Hyundai is on the charge at the moment. Once seen as the purveyor of disappointment at bargain basement prices, the company is consistently delivering cars with the looks, gear and drive to rival the Europeans. It even has a proper hot hatch on the way! But the i30 N isn't quite ready, which means the warmed-over i30 SR maintains its status as king of the hill in Hyundai hatchback land. Is it a worthy flagship?
The specs from the i30 SR Turbo might sound a bit familiar. That's because they're near-on identical to those of the Elantra SR Turbo we drove a few months back. Hyundai has used the same turbo four-cylinder engine here, making the same 150 kW (201 hp) of power and 265 Nm of torque. As in the Elantra SR it feels quick up to the legal limit, but isn't a total firecracker. Warm is the word. Anyone who wants more performance will need to wait for the i30N version, coming later this year.
Although you can have the car with a six-speed manual gearbox, our tester was fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission developed by Hyundai specifically for SR Turbo models. It makes a lot of sense if you spend hours-upon-hours sitting in traffic, and offers quick upshifts at speed. But there is also some awkward part-throttle hesitation at a crawl, and the first-to-second shift can be clunky under light acceleration.
Jerkiness is more of an indictment on the whole dual-clutch breed than a specific Hyundai complaint, but that doesn't make it less of an annoyance. There's one surefire way around the problem though: head to the gym and get your left leg in shape, then tick the manual box on the order form.
Once you're up to speed, the car feels quicker than the average hatchback, without offering much in the way of aural excitement. Maximum torque is available at 4,500 rpm, but there isn't a heap of benefit to running beyond that point – enjoy a shove in the back, pull a gear shift paddle and grab the next gear. We'd love a bit more theatre from the engine, because the drone you get at the moment doesn't do justice to the performance on offer, but it's undeniably effective.
There's more to a performance car, warm or otherwise, than the powertrain. This isn't a full hot hatch, but Hyundai has treated it to a ground-up rework under the skin, starting with the rear suspension. Gone is the torsion beam setup from the standard car, and in its place is a fully independent system to complement the multi-link front end. It's the same basic setup used in the Elantra SR Turbo, tuned specially for Australian roads by the team responsible for the other Kia and Hyundai cars we've driven recently.
It feels taut and purposeful most of the time, but there's still a degree of compliance over the potholes and speed bumps prevalent on the roads around our office in Collingwood in east Melbourne. The whole setup feels sophisticated around town, never crashing into its bump stops or bouncing around, even when faced with some truly appalling tarmac.
The new setup really comes into its own on a sinewy section of slippery road, though. We have spent this whole review essentially repeating the things we've said about the Elantra, and that isn't going to change here: like the snot-green sedan we reviewed earlier this year, the burnt-orange i30 SR is a willing companion when the urge to drive like a hooligan grows too strong to ignore. We've all been there, don't worry.
The steering feels meaty in normal mode, and the nose goes (mostly) where you want it on turn in. The balance is overwhelmingly neutral – lifting sharply off the throttle does little to bring the rear axle into play, and hammering into a corner brings about mild understeer – but the Hankook Ventus Prime 2 tires hang on nicely, and the leather steering wheel offers decent feedback as to what's happening with the front wheels.
Most impressive is the car's ability to stay composed when it's hit with mid-corner bumps. It feels unflappable over bumpy roads and off-camber corners don't ruin its composure, while the body remains flat and controlled. You do notice the fact there isn't a proper diff on the front axle when the roads get wet, though, especially if you get greedy with the gas on the way out of slow corners. There is a way around that problem: don't get greedy.
The warmed (but not quite hot) driving experience translates to the interior, too, where the basic i30 package has been given a sprinkling of sporty touches to match the SR badge. The leather seats are heated, and finished with red stitching and red seat belts – cool in pictures, but a fashion-conscious friend was worried they would clash with his wardrobe. There's a reason he doesn't do this job. Even with a full-length panoramic sunroof, there is impressive headroom in the rear, and taller passengers will find the legroom is surprisingly good.
Parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and lane-keeping assist are standard, along with adaptive cruise control. We found the cruise excellent at maintaining a gap to the car in front, but it also displayed an annoying tendency to creep over the set speed.
The basic Hyundai infotainment system is easy to use, and you get built-in navigation in the i30, something missing from the Elantra. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and both work perfectly. You also get a reversing camera, and parking sensors are standard on all four corners. Picture quality is definitely an improvement over that of the Elantra, but it still won't be winning any imaging competitions.
From the outside, the SR Turbo has been dressed up with a few sporty add-ons, but it's basically business as usual. If you've laid eyes on a regular i30, that's no bad thing. The SR gets unique 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips and a chrome-finish on the diamond grille. Mercedes has been doing something similar on the A-Class for a while now, but it still looks fresh in Korean guise. The burnt orange of our tester is a handsome option, too: not overly bright, but it still stands out among the sea of gray, black and white cars on the road.
In Australia, you'll pay AU$26,000 for the basic i30 SR, or a hefty $32,000 for the Premium model we tested here. The differences? Heated and cooled seats, a panoramic sunroof, auto windows all-round and chrome trim pieces on the outside. We love heated and cooled seats, and the panoramic roof is very nice – if you have the money, it's worth spending it.
In the USA, the i30 SR is badged as the Elantra GT Sport. It's the same car, but the steering wheel is on the other side. Pricing starts at US$23,250.