Hyundai i30: i30 therefore i am
MORE than most, Hyundai seems to have its finger on the pulse for what the Irish motorist wants from a car, writes William Scholes.
Take the Tucson, the company's family-friendly SUV, for example. It has been the Republic's favourite car by some margin since it launched, while it is routinely Northern Ireland's most registered new car in the monthly charts.
This is no minor achievement. You don't have to cast your mind back too far to remember when Hyundai was regarded by many - including those manufacturers whose cars it now outsells - as a wannabe from South Korea. How the tables have turned...
Nor is it just in this corner of Europe that Hyundai is a serious player. In the first six months of this year, Hyundai and its Kia sister company built 3.1 million cars - a volume that made it the fifth largest automaker in the world.
That means that in the first half of 2017, it was bigger than Ford and trailed only the first-placed Volkswagen Group, the Renault and Nissan alliance, Toyota and General Motors.
The rise of the modern SUV or crossover - as typified by the Tucson - has been well documented on these pages but the family hatchback is still the bread and butter of most major manufacturers.
The Volkswagen Golf, despite VW's self-inflicted travails over diesel engines, is still Europe's best-selling car, and one of the models that the Tucson dukes it out with for top spot in Northern Ireland.
Which means Hyundai's Golf rival, the i30, has its work cut out.
Hyundai has been making a car called an i30 since 2007 and the latest third generation, which arrived earlier this year, is the best-placed yet to take on VW's people's car.
Hyundai has given the i30 a decidedly handsome and restrained design, and it is a classy-looking, substantial piece of work
In addition to the regular five-door hatchback - there's no three-door version - Hyundai also offers the i30 as an elegant Tourer estate.
A sleek Fastback bodystyle - a sort of cross-between a coupe and a four-door saloon - joins the line-up early next year but before that, Hyundai's first proper performance car, dubbed the i30 N goes on sale.
Boasting up to 271bhp and a full suite of sports car upgrades, the i30 N has hot hatch royalty like the Golf GTI and the Renault Sport Megane in its sights; another demonstration of Hyundai's determination to compete on all levels.
The i30 N will take care of adrenaline pump duties, but what of the less extreme petrol- and diesel-engined models that most i30 owners will choose?
Hyundai has given the i30 a decidedly handsome and restrained design - more Golf and Vauxhall Astra than the flashier pizzazz of something like a Renault Megane or Mazda 3 - and it is a classy-looking, substantial piece of work.
The grille - a sort of 3D effect, which Hyundai says has been "inspired by the flowing descent of molten steel" - is a particularly eye-catching feature, and with distinctive lights and chrome accents, the i30 has a quality feel.
This impression extends inside. There is plenty of space - though something like a Skoda Octavia has even more space for rear passengers and luggage - and I found the Hyundai's seats notably comfortable for my lanky frame.
A clearly arranged dashboard is elevated by a colour digital screen between the dials and the large central touchscreen is simple to operate. The steering wheel controls are helpful and easy to use; the overall ambience, at least with my test car's SE Nav trim, is that of an upmarket car.
Light steering, clutch and gearshift make the i30 easy and undemanding to drive, and this is a well-equipped, well-priced car
So too is the i30's quiet refinement when you are on the move. The little three-cylinder petrol engine of the test car was all but inaudible - it barrels the i30 along with far more vim than its modest 1.0-litre capacity and 118bhp might suggest.
Light steering, clutch and gearshift make the i30 easy and undemanding to drive - keener drivers may prefer the more involving chassis and controls of something like a Mazda 3.
The i30 is a well-equipped, well-priced car. All models get Bluetooth and air conditioning, for example, with SE models gaining a five-inch touchscreen, parking sensors, electric folding mirrors and chrome trim.
SE Nav, as tested, is probably the sweet spot of the range, adding a larger eight-inch touchscreen and enhancements such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. Premium trim levels add niceties like electric seat adjustment.
As well as the very pleasant 1.0-litre engine tested, a 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol and 109bhp 1.6-litre diesel unit can also be ordered.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and the two larger engines can also be had with a seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox.
Prices closely track key rivals - of which there are many, from Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane to Seat Leon and Peugeot 308, and about a dozen others - and start at £16,995, topping out just below £25k for a full bells-and-whistles Premium SE with the diesel engine and double-clutch gearbox.
Together, it all means the i30 is a classy, competitive family hatch, with added interest to come from the Tourer, Fastback and N variants.
This latest i30 takes Hyundai a step closer to Volkswagen's Golf.
Whether it's enough to help the i30 overtake the VW in the sales charts, in the way the Tucson does, remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it is Hyundai's best ever family hatch. Oh, and a Golf doesn't come with a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty...
AT A GLANCE
Hyundai i30 SE Nav
Price: £19,805. As tested £20,390 with metallic paint
Engine and transmission: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 118bhp, 126lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 56.5mpg (combined), 40.1mpg (real world), 115g/km
Car tax: £160 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 22 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (88/84/64/68), 2017