November 24, 2014

Hyundai i30 Review: 1.6 CRDi 110PS Blue Drive (2012)

We have the Hyundai i30 Active 1.6 CRDi 110PS Blue Drive in for a week to review and road test. Is the new Hyundai i30 really a match for the VW Golf and Ford Focus?

Photo of white 2012 Hyundai i30


Hyundai probably won’t see it quite the same way (they have been in the business of making cars for more than 40 years) but the latest crop of Hyundai cars are the first we need to compare with the best in sector, instead of focusing on their cost.

In a way, the latest Hyundais are the tricky ‘second album'; the novelty of the first really appealing offering has to be replaced by something properly credible and with real substance. A future, in other words.

So we come to Hyundai’s latest i30 with expectations that it can stand up to the scrutiny required to consider it a serious offering on equal terms. Not just ‘good for the price’, but good, full stop.

That expectation was fuelled even before the new i30 hit showrooms after VW boss Martin Winterkorn hit the headlines when his poking and prodding of the i30 was caught on video at the i30 launch in Geneva, as he failed to find anything that rattled or shook and couldn’t even find solace in the dimensions of the i30 with his tape measure.

But a well-built Hyundai i30 isn’t enough on its own to challenge the kings of this sector – the VW Golf and Ford Focus – even if it is a good starting point. The new Hyundai i30 needs to be properly appealing, good to look at, nice to drive and easy to live with. Is it?

Hyundai i30 – inside and out

Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Design’ may be bordering on European generic, but it’s pretty convincing nonetheless. There’s nothing that shouts ‘budget’ in the way the new i30 looks, from its hexagonal corporate grill, LED driving lights and slightly bug-eyed headlights – the DNA from the i40 showing through –  to a back end that has more than a hint of modern Alfa Romeo about it.

In fact, it looks like a slightly better take on the Alfa Giulietta’s rump with a well-defined line flowing down from the waist to the bumper and bigger lights. It’s a convincing arse.

“There’s nothing ‘budget’ in the way the new i30 looks, from its hexagonal corporate grill, LED driving lights and slightly bug-eyed headlights to a back end that has more than a hint of modern Alfa Romeo about it.”

The better than decent exterior doesn’t offer promises the interior can’t keep either, with the i30’s interior being typically modern Hyundai.

That means comfy seats, an appealing and attractive dash with controls sensibly and, on the whole, intuitively laid out with a well defined centre console, cleanly defined by chrome-effect trim.

There’s plenty of room too, with enough head room for our over 6′ testers and still room in the back seats for proper full sized people. Even the boot’s not a bad size, and even on this modest Active trim i30 you get split folding rear seats.

Equipment levels are pretty decent too – especially as the Active trim is just one step up the i30’s trim ladder – with Bluetooth with voice, Cruise, Hill Start, leather steering wheel and gear knob, rear parking sensors and AirCon all on offer.

And yes, Martin Winterkorn was right – the interior of the new i30 is very well bolted together. There are no rattles or shakes and, even though some of the trim could do with being a notch up, just about everything has good tactility and looks good too.

Interior photo of Hyundai i30 2012Hyundai i30 –  Performance on the road

What we have here is the new i30 with Hyundai’s 1.6 litre diesel Blue Drive with a modest 108bhp and emissions of 97g/km, perfect for giving the DVLA and Boris no return for using their roads. That 97g/km emissions translates in to official economy of 76.3mpg. A good headline number but one which is probably unachievable in the real world. We averaged 48.2mpg, although we did see over 60mpg on a motorway run.

That’s not a criticism of Hyundai – all the official economy figures for eco cars are good for little other than comparison with other cars – and we’re pretty sure that driven carefully the new i30 could give an owner a 60mpg average.

But the eco credentials of the i30 do have an affect on its performance. It’s not exactly swift to 62mph at 11.5 seconds (although it feels better up to 40mph, which is where most driving is done) and although it’s very happy at motorway speeds – albeit with a bit of wind noise – its long gearing does mean a change down if you want to recover in a decent time frame after being baulked.

“The i30 can cope with rutted and ridged roads every bit as well as the Focus or Golf, and even the back road blat – as long as you’re not thinking about economy – is appealing.”

And its that modest performance in higher gears that probably cost us in economy terms. It’s an issue if you like to push on, but if you’re a bit of a plodder then the i30 will feel more than acceptably lively around town and a gentle foot will make it much more economical than it was in our hands.

But even if real world economy is a victim of the eco setup the i30 Blue Drive has, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way it drives. The i30 can cope with rutted and ridged roads every bit as well as the Focus or Golf, and even the back road blat – as long as you’re not thinking about economy – is appealing.

The sophisticated suspension setup on the i30 – it has a multi link rear suspension – makes it a very pleasing car to drive, wherever you drive. It handles sweeping bends with alacrity, absorbs ridges with aplomb and even does a very good job of turning in – albeit with a bit of understeer apparent even at modest speeds – and the only thing we weren’t overly thrilled with was the steering.

Hyundai’s Flex Steer gives a choice of three modes, which are basically a progression of ‘feel’. But all they really do is make the steering progressively heavier without really changing the amount of feedback you get. We ended up leaving it in normal – neither too light not too heavy – but, although nicely accurate, it’s perhaps the weakest link in an otherwise very impressive setup.

Hyundai i30  – Verdict

We were clear from the off that we couldn’t treat the i30 as anything less than a pretender for the joint crown the Focus and Golf hold in this sector. That alone is an indication of how far Hyundai has come and illustrates why competing cars from the likes of PSA and Renault struggle to make a real impact in this sector.

From a convincing look, both inside and out, to a decent spec level and great manners on road, this latest Hyundai i30 is very able and very appealing.

“The i30 may not have quite the measure of the Focus when you want to push on, and badge snobs may baulk at choosing the i30 over the Golf, but in every other way the i30 has the measure of its main competitors.”

The i30 may not have quite the measure of the Focus when you want to push on, and badge snobs may baulk at choosing the i30 over the Golf, but in every other way the i30 has the measure of its main competitors.

The Hyundai i30 isn’t perfect – it’s a bit safe and generic, we’d prefer it to be a bit livelier in higher gears and the steering is no better than average – but they are relatively minor gripes. But, for what it’s worth, our resident ‘plodder’ thinks the Hyundai is the easiest drive.

No longer the ‘budget’ option, the i30 does, nevertheless, offer more as standard for its £17,995 than either the Golf or Focus and also comes with Hyundai’s all encompassing five year warranty, making a compelling argument for its inclusion in the top three choices in this sector.

Hyundai i30 Active 1.6 CRDi 110PS Blue Drive Specs

  • Engine: 1582cc, 108bhp
  • Performance: 0-62mph 11.5 seconds / Top Speed 115mph
  • Economy:  76.3mpg  – Official / 48.2mpg  – Test
  • Emissions: 97g/km
  • Price: £17,995 / Price as tested £17,995
  • Test car supplied by Hyundai UK
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