Guests at a masquerade ball typically don elaborate costumes and equally intricate masks. The purpose, of course, is for everyone to hide his or her identity for the duration of the party. This gives the event an air of mystery, for you’ll only discover who you’ve been dancing with once the musicians stop playing and the masks come off.
Hyundai’s all-new i30 is also like a partygoer at a masquerade ball, albeit in an automotive sense. The Korean carmaker’s latest hatchback has a handsome, Euro-centric design that looks nothing like its predecessor. If you were expecting to witness an evolution of the previous i30’s design, you wouldn’t recognise this latest iteration as a Hyundai at all.
Indeed, the only giveaways on the i30’s “outfit” are its emblems which, incidentally, seem larger than the ones on the older model. Size-wise, this i30 is longer (55mm), lower, and wider (both by 5mm) than the old model.
The pageantry continues in the unexpectedly upmarket cabin. Compared to the previous i30, the new model definitely kicks up the design and quality factor by another notch. The meters look snazzier now, while the narrow display panel between them (which shows pertinent driving information) offers the sort of crisp graphics usually present in premium vehicles.
Left unchanged, though, is the wonderful all-round visibility that was also a strong feature of the last car. This makes manoeuvring around the city just as easy, although the rear view mirror shakes whenever the car is driven over bumpy surfaces, blurring its reflection.
Also sure to wow the i30 owner are the electronic parking brake, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, and cupholders chilled by the air-conditioning. A particularly nifty touch is the courtesy lighting behind the outside door handles, which automatically illuminate when you approach the vehicle (provided you have the key with you).
The interior scores high on practicality, too. The roomy door bins by the front seats could easily hold a telephone directory, and there are handy trays below the hi-fi system for placing your mobile devices. Strangely enough, however, said system lacks Bluetooth telephony – a function that’s available in the i30’s less expensive cousin, the Kia Cerato Forte Hatchback.
While the Forte in question is more pleasing to drive than the old i30, it no longer has that big of an advantage over the new i30. Its engine doesn’t have GDI (gasoline direct injection), but the 1.6-litre unit still feels more than adequate thanks to a slight bump-up in output by 9bhp and 3Nm to 130bhp and 157Nm respectively.
Paired to a 6-speed automatic that’s smoother and quicker than the 4-speed auto in the preceding model, the car accelerates in a willing and linear fashion, with the engine note only becoming intrusive close to the 5000rpm mark.
More enthusiastic drivers can slide the gearshift lever to the left to engage the transmission’s Sport mode, which holds onto each ratio a bit longer. But the manual override disappoints, as the gearbox moves to the next ratio before the motor even reaches the rev limiter.
More impressive is the i30’s ride/handling balance. Whereas its predecessor is softly sprung and readily exhibits body roll the moment the road becomes twisty, its successor here feels distinctly European, being flatter and more composed when made to “dance” around bends. The trade-off is a small increase in bumpiness (even on comfort-oriented tyres), but it’s certainly worth it considering the improvement in overall driveability.
Complementing this is the steering, which lets drivers vary the assistance level using the so-called Flex Steer feature. The Normal and Sport settings – which feel quite similar to one another – keep the helm nice and responsive, while Comfort should be avoided at all costs as it loosens the steering to the point where the driver feels detached from the vehicle.
That blemish, however, isn’t enough to spoil this hatchback’s whole package. Because when the musicians finally stop playing and the lights come on, you’ll find that the i30 hasn’t been wearing a mask at all – what you see (and it is quite a sight) is what you get. It really is this good, and the only charade was its ability to make you believe that its entire ensemble was merely part of an elaborate masquerade.
This story was first published in the November 2012 issue of Torque.
2012 Hyundai i30 1.6 (A)
ENGINE 1591cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 130bhp at 6300rpm
MAX TORQUE 157Nm at 4850rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 11.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 192km/h
CONSUMPTION 14.7km/L (combined)