2018 Hyundai i30 1.6 CRDi Premium SE (GB)

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Although the car market has evolved quite significantly in recent years with a move from the traditional hatchbacks that have dominated the sales charts since the 1970s to ever more of the crossover-type of vehicle, the conventional B and C segment hatch-based models are still big sellers and every volume manufacturer still produces them at scale. When you look at the sales figures and see that the top-selling cars across the whole of Europe are still of the type, it is not hard to see why the manufacturers put so much effort into their offerings in these classes. The most popular models in each of these classes have not really changed much in decades, with some national bias in evidence so the French still buy more of their cars than the rest of Europe does, the UK still favouring what it perceives as British brands even if the actual cars are not manufactured in the UK anymore, and the Germans go VW at scale. Although they sell a lot of cars to these sectors, neither the Japanese nor the Korean brands have ever quite cracked it. It’s not for want of trying, with each successive new model a significant improvement on the last but standards are high and although excellence is now expected there is still the trickier topic of brand reputation and image to address and here is where the Orientals still struggle. Everyone knows that the ownership experience will probably actually be better in terms of build quality and reliability and just to make sure, Hyundai and Kia offer the most generous warranties in the business. They even design their cars for Europe in Europe and yet, they still seem to get the “highly commended” rating rather than first prize when any new model comes out and is tested against rivals such as the VW Golf and Ford Focus. The Hyundai i30 moved into this part of the ranking some time ago, coinciding with the new model name and the fact that the car was designed for European tastes rather than trying to meet global (ie American) appeal. In 2016 it moved into its third generation with a new model that was a careful evolution of what had gone before. Hyundai referred to the design as “Cascading Grille”. To my eyes, and those of most around me, this is a good looking car, and whilst no longer the bargain that Hyundai cars used to be, it still represents great value for money, but the motoring press still felt that something was lacking when they sampled it on launch. When Hertz came up with a very smart looking i30, painted in a bright red that its maker calls Fiery Red, I got my chance to find out what I thought of the car.

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It did not take long for me to realise that this i30 was in quite a plush spec compared to the more usual rental car trim versions that you encounter, and whilst there is no badging on the car to tell you, the key fob did say that it was a Premium SE. That is the top of the i30 range in the UK. That did not tell me what the engine was, other than the fact that it was obviously a diesel unit, so more research was required, when I got home. It turned out to be a 1.6 litre unit, which generates 110 bhp, making it the least potent of the available power units in the i30. Indeed, by modern standards, 110 bhp is on the low side, though it is generally the torque that matters more and this unit offers up 210 lb/ft which is enough to make the engine quite punchy once underway which is what most people will want. The test i30 proved to be refined on start up and continued to be so once underway. In absolute terms it is not that fast, of course, but it is certainly pokey enough to be able to keep up with the ebb and flow of British traffic and there is ample acceleration there when you need it. To get the best out of it, you will need to use the gears a certain amount, but this is no hardship as the quality of the gearchange is very good with a nice precise feel to the movement. It is a six speed unit, and as with so many modern cars, sixth is definitely there for steady speed cruising on the motorway, but not at 50 mph, for which you will have to downchange. That tall ratio does pay dividends in a couple of ways, though. It means that the i30 is quiet on the motorway and it also helps the fuel economy. I achieved a pretty spectacular 55.3 mpg on the motorway trip from Bristol to London, which is probably as least as good as you might expect from a diesel-powered car of this size. There is a stop/start system which would help with fuel saving whilst in traffic. The other driving dynamics are good but not quite class-leading. The steering has some feel, thankfully, but it is not as precise and direct as the set-up you get in a Focus or a Mazda. Most of my test mileage was done on the motorway, where the car’s pliant and comfortable ride was appreciated but take to the twistier roads and the i30 is not out of its depth, even if that Ford or Mazda would both allow you to have a little more fun. The brakes worked well, not that I had need to put them to the ultimate test, though it is worth noting that there is an Autonomous Emergency Brake Assist facility and it tried to stop me, once, much to my alarm, when there was no need for it to operate at all. Like so many cars these days there is an electronic handbrake and this did not always disengage as readily as I would have liked. Visibility proved to be very much as good or not as you get with most cars these days, with a notable blind spot in the mirrors addressed by the blind spot warning system that featured on the test car and an element of judgment required when parking, but generally the i30 was quite manoeuvrable and easy to place on the road.

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The i30 is nicely finished inside, with a contemporary feel to the design, complete with a few design features and the prominent display screen for the infotainment in the centre of the dash. The selected materials are of good quality, with a nice chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather on the seats and some quality plastics used for the main dash moulding and door casings that are of tot the touch. There is a pleasing absence of what that increasing trend, of tacky detailing, with just some careful use of meal-effect highlights on the steering wheel and round the air vents. Although the interior of the test car was black, that large glass sunroof lets in lots of light so this felt an airy place to be. The i30 has keyless starting and there is a large button for this to the left of the wheel. There is a simple instrument binnacle with two large traditional analogue dials for the speedometer and rev counter with smaller fuel level and water temperature gauges inset in the lower portion of the larger dials, all being clearly marked and easy to read. Two column stalks do the usual things and there are wheel-mounted repeaters for the principal audio functions and bluetooth phone operation. That 8″ LCD infotainment display screen dominates the centre of the dash, and it operates easily, with touch operations augmented by some useful buttons for things which are better done that way. Standard functions include navigation as well as Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Radio reception was good and the speakers did a decent job of distributing sound throughout the car. Under this unit are a line of buttons for the dual-zone climate control system. My overall impression of the cockpit is that it is relatively simple and all the better for it.

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As the test car was a top spec Premium model, it had leather upholstery and the quality of this seemed pretty decent, not something that you can always say. There is electric adjustment for seat height and backrest angle for the driver’s seat, other movements and those for the front passenger seat being manual. The steering wheel telescopes in/out as well as up/down, so there was lots of adjustment available to get the perfect driving position that suited me. The seat itself proved comfortable to sit on. Space in the back of this Hyundai is class competitive, though whether you would find it generous enough might depend on the position of the front seats. Set them well forward, as you can see in the photo, to suit my proportions and there is plenty of space, but position the front seat further towards the rear of its travel and recline the backrest a bit and things may seem a bit tight. There’s about enough width for three adults to sit here, though the middle seat occupant will have to deal with the central console unit which does come quite a long way back. It is a tall unit and the benefit of that is that the air vents are quite a lot higher than you often find, so they actually be able to direct air close to your face than is often the case. Headroom proved sufficient. There are useful bins on the doors and map pockets in the back of the front seats. The boot is a nice regular shape and is a good size, though again, no larger than any of the Hyundai’s rivals. There is some space under the floor for odds and ends that could be tucked around the spacesaver tyre. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and simply drop down to create a flat and much longer load area. Inside the passenger compartment there is good provision for the stowage of bits and pieces with a generously-sized glovebox, bins on the doors, a cubby under the central armrest and one in front of the gearlever and there are two cupholders on the centre console.

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There are three bodystyles available with this generation of i30: the five door hatch as tested, an estate and new for this series, a Fastback, which has coupe like styling but five doors. Once you’ve selected the body, you need to pick an engine, and here again there is choice. Diesel cars feature the 110 bhp 1.6 litre CRDi unit whilst for petrol power, the range starts with the three cylinder 1.0 T which puts out 120 bhp and those seeking more power can order a four cylinder 1.4 T-GDi unit with 140 bhp, offered with a six speed manual or seven speed automatic transmission. Next you choose a trim, noting that not all trims are available with all bodies and engines. At launch, Hyundai offered five levels to UK buyers, starting with the S This comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, manual air conditioning, auto lights with auto main beam, Bluetooth, DAB radio, steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control, speed limiter, USB socket, electronic handbrake with hill hold assist, lane departure warning and lane keep assist and auto emergency brakes. SE adds 16-inch alloy wheels, black radiator grille, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, electric driver’s lumbar support, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front and rear fog lights, five-inch touchscreen system and reversing sensors. SE Nav adds a larger, eight-inch touchscreen system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, satellite navigation, wireless smartphone charger, a reversing camera and front parking sensors. Premium adds 17-inch alloy wheels, electric driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers, puddle lights, LED headlights, tinted rear glass, rear air vents, driver’s supervision cluster plus cloth and leather upholstery. Premium SE adds full leather seat upholstery, heated steering wheel and a panoramic sunroof. More recently, Hyundai added the N Line trim, which features exterior and interior design elements known from the i30 N, and the mechanical set-up – including suspension, brakes and engine response – were also tuned to add extra spice to the regular i30 five-door. The design upgrades for the i30 N Line include front and rear bumpers, exclusively accented for N Line with a silver paint line. There are 18-inch alloy wheels and a tin exhaust system. On the front wings, a newly-created badge signals the N Line model for further visual recognition. Inside there are N-branded suede sport seats, a perforated leather sport steering wheel and N gear shift knob. The test car was a Premium SE, something of a surprise in a rental car where usually the spec is from closer to the bottom of the range. I certainly appreciated many of the refinements that come with this trim level, wit the cornering lights perhaps the best “surprise and delight” feature.

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Having read this assessment, it should be clear that this is a very capable car, with no significant weaknesses at all. So why is not rated as Best in Class? That probably has more to do with perception than reality, as whilst it is true that the i30 is up against some very accomplished rivals, the C segment is all about meeting the needs of owners and families rather than anything fancier in ambition. And people’s brand preferences do still count for things, so everyone still just knows that a Golf is kind of classless and supremely well built, the Focus or Astra are seen as the traditional “British” cars to go to with perceived lower running costs and a ubiquity of dealers neither of which are probably true statements any more, and of course the French will still tell you that a Megane or a 308 is superior, because, well, they are French. That leaves the i30 (and the closely related Kia Ceed) with no-one really fighting their corner. Tackling the “want one” problem is something Hyundai clearly thought hard about, and they looked to their rivals to see how they had done it. Many had got there by offering a genuinely sporting model, such as the Golf GTi, and various Fords with ST and RS badges on them, as had Renault and whilst these were not for everyone, their image no doubt did percolate to the rest of the range with more affordable price tags and running costs. And so, Hyundai has gone down the same route, by creating the i30N, a true rival to those hot hatches. And by all accounts they pretty much hit the proverbial bull’s eye at the first attempt. It has sold well, which is of course good, but Hyundai must also be hoping that its positive image will rub off on the less potent models in the range, too. Maybe it will, and maybe it takes time. For now, though, know that the i30 is an excellent car and worthy of serious consideration by all who are seeking a family-hatch sized vehicle.

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