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 much improved third generation i30. With more efficient engines, a smarter look and the option of an impressive dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox, 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 1.4-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.
The prospects look good. Let's look at the engines on offer - there are three petrol units and one diesel. If you're a mainstream buyer fuelling from the green pump, you'll be choosing between a couple of advanced T-GDI units, a three cylinder 1.0-litre 120PS variant and a four cylinder 140PS 1.4-litre derivative, which can be ordered either with a six-speed manual gearbox or 7speed DCT auto transmission. The same transmission choices are also offered to diesel folk, who get the 1.6-litre CRDi 110PS powerplant carried over from the previous generation line-up. At the top of the range, the i30 N hot hatch gets a 2.0 TGDI petrol unit developing either 250 or 275PS. We're already familiar with the 1.0 T-GDI powerplant from the i20 - here it develops 170Nm of torque. Newer to us though, is the 1.4 T-GDI variant. This unit puts out 242Nm of torque and works well with the dual-clutch transmission where it offers the user two drive modes: 'normal' and 'sport'. In 'sport' mode, you get a different shift pattern that holds gears longer before shifting, plus the steering provides a sporty feel and the throttle response is adapted. Hyundai says it's put a lot more work into ride and handling this time round, developing this car in Europe at venues like the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe. This is where the marque's first high performance 'N'-branded i30 model was developed, a variant we'll see shortly. In more mainstream i30 variants, the completely reworked chassis should certainly make the car feel more responsive, aided by more accurate electric power steering that is supposed to be 10% more direct than before.
There's a choice of three i30 bodystyles, a five-door hatch, a 'Tourer' estate and a sleeker five-door 'Fastback' model. Either way, you'll find the front end marked by the brand's latest stylistic signature, its so-called 'Cascading Grille'. In combination with the three-projector LED headlamps and the vertical LED daytime running lights, this gives the car a much stronger visual presence than it had before. To further enhance this, projector-type front fog lamps are integrated into the air curtains. Under the skin, the structure is much stronger, with 53% of the framework now fashioned from Advanced High Strength Steel. It's much smarter and classier inside too. The floating screen of the optional eight-inch navigation touch screen on the dashboard integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features and there's a redesigned multifunction three-spoke steering wheel too. For enhanced comfort, the front seats can be heated or cooled in three stages. When customers choose power seats, these can be adjusted in 10-ways including lumber support. There's an optional panoramic glass roof to fit with the current segment trend. And bootspace has been slightly increased - to 395-litres. Overall seats-folded space is slightly down on before though, now rated at 1,301-litres. Versatility is enhanced with a practical two-stage luggage board and a ski hatch in the rear centre seat. Go for the Tourer estate version and you get a 602-litre boot, extendable to 1,650-litres.
Pricing starts from around £17,000 and goes up to well over £30,000 across the choice of five-door hatch, 'Tourer' estate, five-door 'Fastback' and i30 N variants. These figures underline the fact that Hyundai no longer feels the need to pitch its products against bargain brands. The 1.0 T-GDI 120PS petrol variant can be ordered in an entry-level 'S' guise but otherwise, the mainstream range is based around 'SE', 'SE Nav', 'Premium', 'Premium SE' and 'N Line' trim options. 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 8-inch touchscreen on the dash. Safety has been a particular feature of the development of this car. The key news is that all variants get Autonomous Emergency Braking, a system that scans the road ahead as you drive, the set-up looking for potential collision hazards. If one is detected, you'll be warned. If you don't respond - or aren't able to - the brakes will automatically be applied to decrease the severity of any resulting accident. Other key i30 safety features include a 'Driver Attention Alert' system, 'Smart Cruise Control', a 'Blind Spot Detector, 'Rear-Cross Traffic Alert', a 'Lane Keeping Assist System', a 'Speed Limit Information Function' and 'High Beam 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 99g/km if you opt for the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel, which also manages 67.3mpg on the combined cycle. The 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol unit puts out 115g/km of CO2 and manages 48.7mpg. And the 1.4-litre T-GDI variant delivers 124g/km and 42.8mpg. 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 introduced on the Ford Focus. All of this is aided by a slippery drag coefficient and the 7DCT auto gearbox provides an improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of up to 20% compared to a conventional six-gear automated transmission. Residual values of the old i30 suffered a little due to market oversupply which is a nice problem for Hyundai to have but one that can come back and bite them when looking for repeat business. That problem tailed off a little towards the end of the previous model's life when buyers were able to negotiate bigger discounts from the new list price, offsetting the depreciation somewhat.
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.