So­cial climber

Smart hatch could lift Hyundai out of the bargain base­ment

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

GANGNAM style is not good enough for Hyundai in 2017.

These days, new-model de­vel­op­ment is all about the bright lights of Europe.

For the all-new i30 hatch­back that means com­pet­ing with the Volk­swa­gen Golf. Hyundai has spent big and dug deep to pitch the lat­est i30, which goes on sale in Aus­tralia in the mid­dle of April, as a gen­uine ri­val for the class-lead­ing VW.

It’s a big call but Hyundai has been get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. We’re al­ready im­pressed with the lat­est Elantra which uses much of the i30 hard­ware, and the South Korean new­comer is go­ing to have a big price ad­van­tage over the Ger­man bench­mark car.

Hyundai Aus­tralia has also run through more than 50 lo­cal sus­pen­sion pack­ages to get the i30 tuned right for our roads and driv­ers, and will have a hotrod N ver­sion with a tur­bocharged en­gine and 205kW later in the year as show­room bait.

A frosty two-day pre­view drive of the third-gen­er­a­tion i30 in win­try Korea con­firms the class of the car. It’s a lit­tle big­ger in the cabin, sharper in the styling, more re­fined in ev­ery way, and per­forms well with 1.6-litre petrol turbo and tur­bod­iesel en­gines.

It’s very tough to be sure without driv­ing the 2.0-litre man­ual price leader, and driv­ing on frozen moun­tain roads with Korean sus­pen­sion, but all the sign­posts for the new i30 are point­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

It’s the sort of car to rec­om­mend to friends, even with the im­mi­nent ar­rival of an up­dated Golf se­ries 7.5, es­pe­cially if Hyundai can hold the price line from $21,450.

No-one from Hyundai Aus­tralia will talk about the bot­tom line, or cru­cial de­tails such as ser­vice costs or a safety score, un­til the car is here. But with the runout model ef­fec­tively sell­ing from $20,990 on the road with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion — an ef­fec­tive dis­count of nearly $7000 — there is no rea­son to ex­pect the rec­om­mended re­tail price to move. And Hyundai has a long his­tory with red pen­cils on show­room stick­ers.

“The price is not set­tled. We’re not ex­pect­ing it to be done un­til a few days be­fore launch,” says the boss of Hyundai Aus­tralia, Scott Grant.

“There are a few pro­pos­als around. We’ve been think­ing about dif­fer­ent spec­i­fi­ca­tions. There is a pos­si­bil­ity of value pack­ages.” He’s pre­par­ing shop­pers for the worst, but ob­vi­ously push­ing hard for the best price. Grant says: “The car is a step change, even at the en­try level, and that has to be re­cov­ered at some level.”

There could be in­creases up the scale, as the i30 is avail­able with ev­ery­thing from full LED head­lamps, leather trim and auto safety brak­ing to the perky turbo petrol en­gine, but it’s still go­ing to be a value leader.

The pack­age took four years to de­velop, with an em­pha­sis on ex­port buy­ers out­side Korea.

“It is Euro­pean de­sign and driv­ing per­for­mance. We change ev­ery­thing,” says Yu Chan Yang, group leader for the i30 at Hyundai’s gi­ant de­vel­op­ment base at Namyang.

He con­firms that three body styles for the i30, with a wagon

and fast­back to fol­low the five­door hatch. He is less happy to talk about two rear sus­pen­sion sys­tems, a mod­ern in­de­pen­dent sys­tem fit­ted for all Euro­pean de­liv­er­ies that’s only on the up­scale cars for Aus­tralia. So dol­lar-driven buy­ers down un­der will be short-changed with a ba­sic beam axle in the back.

In­stead, the talk runs to tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing Ap­ple Carplay, wire­less phone charg­ing, and safety stuff from radar cruise con­trol and auto safety brak­ing to high-beam as­sis­tance on the LED head­lamp pack­age.

ON THE ROAD

The i30 is cer­tain to be in the mix for our Car of the Year runoff in 2017 and will be very pop­u­lar with the peo­ple who buy it. But . . . there are too many buts at the mo­ment.

We don’t know the price, we don’t know the ser­vice costs, we don’t know the fuel econ­omy or the all-im­por­tant ANCAP safety score. And we are not driv­ing the ba­sic i30 with 2-litre en­gine, or a man­ual gear­box, or the less so­phis­ti­cated Aus­tralian sus­pen­sion.

Hyundai is ob­vi­ously putting its best cars for­ward, the turbo petrol and diesel mod­els with seven- seven-speed speed dual-clutch auto and pad­dles on the petrol, but that’s typ­i­cal of in­ter­na­tional press pre­views. It’s also claim­ing these cars, not the price leader, will be more pop­u­lar than in the past with a “richer mix” for buy­ers here.

The 150kW turbo petrol is perky, but also very quiet and com­fort­able. The body is not hugely dif­fer­ent in shape from the cur­rent car, but the cabin is clean and crisp with a big iPad­style dis­play and im­pres­sive ma­te­ri­als and fin­ish­ing work.

The torque, with 265Nm on tap, makes it easy to over­take and when we get into the moun­tains — not far from the sight of the Bat­tle of Kapy­ong where 900 Aus­tralians fought 10,000 Chi­nese dur­ing the Korean war — it’s a fun pack­age. The chas­sis is rea­son­ably taut, the brakes are good and the steer­ing is al­right if a bit light and vague.

Mov­ing across to the tur­bod­iesel — with 100kW and 280Nm — I find it just as com­fort­able and com­pe­tent. It is good for free­way cruis­ing and the econ­omy sits in the six litres/100km range for the run.

Af­ter a bit more time in the petrol car, with some lively driv­ing on slippery moun­tain roads made slick with ice and grit, I’m lik­ing the car even more. And I can­not wait to see how it drives at home with the lo­cally-tuned sus­pen­sion that’s a sig­na­ture item at Hyundai.

There are still doubts without know­ing the price and get­ting some seat time in the ba­sic model, but only a few.

The new i30 is go­ing to be good. The only ques­tion is just how good.

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