Hyundai i30

Third generation raises the stakes, and the cost of entry

TOBY HAGON

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ĎASPIRATIONí is not a word that typically springs to mind with Hyundai, a brand that built its reputation on drive-away screamers.

But with the third generation i30, Hyundai is spruiking the equipment list more than the price tag. The basic Active arrives with 16-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, a reversing camera, DAB radio, rear parking sensors, a tyre-pressure monitor, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Itís comprehensive, and trounces the competition. The bad news? Youíll be paying about $5000 more for an i30, at least compared with the $19,990 deals floating around last year.

Still, thereís a counterpunch inside with the most elegant interior yet for the Korean maker.

Dark plastics dominate and while some lack the tactility and precision of Volkswagenís benchmark Golf, the logical dash layout and screen that sits as a feature atop the dash team with flashes of silver to liven the mood and ensure easy operation of all major functions.

The 2.0-litre previously reserved for the sporty SR pulls cleanly, its 203Nm dishing up respectable around-town flexibility. The stretch to 120kW reveals a vocal set of lungs, thankfully not in a harsh way. The six-speed manual is viceless, the auto impressively smooth-shifting.

A Drive Mode button drops it down a gear in Sport, although it lacks the smarts to hold ratios when things get challenging.

Sport mode also brings a noticeably firmer steering feel, adding largely unwanted weight to a tiller that could do with a hint more sharpness to fully exploit what is a capable chassis.

Those yearning for paddles need the SR, which brings more equipment; Qi wireless charging, 18-inch rubber (225/40) and an impressive array of active safety that includes auto braking.

But itís the 150kW 1.6 turbo that adds plenty more muscle, with hints of hot-hatch spice; stout in the middle revs, bordering on feisty once you spin it to 6000rpm.

Combined with the slick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto, itís a sweet combination for $28,950.

But itís the chassis that defines the SR. Gone is the on-limit sloppiness of the Active (something not helped by yelping Kumho rubber) replaced by a surety that makes for brisk, engaging attacks. Hankook tyres are also a nice match.

The SRís multi-link rear end also deals more confidently with mid-corner bumps, with none of the skipping that occasionally afflicts the torsion-beam rear of the Active.

For now, the Elite lacks relevance for many, mainly because itís only available with a carryover 1.6-litre diesel. The quiet and refined mill is a relaxed, torquey (300Nm) cruiser and satisfyingly muted. But its 100kW is less enticing, plus thereís a clunky second-third shift from the seven-speed dual-clutch.

Yet its 17-inch tyres Ė also 225mm-wide Hankooks Ė manage the best trade-off between grip and ride comfort. Adhesion is closer to the SR than the Active and thereís a suppleness that devours pockmarked surfaces.

Yet there are chinks in the i30ís armour. Stop-start is absent, the SR is prone to steering kickback, more noticeable in the firmer Sport mode, and the elegant screen on top of the dash requires a lean from the driverís seat to reach the fixed buttons on the left. Rear seat space, too, is adequate rather than great.

But theyíre minor quibbles for a car thatís unleashed a new level of maturity, both in its presentation and driving nous.

Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Hyundai i30 SR 1591cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 150kW @ 6000rpm 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1436kg 7.0sec (estimated) 7.5L/100km $28,950 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Prices up; rear-seat space; AEB not standard across the range Refinement; sound driving manners; strong engines; broad range

Heart starters

The hatch is only the beginning of the latest PD generation i30 family. By the end of 2017 Hyundai will also have 2.0 petrol versions of the Elite as well as the SmartSense active safety gear optional on the Active. But itís the i30 N (available in 184kW and 202kW guises) that most are looking forward to later this year. Thereís also a coupe-inspired five-door fastback body style that will trade space for more adventurous styling with a lower roof.

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Virtually line ball with the new Korean for outputs from a same-size engine, although delivers them with a bit more zest. The Astraís auto is down one ratio, and less snappy than the i30ís dual-clutch. But cheaper price makes Astra hard to go past.

Mazda 3 SP25 GT $31,990

Spirited dynamics and excellent cabin quality, but a slight demerit in terms of road and wind noise which highlight the Mazdaís age. Rorty, large-capacity atmo engine makes for an engaging, throttle-responsive drivetrain, though.