Hyundai's i30 is a brave step forward
ROAD TEST: Hyundai i30 1.6 Premium AT
Hyundai, along with its sister-brand Kia, has this dodgy tendency to keep its official sales figures a dark and shadowy secret. But judging by how many we see on the roads, the company is clearly trying to prevent frightening the competition into retaliatory action.
I could probably draw a parallel between the latest Hyundais and today's Samsung Galaxy range - they're modern, cool, functional and every Tom, Dick and Sally seems to own one.
The new i30 on test here is the latest and greatest in Hyundai's mainstream onslaught and it looks light years ahead of its somewhat insipid predecessor in outright design terms.
It is arguably a bit fussy in places, note the rear bumper, yet the new design is both charismatic and muscular. Previous i30 customers would have said "ok, I'll take it" after studying the spec sheet and asking price but I suspect that most potential buyers of the new one will say "I want it" before even switching over to bean counter mode.
Which is a good thing for Hyundai, because the i30 is no longer the cheap option. Thankfully it's got a lot of content inside, the base 'Premium' model packing dual zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, foldaway mirrors and a decent sound system that's compatible with the latest phones and music devices.
While better kitted than most of its 1.6-litre rivals, I can't help but think Hyundai's being a bit brave by pricing the manual model (R229 900) just R5000 below the starting price of the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Opel Astra, not to mention at R7000 more than the high-spec Renault Megane 1.6.
So they've gone mainsteam on the pricing then, but can the car itself deliver the kind of satisfaction that its rivals do?
Although it has the most powerful engine in its class, with 95kW and 157Nm, the 1.6-litre automatic version that I tested does not make a particularly good start in outright performance terms.
I spent a great deal of time with it on a national route and it never felt particularly perky. Though it's capable of keeping up with the quickest highway traffic, it doesn't feel effortless in the way it goes about this - give it an incline and the six-speed autobox starts revving the guts out of the engine.
Safe and stable as it is, it's not as much fun as a Golf or Focus through the bends either, although on the upside the FlexSteer system does give the steering a bit more weight than I'm used to feeling in previous 'lame-steering' Hyundais. Not that many buyers are going to hold this against the i30 and most will surely appreciate the car's supple ride quality.
The interior also lacks the classy ambience that you get in the aforementioned 'class leaders' but it is at least functional. Rear legroom is hardly class-leading though, but should meet most requirements.
One little aggravation that Hyundai probably thinks is a novelty is that annoying chime that sounds every time you switch off the ignition. Don't know about you, but I don't particularly want or need a car that sings me a goodbye tune every time I part ways with it.
The 1.6-litre i30 does offer a novelty over most of its 1.6-litre rivals in the form of an automatic gearbox option, but it's a bit temperamental for my liking and I'd still stick with the manual, which costs R229 900 - versus the auto's R243 900 asking price.
Otherwise the i30 is a stylish, competent and generally likeable car but even considering the few extra features it has, I feel Hyundai has priced it too close to the premium end of the market. Once again, a good discount would make this a highly recommended buy.
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