IAIN ROBERTSON 

DSC_1798_editedEver-so-popular and, for Hyundai, a vital aspect of its sales success in the UK, the i30 model has just received a vital dose of verve and Iain Robertson was among the very first to drive it.

 

When purported motoring ‘experts’, like me, hark back a decade, or more, to reflect on the growing status of South Korean carmaker, Hyundai, unlike Skoda, about which pained jests are still being made, the best that most of us could come up with was a punning ‘High & Dry’. That was ‘punny’ but never funny.

 

At the time, the firm was making headway and, along with its kissing cousin, Kia, we referred to them as ‘coming companies’. When you consider that the corporation is now comfortably in a world Top Five position, contrasting heavily with its 10th or 12th place overall at the time, its march has been unrelenting and thoroughly laudable.

 

DSC_1799_editedWhile it is still too easy to think of Hyundai as Far Eastern, some people even believing mistakenly that the company is Japanese, I can tell you that the family-owned (the Chaebol is alive and well in South Korea) firm is highly respected and immensely respectable. Yet, for want of a better comparison, I do liken the car brand to Toyota. While there is no real issue with that, as Toyota makes a most suitable model, vying as it is for pole position in car company terms, I do find that Hyundai is by far the more credible.

 

In fact, Hyundai behaves as though it were still trying to climb the slippery slope to the top. In many respects, it almost tries too hard, replacing and enhancing its model lines on a regular basis, giving the impression that it feels it always needs to try harder to please its customers. Yet, its customers, in the UK, at least, either possess neatly permed ‘blue’ hair, or reside in the less renowned parts of town. In truth, Hyundai harbours an image problem, more on which later.

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Since I first drove an i30 hatchback, eight years ago, rival to the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, I have felt exceptionally comfortable with the product. Nicely packaged, offering plenty of space, a moderate ride quality, a modest performance envelope and anodyne of appearance, it is the ultimate automotive novocaine; utterly painless and about as neutral as a car might be. Perhaps you can now comprehend my prior comparison with Toyota. However, those other familial elements that make Hyundai what it is today also afford the brand a useful edge. That edge exists in premium form with the latest i30 Turbo.

 

DSC_1801_editedSo easily, Hyundai could have resorted to a GTi badging exercise. It did not. Instead, subtlety is its key and its key to future success. The three-letter acronym sits much happier with Teutonic brands anyway…and one in particular, which is still on that horizon for Hyundai to reach to, even though Herr Peter Schreyer (formerly Audi’s stylist) is trying his nationalistic best to introduce a Germanic style into Korean product (just look at the nasal shot of this model and you can see aspects of Audi quite clearly). The fact that it is designed and engineered in Frankfurt speaks volumes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_1802_editedSitting on 18-inch alloy wheels, powered by a 184bhp version of the firm’s excellent twin-cam, 16-valve, 1.6-litre petrol engine, the only thing missing for me would be a six, or seven-speed, dual-clutch sequential manual transmission. It suffices with a nicely weighted six-speed shifter, by which it makes pretty good use of the 195lbs ft of twist energy, to despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a swift 7.7 seconds. It needs another 50bhp to be loosed to qualify as a rival to Ford’s Focus ST, or even Vauxhall’s Astra VXR, which are both case-hardened next-step-up rivals.

 

However, it did make a very good fist of a particularly testing road route on the back lanes around the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border country. While its top speed of 136mph is acceptable but irrelevant in the UK, the manner in which its dynamics can be exploited around the national speed limit are seldom less than engaging, despite its 225/40×18 Bridgestone tyres, and its taut, yet supple, body control, allied to delightful steering that makes some modern electric power systems feel lifeless and direction-free zones, is no less than wondrous. Let me inform you that I felt better at the helm of this Hyundai than I did attempting to wrestle with the latest BMW 1-Series sampled in the same week.

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While the brakes lacked some initial bite, which I put down to too few miles registered on the odometer, which some pertinent ‘running-in’ would resolve, I have nothing less than respect for this important lukewarm hatchback. I say ‘important’, because this is the company’s first burst into the performance sector. Of course, living with it is always going to be the primary concern. Hot hatches can be notoriously costly to operate, not least, if the driver indulges too frequently in the performance spectrum. Yet, there should be few negatives with the i30 Turbo.

 

Its government economy figure is given as 38.7mpg and, while I managed somewhat closer to 32mpg, thanks to indulging a tad too much, I do believe that the figure is credible and that most owners will return in excess of 35-40mpg regularly. Emitting 169g/km CO2 from its twin exhaust pipes equates to Tax Band H, or £205 annual VED. It is an expected figure. Fortunately, packed with safety and security equipment, its insurance rating is moderate and affordable. Of significant benefit is the now renowned five years’ worth of warranty protection. There have been very few major issues raised about the dependability of Hyundai products but it is worthwhile to have such strident factory support, which is transferable to the next owner, although consumer expectations of Hyundai are not high, if you change cars more regularly, as it does aid residual values.

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Exceptionally well-equipped, with comfortably supportive front seats, decent rear seat space and a good sized boot, the Hyundai i30 hatch meets muster as any good lower-medium sector motorcar should. It will be acquired by a lot of company car ‘user-choosers’ and the vital retail type customers that keep Hyundai viable in our market. However, there is an issue. Hyundai sells its most recent models in a ‘market priced’ manner. The price tag of this car, as you see it, is £23,505, which includes £510 for the metallic paint finish, its only optional extra. It is a price tag that is simply too expensive, I reckon by around £3,505 too expensive, or £3,506, if you want to give it an affordable price point. However, here’s the dichotomy, the i30 Turbo is the BEST Hyundai I have ever driven.

 

Meanwhile, Hyundai clearly does not feel the same as I do on the pricing front. However, despite chatting with Tony Whitehorn, its affable and informed UK boss, who explained most coherently the present Hyundai ethos, the vast majority of which I agree with (which must be something of a ‘first’), accepting that Hyundai is on an ‘upwards’ escalator is not the same as ‘extracting excess profits’ from its customers, or prospective customers. As stated earlier, Hyundai possesses a problem and it is one of consumer perception.

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While the products will lead it assuredly onto another, higher plane, to be fair, it ought not squander its hard-earned ‘budget car’ sales base. The next step upwards should be from ‘budget’ to ‘value’ but Hyundai cannot afford to skip directly to ‘premium’, because the market has not caught up and it will take many years for it to achieve that state of grace. For business users, the Golf GTi represents a better BIK proposition, as does the Focus ST. Hyundai is ‘there’, just not quite as yet, even though I shall not stand in its way.

 

Conclusion:   The new Hyundai i30 Turbo is a great compact hatchback, with performance pretensions. It works exceptionally well and I would run one on a daily basis, so satisfied was I with its overall, well-equipped and tidy package. It is more than speedy enough for our knackered roads network and, above all, it makes the driver feel like a ‘King of the Road’. However, if Hyundai wants to attract a younger audience to its performance offering, it is going to be forced to reconsider its £23k price point. It is a great wee car but not deserving of that astronomical price tag, not yet anyway.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).