Stepping up a class
Performance lets down a stylish offering from Hyundai, writes Mark Hinchliffe
BIG things are expected of Hyundai’s i45 mid-sized sedan. It follows the impressive ix35 and the i30, a former cars Guide Car of the Year, so the company and public are hoping to be impressed. To a large extent the Sonata replacement fulfills those expectations with aggressive pricing, a feature-stacked package and out-there styling. On the road, though, the i45 doesn’t quite live up to expectations, with spongy handling, vague steering, a flaring gearbox and intrusive tyre noise.
Hyundai launched the vehicle on Monday with two trim levels: the $34,990 Elite with a 2.4-litre, 148kW/250Nm petrol engine and sixspeed automatic transmission and the upspec Premium.
However, since placing its orders, Hyundai Motor Company Australia has been able to secure extra production leading to the addition in July of a base model Active at $29,490 in six-speed manual and $30,990 for the auto.
This is up $1500 on the base model Sonata it replaces, but standard equipment is impressive.
Hyundai Australia marketing director Oliver Mann says they want to ‘‘ lead the class with the highest level of spec in this segment’’.
Active comes with six airbags, stability control, piano-black interior trim, hill-start assist, fog lamps, cloth/leather seats, cruise control, 16-inch alloys with a full-size spare and USB/ iPod connectivity.
The Elite adds full leather upholstery, 17-inch alloys, smart-key start, rear-parking sensors, climate control, paddle shifters and rain-sensing wipers.
Premium adds an electric sunroof, 18-inch alloys, better suspension damping, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, premium audio with woofer and electric front seats with two driver-position memories.
It is styled in the US and features a lot of panel creases with a bonnet reminiscent of the Chrysler Crossfire.
The roofline swoops like a Mercedes CLS or Passat CC for a four-door coupe look, but the rear seats have been set down and back to preserve head and leg room.
Build quality is superb as we have come to expect from this South Korean manufacturer, however, the old-fashioned boot hinges are a surprising let-down as they encroach about 15cm into the boot space. The interior is classy, functional and has quality switches and controls, as well as soft-touch leathers and plastic trim.
On the safety side, Mann says it is expected to achieve a five-star rating. He says it not only has six airbags and a suite of electronic driver aids, but also a rigid hot-stamped steel chassis that makes it safer and quieter.
I HAD great expectations for the i45 driving experience on the launch in the Brisbane Valley last week, but was disappointed by the overly plush ride and vague steering.
Mann claims the vehicle was hot-tested in Australia and also tested for suspension tweaks on our bumpy roads. However, the vehicles we drove felt like they had Americanspec suspension.
Even the Premium model with ‘‘amplitude selective dampers’’ — a sliding valve that adjusts the dampers according to terrain — feels light and vague in the front with hefty understeer and a floating rear end.
The two ends of the car seem out of phase with each and the steering doesn’t feel connected to the road surface. It doesn’t change direction well and gets nervous over uneven surfaces.
On some of the more abrupt bumps and corrugations, there is steering rack rattle and kickback through the wheel.
The suspension also hit the bump stops a couple of times on serious divots and unloaded without much control, sending the car bouncing down the road.
It needs some serious tweaking on the dampers and springs, plus some tightening of the steering. Hopefully Hyundai won’t wait until a mid - life makeover t o make those changes.
The vehicle is also under-tyred with 215 mm Kuhmo and Hankook rubber that creates quite a bit of noise in the cabin. However, wind noise and engine noise are well under control in the noise-damped interior.
The Theta II four-cylinder seems up to the task with a claimed 7.9 litres for 100km in the manual model. Hills tend to take its breath away and the automatic transmission flares a little when asked to change cogs.
In this segment, the i45 stacks up well for features, price and style against the conservative crew such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but it fails to make a dent in the more dynamic rivals such as Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, Ford Mondeo and VW Passat.
Styled in the US: Hyundai’s i45 sedan please comes with plenty of features. The base model Active has six airbags, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, fog lamps, a big boot and USB/iPod connectivity. But the i45 does not handle as well as recently launched Hyundais.