First Drive: Hyundai i30

Hyundai has been making great strides in recent years by offering good looking cars at affordable prices.

But it wants to be known for more than just looks, so with the new i30 the South Korean manufacturer has gone for more subdued styling with a little more substance underneath. Has the change of tack paid off?
What is it?

The i30 hatchback is one of the most important cars in Hyundai's line-up purely because of the size of the segment it sits in. It's made an impact in previous incarnations thanks to bold styling that made it stand out from the rest of the market.

However, now it wants to be known for more than just its looks, so the styling's a bit more subdued, with the focus switched to better build quality and drivability.

The result is a range of refined engines, excellent safety kit as standard and a smooth and comfortable ride.

The other major talking point is the new 1.4-litre engine. It's lighter and more powerful than the engine it replaces, also offering improved economy.

What's under the bonnet?

There are three engine options available with the choice of a six-speed manual of seven-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai expects that 138bhp 1.4 unit to make up the bulk of sales.

It'll appeal to those who do a mixture of motorway and city driving, and with official economy figures of 52.3mpg for the manual and 51.4mpg for the auto, running costs should be low.

However, the 1.0-litre petrol engine was the pleasant surprise – we'd expect many buyers who've written it off as too small and underpowered might change their mind after a test drive. It has 118bhp and never feels like it's struggling for power, even at motorway speeds.

And with CO2 emissions of 115g/km and 56.5mpg on the combined cycle, it's an enticing prospect.

There's also a 1.6-litre diesel that makes 109bhp and returns 74.3mpg in manual guise and 68.9 with the auto.

What's the spec like?

For a mid-priced family hatchback, the i30's kit is mostly par for the course. All cars get a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone connectivity, while an eight-inch unit with satellite navigation is also available.

That navigation system comes with five years of free access to Hyundai's live services, which include traffic alerts and weather updates.

Straight out of the box, the i30 comes with autonomous emergency braking with a front collision warning system, lane-keeping assistant, high beam assist and sensors that can warn a drowsy driver to take a break. Extra safety equipment is also available as optional extras.

Hyundai i30
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Hyundai i30

Any rivals?

Plenty. The Volkswagen Golf is still the class leader here – its build quality and decent driving dynamics make it tough to beat. But the Hyundai is certainly able to give the likes of the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 a run for their money by offering great value for money without scrimping on quality – it's certainly up there with the best of them.

What's it like to drive?

Hyundai wants its cars to be known as great to drive, so it employed former BMW engineering whizz Albert Biermann to sort out its cars' dynamics. The i30 isn't going to win any awards for its thrilling driving experience, but it does everything well enough.

The steering weight is well judged, the ride is comfortable and road noise is relatively unobtrusive – though at motorway speeds there's rather a lot of wind noise that appears to come from the wing mirrors.

AOL Cars Verdict

The Hyundai i30 is a great effort from a manufacturer that's still young in this industry. The fact that the stylish hatchback is a viable alternative to the big names at all is testament to how far the South Korean team has come.

It's a more grown up proposition than before and is all the better for it.

The 1.0-litre engine in particular is a pleasant surprise, and is where our money would go. The i30 is no longer the quirky alternative it once was and will certainly give the likes of Ford reason to look over their shoulder.
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