HYUNDAI I30 SR REVIEW
What's hot: Nice 'warm' style matched by balanced sporty handling
What's not: Big gap to third gear leaves a performance 'hole'; some may look for more boy-racer urge
X-FACTOR: One for those who value balance - balance in style, balance in performance, and the right balance in comfort.
Vehicle style: 'Warm' small hatch
Price: $27,990 (manual); $30,190 (auto)
Engine/trans: 129kW/209Nm 2.0 litre GDI petrol | 6spd manual (or 6spd auto)
Fuel consumption listed: 7.2 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
It's amazing how just a few tweaks to the suspension tune and a few extra ergs under the bonnet can transform a car.
It's something anyone involved in setting up a race car understands: it's the increments - the quality of the work done at the margins - that delivers the results.
This is what Hyundai Australia has managed with the i30 SR. It's warmed, not piping-hot; a sporting drive not a balls-out thumper.
The new i30 SR is all about balance and feel. There's no turbo under the bonnet, instead the i30 SR packs Hyundai's 2.0-litre GDI naturally aspirated four-cylinder replacing the 1.8 litre petrol and 1.6 litre diesel in lesser i30s.
It sits fatter on bigger 17-inch alloys (and 225/45 R17 tyres) with a 'tuned for Australian roads' sporting spring and damper set-up. (It was tuned here by British suspension tuning ace David Potter and Hyundai's local engineering team.)
Flat, but not hard, it's a nicely balanced, responsive and enjoyable chassis. One you can drive hard, but with a supple compliance that won't have your kidneys paying a price.
The result? No keen driver could fail to enjoy a spirited drive in this car.
It's pleasant inside the i30; the attention to detail and build quality is evident everywhere you care to look.
It's not the last word in style - not drab, but not especially exciting - but the textures and materials are pleasing to the touch and have a solid quality feel.
The brushed metal highlights edging the centre-stack and running down into the console look good, as does the piano black under the controls, and the cold-feel chrome-rimmed gearshift feels especially satisfying.
The switchgear is solid, and the large screen display (with an excellent sat-nav) looks terrific. So too do the clear sporty dials and the easily-read graphical display between them.
The multi-function wheel is also good. It's reach and rake adjustable (natch) and has a solid sporty feel.
It's also nicely 'weighted' to the road.
The leather seats are neatly trimmed and comfortable; they're not heavily bolstered like a true sports-bucket, and could do with a little more shape to the backrest, but proved comfortable and offer good under-thigh support.
The electrical adjustment to the driver's seat is a nice surprise in a car at this price-point.
The console offers a big bin under the lid/armrest - big enough to easily swallow an SLR camera - and there are double cup-holders just to the rear of the gearshift, a usefully large glovebox and nice big door pockets.
The SR picks up the features of the i30 Elite, which include push-button start with proximity key, sat-nav with SUNA live traffic and three years Mapcare, six speaker audio, USB and aux-in, Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls, rain sensing wipers, rear camera and rear parking distance sensors, colour LCD display, cruise control, dual-zone climate control (with auto de-fog) and front fog-lamps.
The SR adds the revised suspension tune, Xenon headlamps, leather and leatherette upholstery and electric driver's seat, alloy sports pedals, LED rear lamps and the option of a panoramic sunroof. It also comes with seven airbags and 5-Star ANCAP safety features (ABS, traction control, etc.)
ON THE ROAD
It's a beautiful free-spinning jewel under the bonnet. The 2.0 GDI petrol engine is happy to spin beyond 6000rpm without complaint.
Not so long ago, only Honda, VW and Audi engines were described in such terms, but this is yet another gap bridged by latter-day Hyundai powertrains. (Its diesels can also make the same claim.)
With 129kW and 209Nm to summon under the toe, it is, as we've mentioned, 'warm' rather than hot.
It also does its best work above 4500rpm if you're looking for performance, but is happy enough to noodle through town sitting on the lower end of its wide torque band.
Hyundai claims a 7.7 second dash to 100km/h which might be a tad optimistic (except in the very best of hands), but the i30 SR is certainly willing around a mountain road or when overtaking, provided you're happy to stretch it out.
The only issue that nagged at us when driving it on the nail is the really wide gap between second and third gear (a 1400rpm gap at a constant 60km/h). This can catch you out when pressing on.
We found it best to barrel into corners a little quicker in third gear, then use the momentum to carry us through, rather than hunting for second to drag us out.
But there are no complaints about the handling balance and cornering precision. It's 'as right' as you'll find in a small sporty hatch which has to lead a double life as daily transport.
The SR, while impressively flat and balanced - you've really got to be hustling it in to push the front wide - is equally impressively compliant.
It has an elastic firm feel: the spring and damper settings allow enough travel to take the harsh hits out of a rough road, but it firms quickly and progressively after that initial 'give'.
We encountered a lot of different surfaces (on quite a long and very varied drive), from broken secondary roads to twisting 'tarmac rally stages' and back-blocks highways.
Hyundai WRC rally ace Chris Atkinson helped map out the route - he was on hand at the launch (and is a really good bloke).
The SR is difficult to unsettle. At speed, the rear can feel a little skittish over mid-corner ripples and undulations, but the front end is pretty damn good. Turn in is surprisingly sharp for something that isn't screwed down as tight as a roller skate.
The rear springs run the same rates as other i30s, stabiliser bars are unchanged and the front springs only four percent stiffened.
The dampers have been revalved, but otherwise, these quite noticeable improvements have resulted from a very light tweaking over many hundreds of hours of open road and circuit testing.
Drive it, and you, like us, will be surprised that such refinements at the margins can produce such a sharp and responsive drive.
Lastly, we returned a very respectable 8.5 l/100km after a long day of pretty spirited driving. You'd never get anywhere near that figure from a turbo doing the same kind of extended high-speed punting (with the accelerator frequently firewalled).
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Hyundai's i30 SR is not the lairiest nor the hairiest out there. But it's not meant to be.
It is though an appealing option if you're looking for something with a bit of sporting dash, a really well-equipped interior, and a good dollop of personality.
Comfortable, honed for Australian roads, and a fun steer, this car will sell really well.
It's a well-sorted 'bridge' for buyers looking for a bit more in driver involvement and sporting appeal, but not prepared for the comfort compromises of the 'hot hatch'.
It also comes with Hyundai's i-Care capped price servicing of $219 per service (one service annually) for the first three years, and an unlimited kilometre five-year warranty.
That then is the i30 SR: its strengths are many, and its shortcomings are few. And they're proving as good as bullet-proof these Koreans.
So, yes, this is one we're happy to recommend for your short-list.
Price (excludes on-road costs)
- i30 SR manual - $27,990
- i30 SR auto - $30,190
(Sunroof adds $2000)