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.
AS MELBOURNE’S insufferable winter gives way to a glimmer of spring hope, I’m looking at the Hyundai i30 SR Premium less as a refuge from the stinging cold that I occupy mostly after dark, and increasingly as a space in which to spend quality time as the mercury creeps north.
Instead of automatically reaching for the heated seat switch and gas mark 12, the balmier weather has prompted the use of effective front seat coolers, while the large panoramic roof has made its debut coming out from behind the full-length blind like the welcome sun from behind Victoria’s cloud.
The longer days and drier roads have beckoned and I couldn’t resist getting lost in the rolling hills north east of Melbourne’s sprawl, where the thinning suburbs turn into a labyrinth of mountain ash-lined roads – perfect for a hottish hatch that has only just scrubbed off its new-tyre whiskers.
I really like the eagerness of the Hyundai i30 and how its pointy front end coupled to a lively rear suspension set-up goads you to drive enthusiastically even at low speeds, and when away from the shackles of urban cruising the Hyundai thanks you for giving in to its advances.
Unlike a Volkswagen Golf, which has more rear-end grip than at the front wheels, the i30’s tune is tail happy and more involving in the twisty bits. Tighter corners provoke a little more roll than I was expecting but that’s completely absent in longer sweeping bends.
Power and braking performance are the perfect match for its chassis and only some strange smells after the fun was over indicated this steed had never before been pushed to the edge of its performance envelope.
After some nine-tenths driving, the cruise home necessitated some contrasting freeway kilometres and a chance to flick on the adaptive cruise control and let the i30 take a more commanding role.
The sticky tyres that had provided a welcome insurance policy along tree-lined roads are a little noisy on coarse chipped, high-speed asphalt but that’s about the only thing that detracts from the i30’s otherwise excellent road manners.
I’ve also been really enjoying the excellent information and entertainment system which is intuitive and logical with easy to understand graphics and some genuinely useful features. Automatic guidance to a fuel station when the reserve light comes on and spoken speed-limit warnings as you approach an enforcement camera have each saved my dignity more than once.
I can’t wait for another summery weekend to do it all again, next time with company.
Every time the keys are returned to me after the Hyundai has had a stint on someone else’s driveway, they are accompanied by compliments and praise. The feedback ranges from a mention of its eager and efficient engine, the compliant but involving ride and the pointy handling and obedient front end, but the general consensus seems to focus on its sense of familiarity. Right from the first steer, the Hyundai feels like a car you have been driving for months.
But it’s not just occupants of the driver’s seat that the i30 SR has been impressing. Three other seats have recently been filled on a more regular basis and the praise keeps coming. In the front passenger spot, companions have loved the range of comfort features including the cooled seats and vast sunroof, while second-row occupants have remarked on the generous space and comfortable ride thanks in part to the independent rear suspension.
My gripe of the month, however, predictably concerns the dual-clutch transmission. While the snappy ’box has been a strong performer while hunting perfect back-roads with slick, fast cog swaps, smoothly applying power to creep at low speed is virtually impossible.
The result is an awkward stop-start performance that makes me want to get out and push. I’ve had a driver’s licence for nearly 20 years but slowly reversing into a parking spot in the i30 makes me look like I should still have P-plates.
The Hyundai gearbox is by no means the only dual-clutch guilty of low speed problems, but the all-or-nothing power delivery remains frustrating irrespective of the boot badge.
The navigation has also been a source of annoyance. While most systems predict the place name as you are typing in an address, the Hyundai wants the full spelling and insists on a street name and number before searching for your destination.
The option to simply navigate to a general suburb or town would be a welcome feature but doesn’t appear to be possible. A small matter, though, in a generally intuitive and functional system that all occupants seem to be enjoying.
And despite the positive reviews from other Wheels writers and a warm reception from whoever hops behind its leather-wrapped steering wheel, I’m still the i30’s biggest fan and already lamenting the day I have to hand back the keys.
On the pipe, it’s a sipper
This month’s average fuel consumption has fallen to a new frugal low which is a surprise given how many lead-footed petrol-heads have had a spin in the i30. That figure could be even smaller however, had Hyundai equipped the i30 SR with idle-stop technology. Finding a small car without this fuel-saving trickery is becoming increasingly uncommon. Yet those who find the tech annoying might figure that its absence is worth the extra sip.
WHAT started out as a brief and exciting overseas fling on the freezing streets of Hyundai’s native South Korea way back in February, and became a blossoming long-term relationship with the i30 SR Premium, has all too quickly come to an end.
It wasn’t just the fact that I continued to see other cars, spending time intimately handling their interior parts, or the fact the Hyundai spent many happy hours getting to know other Wheels staffers, including the odd weekend away enjoying the company of strangers.
The keys always came back to my bowl.
Some relationships simply run their course and when it’s time to go your own way it’s best to do it with maturity and dignity.
But the truth is the i30 SR and I got along famously. Over the last four months, I have found far more positive words to say about Hyundai’s i30 flagship variant than negatives.
So it’s no secret I have enjoyed the engaging performance of its taut chassis tune and surprisingly powerful 1.6-litre turbo engine, and always looked forward to spending time in its well-appointed cabin, whether the trip was for official reasons or no reason at all. But what are we to look for as a barometer of the Hyundai’s broader nationwide reception?
With a small sample size, a majority of the people I have introduced to the i30 have been complimentary but you’ve probably never told someone their newborn is fantastically ugly right? Perhaps they were just being kind. What Australians really think of the i30 ultimately remains to be confirmed by long- term sales figures, but a final trip away in the SR cemented my opinion that it’s a brilliant all-rounder.
As I loaded up the boot with my swag, some decent booze and all of the paraphernalia necessary for a bush party just down the road from the Heathcote Dragstrip (where we performance-test cars), it drove the point home that the i30 competes with the best for small-hatch practicality.
With a crew of just one on board and a couple of podcasts plugged into the USB port, I was again reminded how effortlessly the SR devours uninspiring freeway cruises. It also left me time to ponder the comprehensiveness of the SR Premium package and just what Hyundai offers for the money.
There had been times the combination of excellent handling and tractable power had made me instinctively reach for a manual gear selector, but the three-pedal option doesn’t exist in range-topping Premium trim.
It’s a shame as a shift-it-yourself gearbox would enhance driver involvement while eliminating the qualms I’ve had with the DCT’s sluggish low-speed behaviour. Before I knew it, the rolling hills of central Victoria were all around.
Friends and frequent visitors to the little riverside oasis in Redesdale are used to a different car accompanying me to each party, but despite the less exotic badging, the little Hyundai continued to draw praise.
In a vineyard full of mid-sized SUVs and mock-roaders, it seems you can still pique some interest with a well-rounded, practical and wholly liveable warm hatchback. It’s a little perplexing to observe the rise of SUVs in the Australian automotive landscape, when there are some excellent passenger vehicles that make infinitely more sense for the majority of day-to-day motoring.
If you need an example of exactly that and how much car you get for $35,000, you needn’t look any further than the current i30 range-topper.
From a first meeting in a frozen far-off land, to one last balmy night of fun, I can confidently say I know the i30 SR Premium intimately. I’m already hoping for a platonic reunion somewhere down the road.