"The Hyundai i30 has bridged the gap to the likes of the VW Golf in terms of quality, performance and running costs."
The Hyundai i30 is a family hatchback rival for the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus thanks to its classy interior, sleek styling and class-leading equipment levels. It's packed with technology and accessories, including Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights, heated door mirrors and multi-function steering wheel all fitted as standard in all i30 models. Plus, it offers a range of efficient engines – a 1.4-litre petrol, a 1.4-litre CRDi diesel and a 1.6-litre CRDi diesel – and comes in five specifications: entry-level Classic, mid-range Active, Style, Style-Nav, and top-spec Premium. Because Hyundai has made a deliberate push up the quality ladder to take on Ford and VW, the i30 is now more expensive, costing about the same as a Focus. But it's so good now that you can’t really begrudge the extra money. The i30 has improved so much, in fact, that we named it the 2012 CarBuyer Car of the Year. It also comes as a Tourer estate and in a three-door model that is basically the same as the standard hatchback.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
We’d recommend the two 1.6-litre CRDi diesel models for the best fuel economy, which returns 76mpg and emits only 97g/km of CO2 – making it road tax free. All models are frugal, with the 1.6-litre petrol car being less expensive to buy outright and better suited to regular short journeys than the diesels. We’d avoid the six-speed automatic gearbox, because fuel consumption and CO2 emissions significantly increase, while performance goes down, returning 50mpg and emitting 150g/km in even the most efficient model. Plus you have to pay nearly £1,000 extra for the privilege of making your car less enjoyable and more expensive. Hyundai's five-year warranty should also keep repair bills low. One note of caution – the i30's resale values on the used car market is not as strong as its rivals, so while the latest i30 will likely find much better second-hand deals in the long run, right now you won’t see much return on your initial investment.
Interior & comfort
The i30's sleek dimensions still offer enough room inside to go toe-to-toe with the best in its class. Driver and passenger have plenty of space up front, with a flat floor creating significantly improved legroom over its predecessor, even inside the three-door. Passengers in the rear also benefit, with the back seat able to take three adults with few problems, and headroom being ample enough for the tallest passengers. Every seat also gives plenty of back and side support. There are lots of storage options, too, including an air-conditioned glove compartment, large door bins and a very handy lidded box between the front seats. It's quiet, with the only audible noise being when you accelerate the i30 hard, so it's a very comfy long-distance cruiser, town runabout or school run stalwart.
Practicality & boot space
Here's where the i30's sense of style has a downside. That sleek shape reduces the view out of the back quite considerably, including a tapering of the rear passenger windows that make it hard for the driver to see out at tight junctions, which could be a problem for commuters. Beyond that, the i30 offers a reasonable sized boot of 378 litres that is 62 litres bigger than in the Ford Focus and only a couple of litres less that the Golf. Fold down the standard-fit split-fold back seats and that expands to a decent 1,316 litres. Overall, it's pretty much ideal for families and all their luggage. Plus, its range of economical engines makes it very frugal over long distances - the 1.6-litre diesel offers a theoretical range of more than 850 miles.
Reliability & safety
Hyundai has been on a mission, steadily ascending up the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey rankings in recent year, seemingly set to challenge the likes of Lexus and Skoda at the top of the chart. Sadly, the 2013 survey saw Hyundai fall seven places backwards to rank 14th out of 32. The current i30 is still too new to feature, but the old model actually topped the survey in 2010, although it had dropped to 43rd in the list of the top 100 cars by 2013. Still, you can expect the new i30 to score pretty high for its quality and durability. The i30's interior quality almost matches the Volkswagen Golf, with all controls and switches feeling solid and reliable, and the dashboard layout is also good, made from solid materials without compromising the style – very much like the Hyundai i40. The i30 was also awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests and comes with electronic stability control (ESP), six airbags and rear-seat ISOFIX child seat anchor points all fitted as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Hyundai has focused the i30 more on economy than on performance – so it is certainly no match for the likes of the Ford Focus when it comes to driving thrills. The 128bhp 1.6 CRDi diesel engine is smooth, and accelerates from 0-60mph in 10.9 seconds, but does feel somewhat underpowered when you go to overtake. All specs from Active up come equipped with Hyundai's Flex Steer system, allowing the driver to choose between three settings – Comfort, Normal and Sports. It's not as effective as it might be, with the Sports mode, for instance, adding extra weight to the otherwise light and accurate steering that doesn’t really noticeably improve it. Plus, the suspension is a bit hard for a car that doesn’t offer great performance, even if it does have good grip on the UK's rough and winding roads. And given that the suspension is firm, it's frustrating that there's still noticeable body roll when driving through the corners. We’d go for the diesel models, in either 108bhp and 126bhp form, because they’re simply better than the 1.4-litre petrol. And, as is common, we’d steer clear of the automatic gearbox because it raises the running costs and impacts on performance.
Price, value for money & options
Yes, you read that right – five out of five. The i30 may now cost the same as a VW Golf or Ford Focus (more or less), but you get so much technology, equipment and handy accessories for that price that it even makes the Golf lag behind. The i30's standard equipment includes air-conditioning and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity on all models, even the entry-level Classic, with sat-nav and rear parking cameras fitted as standard on the top-of-the-range models.