IF I’M GOING to commit to a long-term relationship, I prefer to have practised a little try-before-you-buy.
I first met Hyundai's i30 SR in the biting South Korean winter at its international launch earlier this year. I returned home concerned that the gleaming impression it left may have been partly attributed to the country’s stunning snow-covered scenery, sensational roads, and endless kimchi – the classic holiday romance.
But I needn’t have worried because it impressed again when we were reacquainted, this time on Australian turf as part of a four-car comparison test in our September issue.
Against some strong opposition, the i30 SR carried itself confidently and offered a compelling package of performance and quality for a price that’s hard to fault.
Understandably, I’m looking forward to a longer, more meaningful relationship. Relatively speaking though, our union is still in its early days and there could be any number of realisations in the coming months, like the automotive equivalent of finding out your new housemate has a collection of edged weapons and opts for a weekly wash.
There is a bigger battle than just my own personal persuasions playing out here. As part of a global line-up, the Hyundai i30 comes charged with a significant task.
The South Koreans hold ambitions to be the most popular Asian brand in Europe by 2020, with the new i30 predicted to be a sizeable contributor to that goal. But can the new model continue to satisfy Australian buyers when it’s a package that has been so carefully tailored for a German, Italian, French, and British audience? That’s what the next few months are really about.
The early signs are positive, and even if I had not been provided the luxury of those several earlier drives, the Hyundai looks like a good match on paper alone.
Launched in May this year, the range kicks off with the $20,950 i30 Active but, contrary to what my careers teacher had predicted, I've jumped to the top of the pack and behind the wheel of the flagship SR Premium, which carries a $33,950 price tag.
For a start, the SR Premium’s cabin is trimmed with what is only partly real cow, but looks and feels convincing. It also gets more bovine wrapping on the steering wheel, seat heating and cooling, a vast panoramic sunroof, sporty black roof lining, a generous 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation (common to all variants), and keyless entry and ignition to name a few spec highlights.
Letting the neighbours know I brought home the looker of the i30 range are 18-inch alloy wheels, a subtle but pleasing bodykit, twin exhausts, and a warm copper-red metallic paint tone (an extra $495).
A key difference between this and the previous SR, however, lies under its pert bonnet where a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol resides in place of the superseded naturally aspirated 2.0-litre, and the difference is immediately appreciated behind the wheel.
While the SR would certainly lose a drag race with its imminent i30 N hot-hatch sibling, it doesn’t entirely deserve the ‘warm hatch’ title some have given it.
The 150kW/265Nm SR’s performance is properly brisk. And let’s not forget that the 2007 Civic Type-R was considered a hi-po hatch, yet it’s considerably slower than the Hyundai. In straight-line, cog-clicking acceleration, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is snappy and engaging, but I can already tell I’ll have more to say about it and the all-too-common shortfalls of DCTs in low-speed manoeuvring.
Interestingly, only the SR gets an independent multi-link rear suspension set-up, with all other variants having to rely on a more hatchback-traditional torsion beam. Its sophisticated tail is proving easy to live with, complementing the i30’s sweet steering without wrecking my vertebrae.
At this point, the SR Premium and I might have only just finished speed-dating and enjoyed our first dinner and a movie together, but I’m already looking forward to showing off this rather hot Hyundai to my friends.