Hyundai can seemingly do no wrong at the moment and its i40 middleweight saloon looks to continue that rich run of form. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Hyundai i40 looks to position Hyundai into the medium range sector, a hunting ground that has been far from happy for it in the past. This time round, the Korean company is attacking the Mondeo/Insignia market with vastly improved quality, handsome styling and respectable efficiency figures. Available in saloon or estate guises, you wouldn't bet against its chances. Here, we look at the four-door version.
It's easy to think of ugly cars that never troubled the sales charts, but can you think of a really good-looking car from a mainstream manufacturer that flopped? It tends not to happen which is why I'm fairly confident that Hyundai has a winner on its hands in the sleek shape of its i40 medium-range family saloon.
That said, there's more to earning market share than a pretty face, and Hyundai hasn't exactly set the world on fire with its previous saloon offerings. Remember the Sonata, the Elantra or even the XG30? They hardly distinguished themselves but were all launched at a time when the Hyundai badge carried virtually no clout. The Korean company is now a proper heavyweight contender and its i40 isn't going to find itself on the ropes in the same manner as its forebears.
Most buyers will be looking at one of the 1.7-litre CRDi models offering either 115 or 136PS. In some respects, the smaller of the two units feels slightly quicker, its maximum pulling power arriving earlier in the rev range. That's because the pokier diesel has longer gearing, a benefit you appreciate at motorway speeds where it's a little quieter. Sixty from rest occupies 12.9s in the 115PS model on the way to 118mph, figures that improve to 10.6s and 124mph thanks to the 325Nm of torque you get in the 136PS variant.
In comparison, the entry-level 135PS 1.6-litre GDI petrol model slots in between these two, recording the sixty sprint in 11.6s on the way to 121mph. I can't really see the point of going beyond this version to the 2.0 GDI petrol flagship model. Its 177PS output promises much but ultimately, it feels little faster than its stablemates, for the record on paper delivering sixty in 9.7s en route to 132mph. Transmission choice includes a 6-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles but it's not an especially responsive unit and this standard 6-speed manual will for most be the more satisfying choice.
Perhaps one of the things that impresses me most about this car is its refinement, an area Hyundai has thought long and hard about. They've thrown everything at this issue: air-permeable carpet, sound-absorbing layers around the engine - even textile wheel arch liners. It's all enough to make this a very quiet car indeed.
Design and Build
'Fluidic sculpture' sounds as if it should create an elegant result. Here, it has. Heavily influenced by Hyundai's Frankfurt R&D centre, this is a design you'd never have seen from a Korean brand until a few years ago. The hexagonal front grille is shaped like a diamond, the headlights surrounding it modelled on those of a bird of prey and containing hook-shaped strips of LEDs that glow white in daylight. Here, we're testing the four-door saloon variant (there isn't a five-door hatch on offer) but the majority of UK buyers are likely to go for this model's stablemate, the Tourer estate.
Equal efforts have been expended upon the stylised interior with its neat graphics, faux aluminium detailing, classy high-definition display screen and nice design touches. There's plenty of soft-touch plastic too, though that doesn't extend to things like the door-pulls and the door skins. Only the shiny column stalks remain as a reminder of the cheap-feeling Hyundai interiors of old. Finding an ideal driving position is easy, my only comment being that it's easy to bash your knuckles with downward gearchanges when these central cupholders are in use. At the rear, there's comfortable space for two even with two six-footers up-front and room at a squash for three - pretty par for the course in this class: only a Mondeo offers more. Headroom's good, even if you're in one of the plushest models that have a huge panoramic glass sunroof fitted. It is though a pity that the thickness of the seat bases makes it difficult for rear seat passengers to slide their feet underneath.
Market and Model
With prices opening at around £17,500, the i40 Saloon offers a Mondeo/Insignia sized car for Focus/Astra money. Saloon models will save around £1,000 over their comparable Tourer estate counterparts - with both ranges offered across Active, Style and premium trim levels with the choice of a 1.6-litre Gdi petrol engine or a couple of 1.7-litre CRDi diesels.
Few rivals of any shape or size are likely to be better equipped. Even entry-level i40 models include alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition, a leather-covered steering wheel with audio controls, electric heated door mirrors with integrated LED indicators, all-round electric windows and a hill-holder clutch to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Most customers will be opting for the mid-spec models that include things like touch-screen satellite navigation with a built-in reverse parking camera, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and dual-zone climate control.
As well as all of this, there are a range of clever but mainly optional features you wouldn't expect to find at this price point. Cooled as well as heated seats in the front that when electrically powered, move backwards as you open the door to make getting in easier. Heated seats in the rear. A heated steering wheel. And a clever anti-fogging function built into the ventilation system that senses when the windscreen is becoming misted up and automatically deals with it. You can also specify a premium Infinity stereo, a self-parking system and a lane-departure warning system that'll stop dozy drivers changing lanes on the motorway. More conventional standard safety kit includes the usual electronic intervention for braking, traction and stability control, plus seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag. Hence the Euro NCAP 5 star safety rating.
Cost of Ownership
Whereas Ford and Vauxhall make a song and dance about eco-technology with special ECOnetic and ECOflex derivatives, Hyundai just gets on and includes what they call 'Blue Drive' in its most affordable i40 derivatives. Essentially, that means you get a Stop/Start system to cut the engine when you don't need it in traffic queues or at the lights, low rolling resistance tyres, an automatically actuated radiator blank that makes for faster engine warm-up and an Eco indicator to let you know how you're performing. It's all enough to keep both on the 1.7-litre CRDi diesel derivatives under the 120g/km of CO2 barrier, enough to earn a lowly 13% company car tax rating. The 115PS version records a particularly creditable 113g/km of CO2 with 65.7mpg on the combined cycle, figures a little supermini would have struggled to match until a few years ago. The 136PS variant isn't far behind with 119g/km and 62.8mpg. Bear in mind though, that the plushest models rather curiously lose the Blue Drive tweaks and as a consequence, jump about 35g/km of CO2. As a result, from a tax point of view, even if you can afford a really swish version, it might be better to buy a lower-level i40 and spec it up.
Those customers opting for a 1.6-litre GDi petrol i40 also get Blue Drive, this a derivative which betters its 2.0-litre petrol stablemate on CO2 by nearly 30g/km, recording a 140g/km showing with 47.1mpg on the combined cycle. That's not a bad showing for a petrol model, but given that the 1.7-litre CRDi i40 is only £1,000 more, you'd recoup the premium between the two cars at the pumps within 23,000 miles, notwithstanding any taxation and residual value benefits the diesel model chalks up. As with all Hyundai models, peace of mind comes as part of the deal thanks to arguably the best customer assurance plan in the industry. The Five Year Triple Care plan includes five years of mechanical warranty, annual vehicle health checks and roadside assistance. Insurance groupings range between 12 to 18 on the 1-50 groupings scale.
Though the saloon version of this i40 will account for fewer sales than its Tourer estate counterpart, it's still a very tempting proposition, vastly better than anything the South Korean maker has previous brought us in this segment.
Jump into one after trying a Mondeo or Insignia and you'll recognise its virtues immediately. Hyundai has clearly bench-marked these cars - but then most rivals do that. He difference in this case is that many will feel this i40 to be an all-round better package.