available on the Active petrol, but all other models use a dual-clutch unit, which behaves differently, offers more response and efficiency, with the slight compromise of rollback and slow speed smoothness.
Handling and steering
Countless hours have been spent on the Nurburgring and many of Australia’s choicest roads to get this part right. It is very important, since the i30 is vying for superiority against some very sharp rivals such as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3, not to mention the new Holden Astra.
The electric power steering is very well-weighted, whether being twirled in a parking lot or thrown into a hairpin. It is accurate and inspires confidence for high-speed cornering. There is a moderate amount of feedback, but maybe not quite as much as a Mazda3 or Focus. Nevertheless this is an enjoyable chassis. It is a sound basis for the 202kW i30 N hot hatch due later this year.
Rear suspension on non-SR models is of the conventional torsion-beam variety, as opposed to the multi-link rear end in the sporty models. It is well sorted enough that you won’t miss the independent setup most of the time, except during particularly bumpy roads.
Ride and NVH
Australians generally prefer a firm ride, and the i30 does err on the sportier side of the divide. A rigid body means that a taut calibration was available without sacrificing ride quality. It never feels sharp, but even in more luxurious versions, you’d never call it plush either.
Noise attenuation, absence of vibrations or road roar is impressive too. There is nothing low rent about how this car feels or drives.
Fuel economy and running costs
The trade-off for having the most powerful engine in its class is official average fuel economy of 7.3L /100km, which is good in isolation, but nowhere near the 5s and 6s offered in some rivals. If this is a concern, the diesel’s 4.7L/100km effort might be the way to go.
We’re pleased to report that thanks to the engine’s gutsy nature across the rev-range, we achieved real world economy of 8.1L/100km, which means that the lab result is an honest one, unlike some rivals.
Hyundai’s excellent five-year warranty is well publicised, with free roadside assistance. The roadside assistance package is more generous than some competitors. Servicing is capped-price, at 15,000km intervals.
As expected, a five-star ANCAP rating comes standard across the board, with safety features such as autonomous emergency braking (in late 2017), radar cruise control and a driver fatigue warning depending on model. ANCAP has given the new range an overall score of 35.01 out of 37.
Value for money
We’ve already covered the staggering level of standard equipment, and that’s just the base i30 Active. Some versions such as Premium and SR Premium also include heated and cooled leather seats, and a panoramic roof. Versions with 18-inch wheels come standard with a space-saver spare, but a full-size is available at extra cost. The value proposition remains strong as you work up the range, with a level of kit you’d have to stretch to at least high $30k to get in an equivalent rival.
No corners have been cut here, material quality is high across most touchable surfaces, with the exception of lower dash and door trim, but they don’t detract in any way. You wouldn’t say it’s up to Golf Mk7.5 standard but it’s definitely up to class average. And for the money, it is excellent.
The i30 does everything you need it to, exceptionally well. Each model includes equipment that competitors will charge you extra for, with powertrains also over and above what you’d expect for the price. In no way does the 2018 i30 feel like a low-rent cost-cutting exercise. It delivers a solid, smile-inducing drive you would expect from a European designed and engineered small car. Throw in a superb warranty and after care and you gotta wonder where the catch is.
These attributes are particuarly evident in the Active, which has a kind of unpretentious appeal that we miss about the Holden Commodore Evoke and Ford Falcon XT as understated achievers.