If you cannot beat them, side-step them. That appropriated adage is one that happens to be perfectly appropriate for the 2017 Hyundai i30 SR.
With the third-generation i30 the middle-specification SR for the first time becomes more than a lukewarm hatchback. It remains cooler than a hot hatchback, naturally, but its still-significant spice is matched by few for $25,990 plus on-road costs.
After years of playing the competition head on, and certainly succeeding at the $19,990 driveaway end of the small car market, the i30 SR now gives a clear reason for buyers to step out of more comfort-orientated rivals and into a mid-spec Hyundai.
Even before a key is turned, the number of rivals offering a 150kW 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine for this price tallies just one – the 147kW Holden Astra RS. This is fresh territory for Hyundai, and it certainly looks convincing.
Vehicle Style: Small Hatchback
Price: $25,950 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 150kW/265Nm 1.6 four-cylinder turbo petrol | six-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.5 l/100km | Tested: 8.6 l/100km
The entry i30 Active is a decent small car, but it offers nothing out of the ordinary. It may be a $5000 jump to the i30 SR manual, as tested here, but the 120kW/203Nm 2.0-litre non-turbo engine is firstly replaced by a 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo unit.
Secondly, the Active’s cheaper torsion bar rear suspension design is tossed aside for a sophisticated, and SR-exclusive, independent rear suspension (IRS) teamed with additional grip from an 18-inch alloy wheel and tyre package – up from 16s.
Its presence further signified by a split-twin sports exhaust and LED tail-light treatment on the outside, the racier Hyundai’s third major boost is its extra equipment – adding keyless auto-entry, leather sports seats and steering wheel, alloy pedals, colour trip computer screen, wireless phone charging and dual-zone climate control.
The only disappointment is the omission of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance and adaptive cruise control in all manuals – the seven-speed dual-clutch auto alternative scores that trio of features, but for $3000 extra.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim, cruise control and automatic on/off headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio, twin USB inputs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, satellite navigation with live traffic, and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 395 litres.
For only $250 more than the i30 SR manual tested here, the $26,240 (plus orc) Astra RS manual scores AEB and lane-keep assistance as standard. It also further adds front parking sensors and automatic reverse-park assistance, both of which are unavailable here, although it misses out on leather, climate controls and navigation.
Buyers who want an automatic should also be aware that Holden charges an extra $1000 for its six-speed auto, or one-third of Hyundai’s charge, leaving an Astra RS auto $1750 cheaper than a i30 SR auto – $27,240 versus $28,950 (plus orc).
Focused on the manual here, though, and the i30 SR really is a bargain despite its active safety omissions. Inside its sweeping dashboard looks fresh, topped by the same 8.0-inch touchscreen – featuring digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring – that is standard on all new i30s.
High-resolution graphics, instantaneous touch-response time and intuitive menus all carve out this infotainment system’s place alongside the best in the segment.
Along with red-trim used for the stitching and dashboard inserts, the colourful screen also helps take an eye away from the shiny, vinyl-like plastics used throughout the cabin, which take a slight step back from the previous-generation i30. All-plastic door trims, without the former cloth or leather inserts, is one example of stalled progress.
Otherwise the front seats are comfortable and supportive, and although rear legroom is lacking, that’s mostly due to the depth of a seat squab that aids under-thigh support. As with Astra RS, the i30 SR lacks rear air-vents – except in this case manual buyers are again short-changed, because they’re standard on the auto.
Manual or auto, the roomy 395-litre boot volume remains identical. Both are also further available with a $2000 panoramic sunroof; the only real optional extra.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 150kW/265Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Strong power and torque figures may be the headline act for the i30 SR, but if anything the boost in outputs actually downplays how much more sophisticated this middle-specification Hyundai feels compared with the entry i30 Active.
The 1.6-litre turbo make its 265Nm from 1500rpm until 4500rpm (Active: 203Nm at 4700rpm) so it can be driven sedately and still deliver surplus performance and excellent driveability. The 150kW produced at 6000rpm is impressive, too, but the industrial-like growl the engine makes when extended isn’t the sportiest of sounds.
Either way a manual suits this engine near-ideally, with taut and tight selection across all six ratios making for a very pleasant partnership. That control also gels with the firm but beautifully damped suspension, and the consistently mid-weighted, direct and progressive steering that avoids any lazy looseness across the band.
Particularly around town, the i30 SR is a delight to drive. The way its front-end stays tight through round-a-bouts, for example, helps deliver supreme fun at urban speeds. There is an eagerness to this chassis that is absent from a Volkswagen Golf, and it encourages harder driving in the same way an Astra RS and Mazda3 SP25 do.
Of course this Hyundai rides more firmly, is cheaper inside and less refined that the Volkswagen small car benchmark, but for sportiness it strides significantly ahead.
If the i30 SR hints at being a near-hot hatch around town, however, then that feeling only slightly falls away on the open road. The turbocharged South Korean absolutely feels at home through corners that are not too tight. Start picking up the pace through narrower, more sinuous territory, and only then will the Hyundai start to reveal a softer front-end and a tendency to grip at the rear, then suddenly shift its weight.
Where an Astra RS more subtly and progressively uses its back-end to help the nose point and pivot the hatchback through bends, this model prefers a hard-and-fast approach to cornering until bodyroll starts forcing the modest tyres to be overworked.
What it means is the Hyundai is best in mild-to-brisk driving, but perhaps less fluent during more enthusiastic cornering.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Hyundai i30 scored 35.01 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: Six airbags, ABS and ESC, blind-spot monitor, rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert, and rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Annual or 10,000km intervals with an affordable capped-price cost of $269 each for the first trio, and a less affordable $309 and $409 for the fourth and fifth check-ups.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Astra RS may be its closest rival, but the Mazda3 SP25 is the classic, if slower semi-sporty selection among small cars. It has a fun chassis to match the Civic RS’ but each lack ultimate performance.
- Holden Astra RS
- Honda Civic RS
- Mazda3 SP25
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
From a driving perspective the SR is the most convincing Hyundai i30 by some margin. Its energetic engine teams masterfully with the manual transmission, and its ride and handling delivers a near-ideal transition between softness and sportiness.
Add in a competitive price, excellent infotainment, and a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and the i30 SR proves to be an attractive ownership proposition as well.
Hyundai has also confirmed it will soon add active safety equipment to this manual version, but we don’t yet know what the cost will be – and the price can’t afford to move too much given how competitively positioned the Astra RS is.
For now, at least, the Holden remains the semi-sporty class pick. And the Golf 110TSI retains its class leadership if comfort and finesse are the priorities.
Be in no doubt, though, that the Hyundai i30 SR is now just beside – rather than obviously behind – those rivals. It has certainly side-stepped the rest of the segment.
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