Hyundai i30 SR
Byron Bay, NSW
What we liked:
>> Composed ride
>> Confident cornering
>> More features than a movie marathon
Not so much:
>> Tyre squeal
>> Wheels could be bigger
>> No turbo version... Yet
>> Off and racing
It's been a long time coming, but Hyundai is finally getting serious about performance cars. The Hyundai Veloster SR lobbed in August 2012 and now the second locally-modified sports model has arrived Down Under, the i30 SR.
Pitched as a 'warm' rather than hot hatch, it's powered by a 129kW, 2.0-litre direct-injection engine, making it not only the most powerful i30 to date, but the first new generation i30 anywhere in the world to use a 2.0-litre powerplant.
Hyundai claims the car is a stepping stone to greater things, with a 200kW hot hatch being considered for 2015. But even without turbocharged power this $28,000 sports hatch is a lot of fun to drive.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
>> Equipped to compete
It may not be the brawniest sports hatch in its class, but the new i30 SR is one of the best-equipped. Priced at $27,990 for the six-speed manual (the six-speed auto adds $2200), the i30 SR comes standard with a high-res seven-inch infotainment colour touch-screen featuring built-in (and very good) satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates, push button engine start with proximity key, automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers and dual-zone climate control.
A rear camera coupled with rear parking sensors makes parking a cinch, and the decent six-speaker stereo can sync with Bluetooth, Aux and USB inputs for phone and audio. A premium steering wheel with easy to use phone and cruise controls, also adds to the driving experience.
The i30 SR communicates its sporty intentions externally via new 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, funky-looking LED brake lights, SR badges and a subtle rear diffuser.
Internally, seats with fake and real leather trim, alloy pedals, a power-adjustable driver's seat and self-dimming rear view mirror are added, over and above the i30 Elite model ($24,590) on which it's based.
Four colours are available, Phantom Black Mica, Creamy White, Brilliant Red Mica and Hyper Silver Metallic, the latter exclusive to the SR range. A panoramic glass roof is a $2000 option and adds 28.5kg of weight.
>> Bigger donk and suspension tweaks transform car
Hyundai hasn't reinvented the wheel with the i30 SR, but giving it more herbs and improving the suspension has resulted in a far more involving and enjoyable hatchback.
The Hyundai i30's standard-issue 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder engine (110kW/178Nm) has been turfed out, replaced by a more potent 2.0-litre GDI (gasoline direct injection) engine that pumps out 129kW at 6500rpm and 209Nm at 4700rpm.
A DOHC, 16-valve unit with dual continuously variable valve timing, it’s similar to the engine found in the medium-sized i40 and sister company Kia's new Cerato.
The extra 19kW and 31Nm makes the i30 feel livelier, particularly when the revs rise. The 2.0-litre engine is also more refined and tractable than the 1.8-litre, requiring fewer downshifts on steep climbs and rarely bogs down. In short, it’s a pearler.
Fitted with the six-speed manual transmission, the i30 SR moves with more purpose than the 1.8-litre version and good throttle response ensures it reacts promptly to driver input. It's not the fastest revving four-cylinder we've tested, but once on song at the top of the rev range the i30 SR hustles along nicely.
Perhaps the only thing lacking is a chunky mid-range, something its turbocharged rivals have in spades. And an exhaust or airbox upgrade; the engine sounds meek.
With a decent shift action and easy clutch, the manual is the pick of the pair. The six-speed auto feels less zippy, making the engine feel strained at higher revs. While a diligent operator, the six-speed auto is just not as involving or responsive as the self-shifter and it shows in the official 0-100km/h dash times; 8.6 seconds for the auto, 7.7 seconds for the manual.
The manual is also more fuel-efficient, rated at 7.2L/100km versus 7.5L/100km for the auto. We spent most of our time in the manual and saw figures of 9.5L/100km but that's still decent considering how hard it was driven over a demanding drive route in northern NSW. The fuel tank holds 50 litres of 91RON petrol.
The i30 SR’s other major mechanical change is the adoption of Australian-developed suspension, which makes the little five-door not just a better corner carver, but improves all-round bump absorption.
Updated front springs, now four per cent stiffer, are matched with re-valved Sachs dampers joined to all four wheels. The new shock absorbers were fettled with help from ZF Sachs and a small Australian team led by France-based motorsport chassis guru David Potter.
As well as improving the way the car turns, the suspension mods make a big difference to the way it reacts to changing road surfaces. It now tips into turns with a newfound confidence while the new dampers allow it to track confidently through corners under hard acceleration.
The end result is a more satisfying drive, for what is arguably the best-handling Hyundai to date.
>> Neat and tidy
The Hyundai i30 is a neatly packaged small car with one of the best-looking interiors in its class. Everything has a stylised look, the quality of materials is well above average and fit and finish is very good.
Ergonomics are good - most controls and storage cubbies are sensibly laid out, there's two large central cup holders backed up by bottle holders in the door pockets. It's easy to get comfy with too, with fully electric seat adjustments, including lumbar.
Despite being classed a 'small' car in Australia, there’s enough space in the front and rear to comfortably seat four adults and boot space of 378 litres isn't too bad.
Hyundai also backs up the i30 SR with an above-average ‘after-purchase’ package that includes three years capped-price servicing at $219 per year, five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, three-year's worth of Navteq map upgrades for the sat-nav system, and 12 months roadside assistance.
>> Five-star protection
Based on the $24,990 i30 Elite hatch, the i30 SR comes with a strong safety suite, including seven airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes. It's been awarded a five-star Australian NCAP safety rating and also gets a reversing camera.
>> Potent rivals
The Nissan Pulsar SSS ($29,240) and Holden Cruze SRi-V ($26,490) are major rivals of the i30 SR based on price and features. Both the Nissan and Holden deliver better engine performance from their 1.6-litre turbocharged engines, but the i30 SR trumps both in terms of standard equipment.
Hyundai said it benchmarked the i30 SR against naturally aspirated sporty hatches like Ford Focus Sport ($25,890) and Mazda3 SP25 ($31,490), which is clearly where Hyundai is also aiming to steal sales.
ON THE ROAD
>> Hyundai has finally nailed it
The i30 SR delivers an engaging drive and while the steering still needs a bit of work, the handling has noticeably improved.
The car’s nose tips into corners with an eagerness not experienced before in a Hyundai hatch, and the damper settings are such that even when the car hits bumps mid-corner, its rhythm is not upset. Indeed, the car tracks cleanly through all but the most rutted of corners, and with good levels of grip from the Hankook tyres the car inspires confidence in the driver.
Although the steering is still a bit vague, the suspension upgrades improve seat of your pants feedback, and I found that the faster I pushed the car, the more involving it was to punt along twisty roads. Driven from Byron Bay to Coolangatta through the hills showed just how capable this Aussie-developed runabout is.
Another impressive element is ride quality. While it corners flatter and holds a tighter line through a bend, it's not a stiffly sprung vehicle. In fact, it feels a lot more settled than the regular i30 over corrugations and pot holes when travelling in a straight line and even at lower speeds.
The beefed-up 2.0-litre engine offers strong acceleration and improves general drivability.
It’s happy at high revs and keeping the engine on the boil allows the car to punch through corners at a decent clip. It's also a good match for the well-sorted suspension and provides enough shunt to spin the inside front wheel on tighter corner exits.
Fitted with a punchy engine and Australian-developed suspension setup, the i30 SR is now the best-handling, most involving Hyundai to drive in this country. It's also a very good cruiser and proved to be suitably comfortable in built-up urban areas.
While it may not have the mechanical stomp to claim class-leading performance, it does a lot of things right. Chock full of features, easy to drive, but also very entertaining when you pump up the tempo, the i30 SR exceeded all my expectations of what a Hyundai hatchback can do.
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