Hyundai and Kia have come a long way from their humble automotive beginnings. The days of dodgy plastics and bargain basement prices are gone, and in their place are vehicles with the tools to take on the world's best small cars. The latest Hyundai i30 is the most impressive example of Korean car design we've seen, melding a handsome exterior with smart powertrain options to create a seriously enticing hatchback.
Beyond the obvious need to sell in a crowded segment, the new i30 will define how a generation sees Hyundai. Its styling debuts a new design language for the brand, and its chassis will underpin the first ever car to carry the N Performance badge. VW is defined by the Golf, and BMW is the company that sells the 3 Series. The i30 could just become the consummate Hyundai, the one people think of when the name is mentioned.
On paper, it looks like the team in Seoul has hit the nail on the head. All the individual design touches, from the angular headlamps to the glitzy grille detailing, have shown up on other cars in the past, but somehow the i30 manages to avoid looking derivative. It's more than just a pretty face, with an active shutter behind the front grille and air curtains on each side of the bumper helping keep the drag coefficient to 0.30.
Perhaps more important than the exterior is the new cabin. Being a pretty face is one thing, putting together an interior able to match the Golf and Mazda 3 is another. It certainly looks good in pictures, and the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto prove it's not wanting in the technology stakes, but the real test is whether all the touch points have the same hewn-from-solid feel you find elsewhere.
Practicality seems to be looked after, too, with 395 L (13.9 cu.ft) of luggage space in the boot. Folding the rear seats frees up a cavernous 1,301 L (45.9 cu.ft).
Power comes from a choice of two different gasoline engines, and one diesel engine in varying states of tune. Kicking things off is a basic four-cylinder with 74 kW (99 hp), before jumping up to a 1.0-liter triple making 88 kW (118 hp) and 170 Nm (125 lb-ft) of torque. Sitting atop the range is a 1.4-liter turbocharged producing 103 kW (138 hp) and 242 Nm (178 lb-ft) of torque.
Three variants of the same 1.6-liter motor take care of the diesel options, with outputs ranging from 70 kW (94 hp) to 100 kW (134 hp).
Ride and handling haven't traditionally been Hyundai strong points, but the company's engineers are hoping to change that with the new i30. All models get the same multi-link rear suspension and sporty shock absorbers, and the steering rack has been made 10 percent faster than before. Using more high-strength steel than previously, the team in Seoul has managed to reduce the bodyshell's weight by 28 kg (62 lb) and increased overall rigidity by 22 percent.
There's a huge range of acronyms working to keep the car pointing on the straight and narrow. On top of the usual auto braking, adaptive cruising, lane keeping and blind spot detecting systems, a driver attention alert function that monitors things like steering angle, the vehicle's position in the lane and driving time, and sounds an audio alert and displays a warning when fatigue starts to seep in.
At the moment, pricing hasn't been announced for the new i30, which is set to enter showrooms in early 2017. We'll be sure to check it out at the Paris Motor Show, which kicks off later this month.
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