Tim O'Brien | May 22, 2010 | 36 Comments


It's the mouse that roared – Hyundai. It has taken on the world and won. In the space of 25 years it has leapt from an automotive manufacturing backwater to become a global car-making colossus.

It has carved out market share everywhere. It’s now number five in the world and number four in Australia - whoever would have thought it?

There is not a top-ten car maker anywhere who is not feeling the hot breath of the Korean powerhouse on their neck.

Here, with the Getz number one, the i30 on a rapid march to the top, the iLoad at number two (and just wait till the i20 arrives), Hyundai is sweeping all before it.

Now we have Hyundai’s newest release to the Australian market, the family-sized i45. Having just returned from our first drive – and first close look – we can confidently assert that this car is going to send more than a few ripples through the local mid-size segment.

While the Sonata toiled manfully, the i45 changes the game.

2010 hyundai i45 active and premium first drive tmr photos 08

Few can match what it offers at its price point: starting at $29,490 for the manual Active (not yet released) and rising to $34,490 and $37,990 for the six-speed paddle-shift Elite and Premium models respectively, it loads one hell of a lot in behind those prices.

Neither Holden, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda – no brand with a family-sized saloon in the showroom – can afford to look away. On style, and on the value of the package, this car, Hyundai’s i45, will force a response.

Well then, what makes the i45 so compelling? What are its strengths, and where is it weakest?

Pricing aside, its most obvious strength is its style. In the metal, this is one seriously handsome and well-presented car. There is an arresting artistry to its lines, and a sublime balance, that commands attention.

Hyundai describes it as “fluidic sculpture”. Its designer, Andre Hudson, who works out of Hyundai’s California design studio, said that he set out to create a car with “presence”.

He succeeded. And at just 34 years old, Hudson is typical of the youthful feel that runs through Hyundai.

With a deep rising crease running front to back, a swooping coupe-like roofline and a dramatic tucked-in tail, the i45 looks as modern as tomorrow.

There is no unnecessary artiface; front to back it works. More to the point, it carries, if anything, something of an exclusive air.

I’d perhaps prefer a little less chrome to the grille – but, in silver in particular, the i45 looks super.

Its shape also works in a practical sense. With a compact drivetrain up front (driving through the front wheels), the long roof and high beltline has created impressive leg and headroom inside.

The long rear doors, which follow the curve of the downward sloping roofline, offer good access to the rear (which also provides surprisingly good legroom).

The interior is really something special. It is not over-designed, there is a quality feel to the dash and interior surfaces, two nice edges sweep in from the sides and curve into a piano-black centre-stack with brushed aluminium and chrome highlights.

When you settle in behind the wheel, it immediately feels right.

With electric seat adjustment in the Premium model (manual in the Elite and the yet-to-arrive Active), reach and tilt steering wheel standard across the range and with well laid-out and attractive controls, it is easy to get comfortable and ‘set’ at the wheel.

Vision forward and behind is good: the strong A-pillars are placed so as not to intrude into the important lines of sight.

Trim, fit, style and finish of the interior is very impressive. The seats, while not offering a lot of lateral support, are inviting and comfortable and trimmed in high-grade leather in both Premium and Elite models.

It really feels a cut-above and it’s an interior that would be right at home in a considerably more expensive European.

Both Premium and Elite models carry a full-house of equipment. Keyless entry (proximity key), start button, six-speaker stereo, iPod and USB connectivity, aux-in, MP3, WMA and CD player, rain-sensing wipers (on Premium and Elite), cruise control, dusk-sensing headlights, fog-lights, speed-sensing auto door-locking… and so the list goes on.

While it offers a paddle-shift six-speed automatic as standard in both Elite and Premium models (the Active gets a six-speed manual option), the i45 comes back to the pack with its mechanical offering and on-road performance.

There is just one engine choice, a 2.4 litre DOHC direct injection four cylinder. It’s a good unit: its 148kW @ 6300rpm and 250Nm @ 4250rpm are a match for the Maxima 250 V6’s 134Kw and 228Nm, and also a match for the 148kW and 234Nm of Honda’s Accord Euro and Mazda6’s 125kW and 226Nm.

On the road though, the Honda feels the more willing of this group, with better rolling acceleration and a more lively and better-balanced engine.

(And, unfortunately, we won’t be seeing a diesel i45. Australia gets the YF North American platform, which can accommodate the hybrid and also a planned turbo-charged 2.0 litre version, rather than the VF European version, designed for the diesel.)

2010 hyundai i45 sonata overseas model 07

The 2.4 litre in the i45 sounds a little harsh over 5000rpm (to its 6500rpm redline), and it won’t start to gather its skirts until over 4000rpm.

But provided you don’t mind using the paddles, it can be hustled along pretty quickly. And, although weighing in at 1528kg, it can get away from the line smartly enough.

It is under 3000rpm that the i45 is a little lack-lustre. This means that when overtaking it needs to be ‘paddled’ back a couple of gears and the application of a heavy right foot to get out and around quickly. People used to driving a strong loping ‘six’ will be looking for a little more mid-speed power.

Interestingly, the transmission is also programmed to protect the durability of the engine and driveline components. Whether in manual mode, or auto, if you run it up to the redline, it will skip a gear on the next up-shift if you’re planted to the floor. It will also over-rule on some downshifts.

This characteristic is also, no doubt, to deliver the best fuel-use performance. Hyundai claims a city/highway average of 7.9 l/100km. We were treating things a little unkindly, but have no reason to doubt that claim.

The paddle-shift itself is pleasant to use, the ratios are nicely spaced, and the paddles well-shaped for ease of operation.

2010 hyundai i45 sonata overseas model 01

Around town, you will never notice the marginal power deficit of the four-cylinder engine (against a ‘six’) or those ‘designed-in’ quirks of the transmission. The i45 is so easy to drive, so light to steer and with a city-friendly turning circle, that most family buyers will find it a delight to punt around.

Its suspension tuning, leaning to comfort, is also designed with a leaning to town, urban and freeway use. It provides a nice ‘around town’ ride in soaking up small road imperfections.

It is only when you get the i45 onto our jarring secondary roads that some of the shortcomings in the suspension tuning, and overall steering dynamics, are exposed.

While the multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great – it’s the right size and nicely designed with a sloping hub – the steering itself is ‘woolly’ and lacking in feel at highway speeds.

Combined with a natural propensity to understeer, it can be a little difficult to find and hold a precise line if pressing ahead on a country run. Over a winding road, the Mazda6 and Honda Euro are sharper at the wheel.

Like any front driver, you can tuck the i45’s nose in by going in deep and lifting off with an accompanying quick dab on the brakes, but the exit can then be a little messy as the suspension rebounds.

Quite simply, the damping and suspension tune is not right. It’s as if the front and rear ends are at odds: not quite working together in the way they should.

Sure, not a problem in normal use, but if travelling quickly over rough or undulating tarmac, things feel unsettled and not quite ‘at home’.

At speed it can have its moments, like when we suddenly had to catch a seriously ‘light’ tail and a big sideways lift when finding a hollow in an off-cambered turn. We were going quickly, but not at the extreme.

Hyundai needs more Australian engineering input to the suspension tune (you’d reckon a set of Bilsteins and a good underbody specialist would sort it out).

There is also the matter of road roar which can become somewhat intrusive over coarse-chip roads. In the i45 it is resonance from the front end, rather than the rear, which is at fault here.

It is not bad, and a premium sound system certainly assists the i45’s travelling comfort, but this will also be something that Hyundai Australia will no doubt be looking to address.

Safety is very well catered-for with six air-bags - driver, passenger, side and curtain – anti-submarining front seat base, ABS, stability control, traction control, hill-start assist (standard across the range), day/night rear-view mirror, seat-belt warning lights and more.

Hyundai is aiming for a full 5-Star ANCAP rating when the i45 is tested later this year.


Our ‘First Drive’ Verdict

So, that’s our first drive. Will the i45 enjoy the same success for Hyundai as the i30? On the value of the package, although it is entering the toughest segment in the market, you would have to say it’s a chance.

With the kids having bolted, I am now in the target demographic for this car. Hyundai has family buyers 35-plus and empty-nesters in its sights for its new medium segment offering.

So, the question is, would I buy Hyundai’s seemly i45?

The short answer is yes. Despite its dynamic shortcomings, there is simply too much to the package to ignore: its five-year warranty, the equipment level, its premium feel, arrestingly handsome lines and what it offers for the money on the table, makes a very compelling case.

While any judgment on the artistry of a car’s lines is subjective, to these eyes the i45’s dramatic, deeply-creased swooping lines murder the main players in the segment for style. It simply looks terrific.

It also murders most for its standard level of equipment and the premium feel to its finish and interior trim.

Others in the sector provide better-balanced performance over secondary roads, but around town or on a freeway, who notices and who would care? It also has that five-year warranty and feels as strong as a vault.

So, Camry, Mazda6, Maxima and Accord be warned... here comes Hyundai’s i45.

While Suzuki’s new Kizashi is also going to shake things up, the i45 on style alone is going to win a heck of a lot of sales. And, for that elusive sense of quality, it is going to win even more.


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