"The i30 has bridged the gap to the likes of the VW Golf in terms of quality, performance and running costs – a genuinely impressive family car."
The Hyundai i30 hatchback is pitched to compete directly with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Its upmarket interior, sharp styling and some of the high equipment levels in the family hatchback sector certainly justify such a comparison. The i30 comes with Bluetooth connectivity, LED daytime running lights, heated door mirrors and multi-function steering wheel as standard across the range, and the range of engines on offer - 1.4-litre petrol, 1.4-litre diesel and 1.6-litre diesel – are economical and flexible. The move towards competing with the Volkswagen and Ford in terms of specification and fit has meant that the i30 has also moved away from the keen pricing of its predecessor and now most models are of a similar price to their rivals. However, Hyundai's improvement in recent years has been so impressive that we named the i30 the 2012 CarBuyer Car of the Year. The i30 is also available as a Tourer estate.
Hyundai hasn't designed the i30 to compete with the Ford Focus on driving performance and experience. Its primary focus seems to have been on economy instead. The 128bhp 1.6 CRDi diesel is smooth and capable of 0-60mph in 10.9 seconds, but it lacks overtaking power. Steering is light but accurate and all models from the Active specification and above have Hyundai's Flex Steer system fitted as standard, which adjusts the weight of the steering in three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sports. The Sports setting adds weight but still lacks any real feedback. The ride of the car is a little too firm considering Hyundai hasn't focused on making this a driver's car but it does help it feel sure-footed on more twisty roads. The diesels are the pick of the engines, both in 108bhp and 128bhp powers, as they are punchier and smoother than the 1.4 petrol. The automatic gearbox is smooth and easy to use, but we’d recommend avoiding it if you can, as it pushes up running costs and seems to sap the engine of power.
The Hyundai i30's suspension is soft, but it doesn’t roll too badly in corners. The interior space of the i30 is easily up there with the best in class. The driver and passenger have plenty of space, with kneeroom helped considerably by the lack of a transmission hump running through the centre of the car, even in the three-door model. Rear passengers also benefit from this, along with a rear bench seat that easily holds three adults. Headroom is good enough for even the tallest passengers, too. Storage space is generous, with door bins and an air-conditioned glove box, plus a very helpful lidded box between the front seats. The boot is a decent 378 litres in size, which is very slightly smaller than the Volkswagen Golf's, and when the rear seat is folded flat this extends out to 1316 litres. Noise is kept to a minimum at all speeds and is only noticeable when accelerating hard, making the i30 a comfortable long-distance cruiser, as well as a pleasant place to be on the school run or on a long-distance drive – it's just as happy at motorway speeds as it is on an urban commute. All the seats provide support in all the right places.
The previous model i30 came 15th in the annual Driver Power Survey for 2012, and while the new model has yet to rank, its high-quality interior and general feeling of solidity means it should do well when it appears in the 2013 survey. The Hyundai comes close to the Volkswagen Golf in terms of the quality of materials, controls and switches used throughout the car. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that the Golf has long been the standard by which many cars are judged in this regard. The dashboard layout is similar in design to the Hyundai i40 and feels robust. The i30 has ESP and six airbags fitted as standard and the rear seats have ISOFIX child seat anchor points for young families.
The i30's sharp new design has its drawbacks, most notably in terms of rear visibility. The tapering rear passenger windows means that seeing out at some tight junctions might be a bit of an issue. Otherwise, the i30 does well for practicaility. Its class-leading boot and generous interior space is able to move a family and its luggage about with ease - the boot is actually 62 litres larger than the Ford Focus and only two litres smaller than the VW Golf. Plus, its frugal engines mean that the 1.6-litre diesel has a theoretical range of over 850 miles.
Value for money
The old i30 used to be a few thousands pounds cheaper than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, but the current model is now about the same price. For the money you do get a better-equipped car, much better, in fact, when compared to the VW Golf. Standard equipment includes air-conditioning and Bluetooth hands-free equipment on even the lowest specification models, with sat-nav and rear parking cameras fitted as standard on the top models. The Hyundai does lose out to its rivals in resale deals, traditionally depreciating more steeply than its European equivalents. However, the new i30 is expected to hold its value better, potentially equally the Focus but still lagging behind the Golf.
The two 1.6-litre CRDi diesel models provide the best fuel economy, returning up to 76mpg and emitting only 97g/km of CO2 – which makes them exempt from road tax. However, all models are economical and the cheaper 1.6-litre petrol will better suit owners who rarely travel long distances. The six-speed automatic gearbox is best avoided - it seems to drag power away from the engine and noticeably ups fuel consumption and emissions, returning 50mpg and emitting 150g/km in even the most frugal diesel. Plus, it costs around £1,000 more. The five-year warranty should keep maintenance costs down over the long-term ownership of the car, however.