The Hyundai i30 is not the car that would immediately spring to most people’s minds in a discussion about medium-sized family hatchbacks because the Ford Focus is. During my time with the 1.0 T-GDI SE Nav, however, it occurred to me that the i30 could be thought of (wrongly, I admit, but bear with me here) as the fundamental car in its class, the one that other manufacturers take as a starting point before adding their own ideas.
It even looks like it. Yes, there’s that fancy grille, and those air intakes, and the raised centre section of the lower front body line, but in general the i30 hatch has a relentlessly middle-of-the road appearance.
Before the League for the Promotion of Hyundais starts sending antsy e-mails, I should add that this is not a complaint. I quite like the way the i30 looks, preferring this design over ones which look from every angle as if the styling department had added at least one crease or other visual feature too many.
Much the same applies inside. There is nothing exciting going on in there at all, but I don’t want to be excited when I’m heading out on a shopping trip. This car is a tool for a job, and it doesn’t need any fancy stuff. The interior is simple and well put-together from good-quality materials, which is the important thing.
The i30 is average in other ways too. Rear legroom is okay – some rivals offer more, others less. Luggage capacity with the rear seats up is 395 litres. That’s more than you get in a Focus or an Astra, though if your need for practicality isn’t satisfied you’d be better off with a Honda or a Skoda.
The T-GDI engine is yet another of those one-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol chaps capable of producing a worthy 118bhp. It’s very quiet, as they all are, and while it doesn’t make the i30 anything remotely approaching a hot hatch it’s fine for everday road use. Combined fuel economy is 56.5mpg, which I’m sure can be matched or beaten without too much trouble. I thought I would average about 45 over the course of a week, and that’s exactly what I did.
There’s just one problem. (Well, there are two. The other is rear visibility, but this is disgraceful in every single i30 rival, so Hyundai isn’t doing a worse job than anyone else here, though I’d be so pleased if it had done a better one.)
The problem I was actually referring to before that little diversion concerns the ride and handling. A couple of years ago I spent an hour in an equally humble four-cyinder petrol i30, and honest to God it was one of the loveliest cars I’ve ever driven. The steering was a joy, the ride quality unbelievable, the handling majestic, the body control close to perfect. Nothing I’ve driven since – and I’m talking about at least two hundred cars here – has impressed me so much.
The steering in this car is great too, but nothing else is. Hyundai is not alone here. One of the great mysteries of the motor industry in the 2010s is how so many manufacturers can put a lightweight engine under the bonnet of a car (a major advantage, you’d think) and immediately ruin the driving experience. What’s up with that?
By rights, the lighter engine should make the i30 even better, but it doesn’t. There’s too much body roll, insufficiently damped, so the front end is rarely at rest. It’s always floating around, making the car very imprecise if you’re pushing on a bit and putting sensitive passengers at risk of seasickness.
I like the i30, and I like this engine, but until Hyundai makes the one suit the other I’d go for a four-cylinder version every time.
Engine size 998cc
Top speed 118mph
0-62mph 11.1 seconds
Fuel economy 56.5mpg combined
CO2 emissions 115g/km
Towing capacity 1200kg (braked)
Euro NCAP (2017) Overall 5 stars Adult occupant 88% Child occupant 84% Pedestrian 64% Safety assist 68%
Information correct at publication date