Step­ping up a class

Per­for­mance lets down a stylish of­fer­ing from Hyundai, writes Mark Hinch­liffe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

Driv­ing

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.

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