TWENTY YEARS AGO, if you'd said that by 2009 Korean manufacturer Hyundai would be a genuine global automotive force, with tentacles deep into the European, North American, Asian and Australian markets, someone would have said, "...you're dreamin' mate."
Yet here we are: truth is stranger than fiction.
Number two in small car sales in this country, and closing on the Yaris at number one, is the Getz. The highly-awarded i30 is powering along in its segment with sales up 68.7 percent, year to date. Hyundai's performance and acceptance as a brand is little short of remarkable.
When I was young (not long ago in case you're wondering), I wasn't exactly falling over myself to get into a Hyundai. Of course, you couldn't have prised me into a pair of Dunlop Volleys or a t-shirt from Target either.
But my 21-year-old brother, he doesn't carry the same brand perceptions. For him, the Hyundai brand is 'a given', it has always 'been here' as a maker of good value, genuinely competitive, smaller cars. Ones that you might mention in the same breath as a Japanese or Euro brand.
It's true, Hyundais have always offered value for money, but where was that turning point that made, for instance, a friend's mother ask me for help in deciding between a Mazda and a Hyundai?
It was the i30 of course.
Sure, the Getz is a great little entry-level purchase, but the i30 represents a new chapter for Hyundai - soon to be followed by the upcoming i20 supermini and joined by the overseas Genesis sedan and Genesis Coupe models.
Now, to make the most of its success with the award-winning i30 hatch, and to give buyers a strong choice in the limited light wagon segment, Hyundai has delivered the i30cw - or 'crossover wagon'.
Up front, the i30cw carries the same European style (it was designed in Germany) as its hatch counterpart.
The long, slim grille, air intakes and curvy headlights feature across the i30 hatch and wagon range, and each element speaks to the intent of the i30 and i30cw: to take on the likes of the Mazda3, and try to beat it at its own game.
The profile of the i30cw is defined by a strong upward-flowing belt line, its style let down a little by the expanse of blank space between the high rear quarter window and the rear wheel arch.
It's at the very back that the i30cw comes into its own, where stylish tail lights dominate the visual space, replacing the Mercedes-Benz style units of the i30 hatch. From a purely form-over-function perspective, the rear bumper could stand to be a little taller and the tailgate shorter for a stronger look, but of course, function rules here.
While the SX CRDi wears 16-inch factory wheels clad in simple hub caps, the range-topping petrol Sportswagon gets a set of 17-inch split five-spoke alloy rims, featuring unique polished inserts to the inside of each split spoke; an 'above and beyond' design choice that perfectly encapsulates Hyundai's approach to its entire range, lately.
The cabin of the i30cw, like the identical (at least up the front) interior of its hatch sibling, is a very good place to be, regardless of the money.
While the SX's dash is let down by the absence of any colour but black ("you can have any colour you want, as long as it's black" ...thanks Henry), the petrol Sportswagon benefits from lashings of aluminium-effect plastic on the steering wheel, centre stack and around the leather-wrapped shift knob, which itself gets a dash of chrome.
Sportswagon buyers will be pleased by the good quality leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel with wheel-mounted controls, a welcome premium feel over the SX's almost 'commercial van' fabric seats, plain black dash, rubber gear knob and synthetic steering wheel grip.
The plastics in the interior of both trims are of the same high quality we've come to expect from this latest generation of Hyundais, while the dash and door trims offer a soft-touch feel (something that many of the i30's peers, in the name of penny-pinching, simply aren't bothering with).
For interior space and comfort, the i30cw is well thought-out and quite appealing. The steering wheel is both height and reach adjustable - as is the driver's seat - while the seats front and back are better than expected for the i30cw's price point: comfortable even on long drives, and nicely trimmed in both the SX and the Sportswagon.
The i30cw also offers over 20 storage compartments, including a chilled glovebox, spring-loaded cupholders and four storage bins under the rear floor.
For space, the i30cw offers that in spades - it is, of course, the whole point of the wagon back - with 415 litres of storage with the 60/40 split fold rear seats up, and 1395 litres with them down.
And that's the i30cw's main drawcard, really. With such excellent storage capacity and fuel economy that blows away any SUV, the i30cw will be appealing to the family on a budget - or simply mindful of the cost of running an SUV - looking to pack the kids and the luggage into the car and bugger off up the coast for a week.
Riding on a 50mm longer wheelbase means the i30cw's engineers have delivered not only more storage space, but even more legroom for the rear passengers, more than accommodating for the average adult.
Hyundai acknowledges that the wagon market in Australia (there are 25 wagons available here) amounts to less than one percent of the total market, but Oliver Mann, Hyundai's General Manager of Marketing, points out that 35 percent of SUV owners don't use their vehicle's AWD capability, and that's exactly the buyer Hyundai is aiming the i30cw at.
Equipment and Features
The SX offers air conditioning, but it's the range-topping Sportswagon that gets fully automated climate control - an addition which, aside from being a welcome touch, gives the interior a more upmarket feel.
For the Sportswagon, wheel-mounted cruise control comes as standard, and can be optioned in the SX. With a recent spate of roadtrips filling out the calendar, the TMR team has found life without cruise control to be barely a life at all.
A six-speaker sound system, including tweeters, features in the Sportswagon, while the SX gets the requisite four speakers. Both cars offer great sound quality, while the customary iPod integration and auxiliary inputs feature in both trims.
The i30cw Sportswagon also features trip computer with distance to empty, trip distance and instant fuel consumption, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors as standard, while SX owners must simply learn to live without such luxuries.
For safety, the i30cw comes with ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), ESP and Traction Control as standard. Driver and front passenger airbags are standard in both trims, while driver and front passenger side (thorax) airbags and side curtain airbags are standard in the Sportswagon and available as an option in the SX.
There are also fully-adjustable driver and front passenger active 'anti-whiplash' head restraints.
With the 1.6 litre turbo diesel's 255Nm of torque available from a pleasingly low 1900rpm, the i30cw SX CRDi is punchier than its 85kW maximum output - coming in at 4000rpm - would suggest.
It's deceiving, really: the i30cw weighs in at a relatively portly 1445kg, and 255Nm of torque isn't much, but it easily cuts the mustard in this little wagon.
But while that maximum torque is available through to about 2800rpm before it begins to drop off, you still need to be mindful of keeping the engine in its sweet spot if overtaking or belting off the line.
It's when you're stopped at the traffic lights that the i30cw SX CRDi is betrayed a little by its price point, with the rattle of the diesel more than a little audible. When those pesky pedestrians finish crossing and you get your long-awaited green light, the rattle settles down nicely to a much smoother hum.
While the petrol i30cw Sportswagon we tested was an automatic (and struggled a little if pressed), the SX CRDi was paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Smooth shifts and just the right amount of 'give' in the clutch made the manual a joy to drive, reminding us that the Hyundai i30 is every bit as deserving of the praise it's been receiving.
Officially, the manual i30cw SX CRDi is good for a fuel economy of 4.9 l/100km, and while we couldn't get the number in the dash to drop below 5.1, we're not going to complain. Whether it's 4.9 or 5.1 l/100km, the diesel i30cw is gentle on the wallet.
The first impression of the petrol-drinking i30cw is one of serenity. Inside, windows up, this car is very quiet at idle. The diesel?s no tractor, but the petrol feels a lot more upmarket thanks to its vibration-free nature.
Get underway, and things get a little noisier and the tyres start to roar. The Sportswagon gets the largest wheels in the range ? a quartet of surprisingly attractive 17-inch semi-polished alloys ? and the low profile tyres do transmit a bit more noise into the cabin. However, despite having shorter sidewalls, handling feels just slightly firmer than the smaller-wheeled i30 variants.
At 105kW and 186Nm, the 2.0 litre petrol four-pot develops more power than the 1.6 litre diesel donk, but much less torque. Peak power is reached at 6000rpm while maximum twist is achieved at 4600rpm, so the petrol needs to be worked harder than the diesel in order to extract its best. However, the petrol?s revvy nature means it is not troubled running around the tachometer.
The four-speed auto may not boast the most impressive number of ratios (just four is a little off the pace), but the shift mapping is intelligent enough to keep the engine on the boil when maximum power is needed and subdued enough for pottering about town.
Having less torque than the diesel means you?ll often find yourself mashing the accelerator to get it to kick down if pressing on - our recommendation would be to save a few dollars and buy the manual instead.
As for fuel consumption, Hyundai reckons the i30cw 2.0 petrol auto needs 7.7 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle. We recorded mid-9s during the time we had the car, but that included urban use and a robust run to the snow... normal driving will produce better figures.
Dynamically, the i30 wagon doesn?t lose much to its hatchback cousin. The i30cw petrol is 44kg heavier than the equivalent i30 hatch and the body is 40mm taller, but you really only notice the extra heft in press-on cornering. As with the hatch, understeer is the result of pushing it too hard but lifting off sharply will tighten the line (especially with the heavier wagon).
The longer wheelbase of the i30cw didn't appear to have any effect on the handling dynamics, however the larger wheels of the Sportswagon added around half a metre to the i30cw's turning circle.
The ride is pleasantly supple and well-controlled, and there?s little difference between the front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension used by both hatch and wagon.
Everyone says it, and we're happy to say it too. The i30cw is a good buy that punches above its weight in just about every department. It's quite good looking, drives well, and it seems solidly put together.
If it was badged as a Mazda or a Toyota, well, it wouldn't even matter. Nobody looks at the Hyundai badge the way they used to. The i30cw proves that respect for the marque is well-deserved. Families and younger buyers will find a lot to like about this car.
Our recommendation would be to go the diesel. It is well-priced and the performance edge from the willing 'oiler' up front puts it ahead of the slightly breathless petrol model.
Starting at $20,890 for the i30cw SX 2.0 petrol five-speed manual through to the range-topping Sportswagon 2.0 petrol four-speed auto at $29,990 (the SX 1.6 CRDi turbo diesel five-speed manual we tested is $23,390 - all prices before on-road costs), Hyundai's i30cw is possibly the best value small to medium wagon on the road at the moment.
- Excellent styling inside and out
- Extra quiet cabin in the Sportswagon, and quiet enough in the SX
- Punchy acceleration from the diesel engine
- Leather of Sportswagon steering wheel lacks 'premium' feel
- Petrol model would benefit from a manual transmission
- Dash of the SX is a little too 'commercial van'