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Road Test: Hyundai i30

Review by Feann Torr - 2/November/2007

Hyundai i30 reviewYou've got the nod from the bank manager and you've decided to see what's on offer in the small car market. There's more European-influenced designs than you can shake a gear stick at, drive away deals, free petrol offers and all sorts of the other enticements.

Make no mistake - small cars are big business.

The big names are likely to find their way onto your shortlist - Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer, Holden Astra. All of them are quality cars with smooth looks and rich heritages.

So what's this - The Hyundai i30? It's got no heritage, I've never seen one before, and there's nary a German engineer in sight. But you know what? It's a strong showing from Hyundai and with a keen price, impressive features and a new look inside and out, it'll make one of life's big decisions even more difficult.

Not more than half a dozen years ago informed buyers used to approach the Hyundai brand with caution. "Korean cars are cheap for a reason" people would say. But every year Hyundai cranks out better and better cars. They look smoother, they drive better, and the new i30 is no exception to this trend.

In the last few years Hyundai has been climbing the new car quality and reliability ladder as it improves its design and manufacturing processes. The Korean cars are always improving, and Hyundai has even confirmed that its next generation Tiburon sports coupe will be a proper sports car, with rear-wheel drive!

But that's besides the point really. We're here to find out what the Hyundai i30 is all about, so let's take a look:

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Make: Hyundai
Model: i30 (SR)
Price: $26,490
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline 4-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 6 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2) and curtain airbags (x2)), ABS, ESP
Car SupplierHyundai Australia

Drive: 3.5/5

Hyundai i30 review

Hyundai's i30 is hoping to shake up the
small car market with its dynamic design

Hyundai i30 review

Sitting on 17-inch wheels with wide tyres, the
Hyundai i30 SR model has good cornering grip

Engine: Hyundai Beta 2.0-litre 4-cylinder

The transversely mounted 1975cc inline 4-cylinder engine features aluminium alloy cylinder heads. Dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) actuate a total of 16-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that feature variable valve timing. The engine has an 10:1 compression ratio and will tolerate all petrol grades from 91 RON upwards when filling its 53 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 7.2L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 170g/km

Max Power: 105kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 186Nm @ 4600rpm

Hyundai i30 review

The 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine is remarkably
flexible, delivering good acceleration while
still remaining frugal, drinking 7.2L/100km

Hyundai i30 review

Hyundai's i30 is one of the Korean company's
best looking vehicles to date - a classy design

Hyundai i30 review

The interior presents very well, is functional,
and features some clever additions, like USB

One of the interesting things about a fashionable looking car is that it makes you want to drive it. And the opposite can be said for ugly cars too. Thankfully Hyundai has crafted what is arguably its best looking small car to date, and it feels well built when you ease yourself in, the doors shutting with a satisfying thud.

It's got all the safety and comfort features you'd expect of an imported European car, with airbags, ESP, CD stereo, climate control, USB jack and more, only without the $30k+ price tag. You can read more about these features further down in the Interior explanation.

The SR model Hyundai i30 we are testing here is the sporty range-topper, the variant that got protein power a gym membership, yet is powered by the same 2.0-litre petrol engine as the other cars in the range. This bodes well for the entire i30 range because the driveline is uniformly smooth.

Though the engine is no technological trend-setter, it is smooth and flexible and I as inadvertently found out it'll spin the front wheels without too much provocation. Our model was fitted with a 5-speed manual which gives the car an impressive turn of speed and the driver plenty of control.

I must say I stalled it a couple of times to begin with, but this is no reflection of the gearbox or the clutch, which are both accomplished devices (I'd just dropped off a Holden V8 ute with a very different clutch feel). Indeed, the gearbox is a very smooth shifter - there's nary a notch to be felt as you guide the lever from first through fifth gear, and it allows for quick shifts too.

With 105kW of power at six grand, and an eagerness to rev even higher and without getting raspy, the 4-cylinder petrol engine is finally able to match it's rivals head on. The Corolla, Focus, and it's other rivals no longer have the refinement or poweradvantage they once had over Hyundai.

The car's improved powertrain allows it to easily navigate its way through the heaving peak hour crush, while the rear view mirror and the side mirrors provide good levels of rearward vision. The seating position is generally pretty good and combined with a tidy 4.24 metre length and a 1.77m width and short overhangs (not to mention responsive steering),parking it is not at all scary.

Out on the highway the Hyundai i30 will trundle along nicely, the engine speed sitting on 2600rpm in 5th gear at 100km/h, which is quite economical. 

We handed the keys back to Hyundai with a final reading of 7.6L/100km, after covering 396km. We didn't even use a full tank of fuel, and the trip computer claimed we still had 180km of fuel left. Not bad that, for a 53 litre tank.

The small car responds well to steering input, with a precise steering feel that isn't too light. A lot of new cars these days feel over assisted and the steering is much too light in my opinion. This can lead to reduced steering feedback and disconnects you from the road somewhat.

There's a bit of weight and resistance to the steering which is refreshing in a small car which provides for a more rewarding driving experience when you find a good stretch of winding road. The heavier steering can be attributed to the MDPS (Motor Driven Power Steering), which is different to traditional hydraulic power steering units, yet is still engine and road speed-sensitive.

There's no vagueness in the steering feel that used to be a Hyundai hallmark, and there's also audio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel which are nice touches.

The Hyundai i30 SR is the model most suited to enthusiastic driving because it's fitted with large 17-inch alloy wheels shod with wide 225/45 aspect ratio tyres. It maintains good traction as a result of the tyres, and the suspension system (MacPherson front struts and an independent 'Torsion Blade' multi-link rear) helps keeps body roll to a relative minimum, allowing you to concentrate on tracking through corners.

I did notice a bit of jounce when riding over mid-corner bumps and potholes, but it's not terminal and is probably accentuated by the car's light weight rather than its suspension. It'll understeer if pushed hard, but has a fairly neutral feel through all but the tightest corners. 

On straight roads and during everyday driving the ride is smooth for the most part too. I don't think it's chassis is quite as accomplished as the Ford Focus, but it's up there with the new Mitsubishi Lancer for dynamics and can belt through corners relatively quickly when you keep the engine singing above 5000rpm.

The anchors are fairly touchy but this is no bad thing; touchy brakes are better than soggy ones. There's good feel through the brake pedal when you need to mash it hard as the fool in front of you decides to take a physically demanding phone call in an 80km/h zone (I yelled and possibly swore at him to pull over and he just grimaced at me - clearly I was overreacting to a potentially fatal collision).

Stopping power is considerable too, and this is helped by a fairly low kerb weight of just over 1360kg, and nicely sized disc brakes: 280mm fronts, 262mm rears.

Overall, I reckon that Hyundai's jazzy new i30 is a very cool customer, a clean operating machine. There's a real sense of effortlessness about driving it, but you don't feel detached either. The gear changes are light and seamless, the steering is well weighted and reactive to road speed, and with ample of poke from the engine the car motivates well.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the way the car drives and though it doesn't have as much character as some of its rivals, it's a huge improvement on Hyundais of yore.

Engine: 4/5

Efficiency and power. Must be a Honda right?

It's a Hyundai actually, and an impressive piece of engineering. Nicknamed the 'Beta' engine, it may not be the best motor in its class, but it's very easy to live with. There's precious little harshness when the engine revs out (which was surprising) and it's not too noisy. Best of all it's got a good environmental record, with low CO2 emissions and good fuel economy.

The fuel-injected 4-cylinder engine provides the car with a good deal of acceleration in the lower gears and only bogs down if you stuff up your gear change, like when you miss a gear and hit 4th instead of 2nd.

Reading the spec sheet of a new car, in this instance 105kW and 186Nm, doesn't mean much these days. Everyone's got variable valve this and twin cam that, to the point where the real world test is the most authoritative way to gauge a cars performance.

On the street the car feels every bit a 105kW buzz box, getting its power to the front wheels via the 5-speed manual very effectively. There's enough power there to override the considerable tyre grip, but the ESP and traction control systems regulate the power delivery so that the wheels rarely miss a beat (though you can turn it off).

Hyundai claims the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the i30 returns fuel economy of 7.2L/100km on the combined city and highway cycle, and we recorded 7.6L/100km which is still pretty good. This involved about 40 per cent highway driving, 20 per cent city driving and commuting, and the rest pedal-to-the-metal driving along twisty roads to test the chassis. 

All told, that's a very impressive fuel economy figure.

Exterior: 3.5/5

When I picked up the Hyundai i30 SR I was somewhat surprised with what I saw: a stylish design with an overt European influence. Granted, we're testing the range-topping SR sports model complete with the big wheels and a drop body kit to make it look even cooler, but that doesn't take anything away from the car's overall shape.

Apart from the slightly over-developed headlights (the extended trailing edge irks me), the Hyundai i30 looks good in my opinion.

How's this: on the Saturday I picked up the car a random bloke driving a Holden Crewman stuck his neck out the window to comment on the car, which had me momentarily speechless. "Nice looking car mate. What is it?" Err, thanks man. It's an i30, a new Hyundai.

I half thought he was mocking me, but catching a glimpse of the car reflected in the windows of a Melbourne City department store showed that the i30 does in fact cut a sharp figure.

For mine the wheels go a long way to sealing the deal - five spokers with subtle chrome gloss accents - but as mentioned the overall body shape is easy on the eye. It's unashamedly European, with smooth flowing lines and nothing too radical or try-hard to offend the eye. 

From the side view the window line kicks upwards towards the rear and this lends the car a sophisticated style, while the rear end has a passing resemblance to a BMW 1 Series.

The front end has a modern look about it, with a stylised grille and a good sized front air dam below that. There's also fancy projector beams housed in the headlight clusters either side of the grille. I'm no great fan about the extended trailing edge of the headlight design that wraps around into the front quarter panels, but in hindsight I think that without that little 'kick' the front end would too closely resemble a Toyota Corolla.

Interior: 4/5

One of the most impressive elements of the new Hyundai i30 is the interior. It looks good, it feels good, it's functional and it's roomy. It has a modern look and feel and I was initially incredulous: this can't be a Korean car, can it?

Starting with the drivers view, the instrument display shows two large dials - speedo and tacho/rev meter - which are fairly plane Jane, but very legible thanks to a bold font. At night they glow blue, giving the cabin a funky, almost futuristic ambiance. Between the two main instrument dials is a rectangular LCD display that details trip functions - fuel usage, average speed, distance to empty and so on.

The front seats are fairly comfortable with a decent amount of cushioning, but when you start throwing the i30 into corners the meagre side-bolsters leave a little to be desired.

The leather wrapped steering wheel is smaller than normal - a very good thing in my book as it usually means there's less effort needed to make the car turn - and features useful cruise and audio controls (though the entry level SX models miss out on steering wheel controls).

Overall dashboard and interior plastics are rather impressive; the dash plastics are soft touch with a thatched texture and little things like the unique electric window buttons and dual USB and audio AUX ports (for MP3 players and USB stick connectivity) provide for a nice point of difference from its small car rivals.

A curvy dash design like the wings of a bird arching around the driver and front passenger creates a nice sense of space up front, and the centre console is aglow with twin cobalt LCD screens that detail the heating/cooling and the stereo systems respectively. 

Everything works well, is relatively ergonomic, and an air conditioned glove box - essentially a 'chully bun' to use the New Zealand vernacular - adds yet more functionality to the car's cabin.

The rear seats are well cushioned making longer journeys bearable for back seat passengers, and leg room is not bad for a car of this size. A pair of adults or three ankle biters will find ample room in the rear on short to medium journeys.

Standard features in all i30 models include things like dual front airbags, anti-whiplash front head restraints, pollen filtered air conditioning, power windows, remote entry with alarm and power steering. ESP is standard on our test model, the $26,490 i30 SR, but will cost $1,790 and $990 for the base and mid-range SX and SLX models respectively (which also adds curtain and front-side airbags on the SX).

Our test car, the SR, adds things like an well sorted 6-speaker stereo, alloy pedals, leather inserts on the seats, ESP, six airbags, and of course the 17-inch wheels and body kit, which is an above average level of equipment for under $27,000. The boot isn't bad either, with a very usable 340 litres of space that expands to 1250 litres when you fold the rear seats down.

Overall I really warmed to the i30's interior. The design is modern but not completely soulless, and it's clear that Hyundai has tried a few different ideas with the interior design, such as a smart looking centre console and vertically aligned air vents.

Overall: 4/5

There's a big pile of cash in your bank account, you're on the hunt for a trendy Euro-style small car and there's a short list that includes name brands like Toyota, Mazda, Ford and Mitsubishi. Do yourself a favour and add Hyundai to that shortlist, because the i30 is a bona fide contender.

Hyundai is the fastest growing mainstream car maker in the world and after driving the i30 for a week it's not hard to see why. The vehicle is, at the very least, competent in every respect and excels in some, particularly the overall design and the new Beta 4-cylinder engine.

The company was once the butt of many jokes but it's small car is now on level pegging with the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, matching and in some cases beating its rivals in terms of standard equipment, engine output, fuel efficiency, ride and handling.

The i30 is a remarkably savvy small car and quite probably the Korean company's best vehicle to date.

It shows that Hyundai hasn't been complacent. It's taken the bull by the horns and made a red hot go of it. After in-depth research and development the i30 was created and I have a sneaking suspicion it will go very close to upsetting the status quo in the hugely popular Australian small car market.



  • 2.0-litre Engine
  • Interior Design
  • Exterior Design
  • Value
  • ESP Not Standard Across Range
  • No Rain Sensing Wipers

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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