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Hyundai's i30 is a Focus-sized family hatch that's been improving, generation by generation. This improved version of the MK3 model really accelerates its aspirations. Jonathan Crouch reports
If, in choosing a Focus-sized Family Hatchback, you merely want to buy a very good one and pay as little as possible for it, then Hyundai has a proposition for you - its third generation i30, now much improved. The more efficient engines now feature mild hybrid tech, plus there's a smarter look both inside and out and extra safety kit and media connectivity. Overall, it's certainly a more competitive proposition than before. Spacious, sensibly-specced and value-laden, this is one car that all the other big volume manufacturers are keeping their eye on.
Cast your mind back to 2007. That was the year the very first Hyundai i30 family hatchback appeared, a Focus-sized model that completely changed the way we thought about Korean cars. Since then, this Asian maker has transformed itself from budget brand to the point where it's now a mainstream quality choice. Can this significantly improved MK3 model i30 help Hyundai progress further in its relentless march to full automotive credibility? It's very firmly a product of evolution rather than revolution. But there's an upgraded engine line-up including a more efficient 1.5-litre T-GDI petrol powerplant. Buyers also get a high-tech dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission option. And cutting-edge standards of electronic safety and media connectivity. It all sounds quite promising doesn't it? But then, if this i30 is going to be able to keep pace in this closely-fought segment, it's going to need to be.
Quite a lot's changed with this revised model on the engine front. The volume 1.0-litre T-GDI 120PS petrol unit can now be ordered with 7-speed auto transmission for the first time. But the key news is that this volume 1.0-litre petrol unit is now available with 48-volt Mild Hybrid technology for better fuel efficiency and for the first time with an eClutch 6-speed iMT Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT). iMT decouples the engine from the transmission after the driver releases the accelerator. This allows the car to enter into two possible levels of coasting depending on the conditions. With the first level, the engine is idling. With the second level, the engine is additionally temporarily turned off to save even more fuel. For those who prefer to drive automatic, the 48-volt Mild Hybrid option is also available with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The 136PS version of the 1.6-litre diesel also gets the 48-volt mild hybrid set-up - and the same two-way transmission choice. There's an all new engine too, a 1.5-litre T-GDI petrol unit with 160PS at the top of the range, which also gets the 48-volt mild hybrid tech. This powerplant is only fitted to the sporty 'N-Line' model. At the top of the range, an improved version of the i30 N hot hatch continues with a 2.0 T-GDI petrol unit developing 280PS. Across the i30 range, Hyundai has improved its SmartSense advanced safety package with 'Lane Following Assist, ' 'Rear Collision-avoidance Assist' and 'Leading vehicle Departure Alert'.
There's a choice of three i30 bodystyles, a five-door hatch, a 'Tourer' estate and a sleeker five-door 'Fastback' model. Either way, the front is characterised by a wider-looking, more modern stance. The wider grille features an accentuated 3D pattern that emphasises what Hyundai hopes is a more agile look. It's flanked by restyled, slimmer headlamps with optional multifaceted reflector MFR LED technology and smarter V-shaped signature LED daytime running lights. At the rear, the i30 5-door hatch is now enhanced with a fresh bumper design, which was developed to improve aerodynamic performance. The LED rear combination lamps create a V-shape for a symmetrical effect between the front and the back. As before, 53% of the underlying framework is fashioned from Advanced High Strength Steel. Inside, there are fewer changes, though there's a new 7-inch digital instrument cluster screen and a fresh 10.25-inch navigation touchscreen for top models. Across the range, the air vents have been restyled and there's also an extra interior garnish colour ('Pewter Grey') if you don't like the usual black. The seats can be covered in cloth - or in a combination of cloth and leather. Otherwise, things are much as before. The cabin architecture doesn't quite have the quality feel of a Volkswagen Group product but it's not too far off and the interior's certainly practical enough. Two adults can fit comfortably on the back seat and the 5-door hatch has a 395-litre boot, extendable to 1,301-litres when the rear bench is folded. Go for the Tourer estate version and you get a 602-litre boot, extendable to 1,650-litres.
Pricing for mainstream models sits mainly in the £21,000 to £27,000 bracket, which is fairly typical for the Focus family hatch segment. As before, i30 buyers get a choice of five-door hatch, 'Tourer' estate, five-door 'Fastback' and i30 N variants. Our focus here is on the mainstream five-door hatch, which offers a choice of three trim levels, 'SE Connect', 'N Line' and 'Premium'. A DCT auto gearbox is available with the mainstream engines for around £1,200 more. As for equipment levels across the range, well Hyundai isn't holding back. There's dual-zone climate control to ensure a comfortable environment for all occupants during long journeys. Plus niceties like a panoramic sunroof and a heated steering wheel are optional, as is a Navigation system you operate via an 10.25-inch touchscreen on the dash. This revised i30 now comes with Hyundai's full-featured Bluelink technology which offers a wide range of Connected Car Services that provide live information and the control of the car via an app. Safety's been upgraded too. There's now an eCall feature that automatically connects you to the emergency services when the airbags are triggered. As with the previous model, camera safety kit includes autonomous braking (FCA with pedestrian detection), plus Driver Attention Warning, High Beam Assist, Intelligent Speed Limit Warning and Lane Keeping Assist.
The introduction of new engine technology has kept Hyundai right on the pace of the class best when it comes to efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions. These can be as low as 126g/km if you opt for the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel, which also manages 58.9mpg on the combined cycle. In conventional form, the base 1.0-litre T-GDI mild hybrid petrol unit puts out 121g/km of CO2 and manages 61.4mpg. The 1.5 T-GDi variant manages 44.8mpg and 142g/km. Across the range, fuel saving technologies include Integrated Stop & Go (ISG), low rolling-resistance tyres, an alternator management system (AMS) and a drag-reducing 'active air flap' in the front grille, similar to the technology offered on the Ford Focus. All of this is aided by a slippery drag coefficient. Satisfied owners will tell you that the i30 proposition is about a whole lot more than just a five year warranty with a car thrown in for good measure, but there's no doubt that the comprehensive after-sales package does remain a major attraction for city segment customers. It's a really good unlimited mileage deal that also includes annual vehicle health checks and roadside assistance to add peace of mind.
In summary then, an effective package - as this i30 has always been. For complete desirability in this segment though, you sense that in the future, a touch of unpredictability might be needed from Hyundai when it comes to a car of this sort, something truly ground-breaking that still ticks all the boxes on every Family Hatch buyer's wish list. We've little doubt that one day, the brand will provide it. In the meantime though, what we already have here is still enough to leave the industry's more established car makers with furrowed brows. Ultimately, it's hard to do too much better for the money. Which means that for the time being at least, the i's still have it.