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Hyundai i30 1.6 CRDi Premium Roadtest

Designed and built for Europe, the i30 signals an impressive new phase in Hyundai's development.

the Hyundai i30 is a car of quality and character

In Proto-Romance language, the letter 'i' represented a palato-alveolar affricate, in which a plosive (a stop consonant pronounced with a sudden release of air) is followed by a fricative (the sound created by the friction of air stream through a narrow opening of the mouth), and from which the semi vowel developed. And that's not all. In Latin, the letter 'i' represented both a high front vowel and a palatal semi-vowel or continuant - familiar to us all as a sound articulated without complete obstruction of the air-stream.

Not content with a simple explanation like mine, Hyundai rambles on about the letter 'i' representing '...a long tradition as an icon for technology products'; that it is '...already established across Europe'; and that the letter 'i' is '...part of Hyundai's brand promise'. Or it could be that nobody else uses it.

I'd rather the company had used a g or an h because when you type a lower-case 'i' in Word (at least on a Mac), it defaults to an upper case 'I' - just like that - and so you have to back-space, delete, re-type, then try again...... Besides which, the i30 deserves to be an I30, as it is a capital reason not to buy a Ford Focus.

Those who remember the awful Hyundai Pony, or the old-before-its-time Sonata, or who would never drive the Atoz unless concealed within a paper bag, should prepare themselves for a pleasant surprise. Notwithstanding its Kia C'eed underpinnings, and a common drivetrain, the Hyundai i30 is a car of quality and character, not to be confused with earlier cars, which I understand Tonka refused to model for fear of warranty claims.

The 30 in i30 corresponds with the car's position in the European size rankings: 30 means third rung, or C-Segment, a slot occupied by not only by the Ford Focus, but also the Renault Megane, Citroen C4, Mazda 3, Peugeot 307, and others, all of which are said by Hyundai to rival its new family car. The 307 is no more, of course, and the new 308 is perhaps the only car in the segment - at popular prices - to outclass the i30. The C4 is also an excellent car, but only the three-door model captures the imagination, and since the i30 is a five-door hatchback further comparison with the Citroen is irrelevant.

In a first for Hyundai, the i30 is specifically designed and developed for Europe, and is seen by the company to be a more conservative version of the Kia C'eed, an opinion with which I disagree. Having now driven both cars, I would characterise the C'eed as a blue-cross Civic, whereas the i30 more closely resembles the youthful Volvo C30 - perhaps not in looks, but by virtue of its having a modern, aggressive stance, emphasised by 17-inch alloys (on the Premium model, at least) and a pronounced chiselled belt-line that adds a touch of class. (Incidentally, should the eagle-eyed among you spot in the accompanying photographs a sunroof and SmartNav screen, ignore them: I drove a pre-production model and these features are not included in the standard UK specification.)

There Is No Shortage Of Other Standard Features On The Premium Model

But there is no shortage of other standard features on the Premium model, which, mated to the 1.6 CRDi diesel engine, and a five-speed manual 'box, has a modest sticker price of £15,595. Together with ESP and traction control - which are standard on all models - the Premium specification also includes climate control, reversing sensors, leather upholstery, two-stage heated front seats, heated mirrors, rain-sensitive wipers, wiper de-icers, and an electrochromic rear-view mirror. Twin front, side and curtain airbags are to be found on all models, including the lead-in 1.4 Comfort, at £10,995. The most you can pay for an i30 is £16,595, which will get you a 2.0-litre CRDi Premium, with six-speed manual transmission.

Although the 2.0-litre diesel engine offers slightly better performance, the 1.6 model delivers by far the best economy, with 60.1 mpg on the combined cycle, rising to an extra-urban figure of 68.8 mpg. The combined consumption equates to CO2 emissions of just 125 g/km, placing the 1.6 CRDi in VED Band A. These figures relate to the models with five-speed manual transmission - the auto-model statistics are far less impressive.

Despite its obvious parsimony, the 1.6 engine delivers a satisfactory performance. A peak torque of 255 Nm enables a 0-62 time of 11.6 seconds, and 115 PS is good for sustaining (where legal) a maximum speed of 117 mph. No BMW, admittedly, but there is a fair spread of torque that adds a touch of sparkle to in-gear performance. But in all probability, the desktop performance figures will be of little interest to a typical i30 buyer: they are more likely to be attracted by the value-for-money proposition and the Hyundai's easy driveability, which quickly endeared me to the car.

In fact, during the test week, I had something altogether more exotic also parked in the driveway, but for most journeys I chose the i30 because it was so pleasant and straightforward.

From time to time, I encounter a car that answers the basic needs of driving: that gets me to B from A without having first to master a complex fascia: without having to wonder why I need 400 horsepower to visit Tesco's; and without having to think about impressing myself with the performance envelope. Indeed, I was much more impressed by the thought that the i30 has the ability to cover around 700 miles (in theory, anyway) on a single, 53-litre tankful. That's London to John O'Groats with just about enough change out of fifty quid for a fish supper.

And despite my thinking that the i30 has a youthful appearance, taken as a whole it projects an image that can be summed up in one word, much beloved by middle-England: sensible. It is sensible in the sense that from every angle, the i30 1.6 CRDi makes, er...sense. The price is competitive; the running costs including insurance (Group 6) and VED are quite light; and a 5-year, unlimited-mileage warranty is standard. From a user's point of view, the drive is undemanding; the boot is large enough for all practical purposes; and the accommodation is comfortable and roomy. It is a classic C-Segment hatchback with a B-Segment price tag.

I Could Not Fault The Interior Fit And Finish

But unlike so many previous Hyundai models there is no sense of cheapness, or of its being some sort of hand-me-down from, dare I say, a more illustrious manufacturer. Put a European or Japanese badge and price tag on this car and I doubt anyone one would think they had been short-changed.

Although the i30 delivers the archetypal C-Segment drive, there is nothing about it that is basic. The ride-quality, although perhaps not the handling, is equal to that of the Focus, as are the comfort levels and ergonomics, and the diesel engine-note is attenuated to a level that would not disgrace, say, the Volvo C30. Even though I was driving a pre-production car I could not fault the interior fit and finish, which augers well for showroom cars. And the materials used throughout the bright and spacious cabin appeared to satisfy a specification rather than a price.

Not even technophiles will be disappointed. At no extra cost, the 10-speaker audio system incorporates MP3, WMP and iPod compatibility, with USB and Aux connections built into the centre console. Steering-wheel remote controls complete the package.

The fascia is a neat, stand-alone module that - given the car's perceived audience - appears to have been designed for the analogue generation. Not that it's chintzy nor styled in a manner to suit a driver who by now should be embalmed - but rather that its controls are simple and logical, and, for a change, might be termed systematic. If you need to first consult the handbook, intuition has not been served.

The comparatively long wheelbase - short front and rear overhangs - has enabled the designers and ergonomic experts to optimise the 'packaging', a motor-industry term for squeezing a quart into a pint pot. The large, wide-opening doors enable easy access to all the seats, and the quarter lights let into the C-Pillars tend to add spaciousness to the rear quarters, which, in any case, are far from being cramped. I have seen less legroom in some D-Segment cars.

Were this a car from, shall we say, a mainstream manufacturer, and judging by the accommodation alone, I would expect a price tag in the order of £18,000 - especially since the leather upholstery looks and feels quite luxurious. In this context, therefore, the actual price of the car appears even more impressive.

But, whenever I am particularly impressed with a car, I tend to seek a second opinion, and on this occasion, a third, fourth and fifth. At different times, I took five friends for a ride in the i30 and asked them to express their opinions, favourable or otherwise. Were the outcome a parliamentary vote, the 'ayes' would have it.

Posted on 20.09.2007 by Graham Whyte
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