Hyundai i30 Cape Town-37

The first-generation Hyundai i30 didn’t make much on an impact when it was launched in Malaysia in 2009. Not many knew of its existence then, much less remember the car today, but it stood out for this writer, and not just because it was my first ever review for after making the switch from printed matter.

I remember being impressed by the VW Golf-rival – here was a Hyundai that didn’t annoy in any way, and while it didn’t provide much in the form of driving excitement, there was a sense of integrity and quality that stood out in a Korean car. Bear in mind that this was back in 2009, where most were still amazed at their power to surprise. No one is shocked anymore these days, so perhaps that tagline should be retired.

It was a breath of fresh air. The i30, more than small sibling i10, was conceived to win over the Europeans, to convince the Continent that cars from South Korea are worthy of their euros. The i30 was a “European Hyundai”, a completely different animal from the Elantra and Sonata of the same vintage.

Much has changed in the years seperating the original i30 and its successor (just look at them!), but after driving the new GD, we were surprised to find that little has changed in the big picture.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-10

The old Hyundai i30 came to life before the days of Fluidic Sculpture and Peter Schreyer. It was from a time when the Koreans focused on quality and reliability, the next logical step after penetrating the market via low prices and long warranties. That is why the original was decent to drive but dowdy to look at. Still, the FD was reasonably successful for Hyundai, with over 970,000 units sold, and over 400k of those in Europe.

With the new GD i30, Hyundai is aiming for best-in-class, which is a pretty lofty aim when you consider that the segment houses European mainstays like the Golf, Ford Focus, Opel Astra, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane, among others.

Just note that the confident statement came out in March 2012 (i30 European market introduction), when the Golf was in Mk6 form and the 308 was far from European Car of the Year levels.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-23

The i30 had a rolling start to life at Frankfurt 2011, when one Martin Winterkorn did a walkaround, probed his men and even worked a measuring tape on the debuting Hyundai. The CEO of Volkswagen AG didn’t look too pleased when he uttered “Da scheppert nix” (there is no rattle) when playing with the i30’s steering column adjuster, repeatedly. YouTube it.

If the Hyundai i30’s interior quality is good enough for Dr. Winterkorn, it’s good enough for us. The dashboard is unmistakably Hyundai, but we like the more serious tone of its design compared to the Elantra and Tucson. A bit more businesss-like, if you like, but still more visually interesting than the Golf.

No randomly placed buttons to fill up the design sketch here (see Sport button in the i40); the stereo and AC controls are logically laid out and simple to use, unlike those in the Ford Focus. A good mixture of gloss black trim and metallic accents contribute to an understated yet classy feel, if you ask us.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-18

Our general market spec (that’s Hyundai-Kia speak for ‘other regions’ outside of Korea, USA, China, India and Western Europe) South African test car gave off a solid impression from the inside – the main dash moulding (soft plastics) felt substantial and there was a nice heft to the doors. It couldn’t feel more different from the Elantra MD, which the i30 shares its basic platform with.

The i30 a comfortable place to be in for a long distance drive. The seats are cushy yet decently supportive, and there’s a big range of adjustment for both the steering (tilt and telescopic) and the seat. No sporty ‘cockpit’ pretensions here, so you get a wide, expansive feel in the driver’s seat, which is pleasant.

Good space at the back for a car in this class, too, and there’s plenty of cubby holes for you to empty your pockets’ contents. The latter seems to be of little importance to European carmakers, I’ve noticed, and it’s a pet peeve of mine. To round the space and practicality section off, the i30 has a bigger boot (378 litres) than both the Mk6 Golf (Mk7 380 litres) and Focus.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-6

The impression of solidity continues on the move. This is the single biggest difference between the i30 and Elantra in my opinion, and one that gives the car a “European feel” desired in C-segment hatchbacks.

A main component is the i30’s ride quality, which is very forgiving. Everything our scenic Cape Town coastal route threw at it was deflected with nonchalence. Yes, South African roads may be smoother than our pockmarked tarmac, but I’m pretty confident the Hyundai will cope well here. We’ll see.

The supple ride pairs well with the i30’s good refinement. Wind noise and sounds from the ‘Nu’ 1.8 litre engine are well kept out, although road roar was pretty noticable. It could have been the coarse road surface, so we need a drive on home ground to be sure.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-25

The 150 PS/178 Nm MPI engine performs adequately together with Hyundai’s regular six-speed automatic gearbox, but the drivetrain lacks the punch of turbocharged Euro rivals. Put that thought aside and you’ll find that it works quieter in the background compared to similar-engined cousin Elantra 1.8. This motor isn’t the smoothest at the topmost end, but you’ll rarely go there.

But should you choose to in a bout of sprited driving, the Hyundai is willing to engage, and it brings to the table good body control and decent grip. Ultimately, it’s safe and stable rather than fun and frisky, but that’s not a fault in a regular family hatchback. There’s a chink in the dynamics armour, though.

Flex Steer allows the driver to choose from three assistance levels on the move via a button on the steering wheel – Comfort is helium light, Normal is self-explanatory, while Sport adds extra weight and self-centering. The good part is that you do feel the difference as you jog through the modes, the bad part is that there’s not much feel in either. Sport feels needlessly and artificially heavy, so it’s Normal all the way for me.

Hyundai i30 Cape Town-42

Our i30 will come from Korea, equipped with a rear torsion beam setup instead of the Czech-made, Euro-spec car’s multi-link rear suspension. From research, Hyundai figured that its North American, Australian and Korean customers are unlikely to place too much focus on the finer points of handling, hence the use of the lighter and more space-efficient beam.

As much as we would like to see “all-independent suspension” on the brochure, we can’t really argue with Hyundai’s logic. We drove pretty fast around the Cape, but there wasn’t a moment where the torsion beam’s inadequacies came to the fore. Most i30s won’t be driven that hard, it’s not THAT kind of car.

What it is, is a comfortable and easy-going machine that’s likeable and soothing – qualities that can also describe the i40 that made it into my 2013 Top Five list. So no, it may not be the outright class leader in today’s field, but it’s up there with the best. The verdict may sound familiar, but this time around, the i30 is so much better looking inside and out.

The Hyundai i30 has been launched in Malaysia, read the launch report here.

Hyundai i30 at KLIMS13
Hyundai i30 spied in Malaysia