Released earlier this year, the latest generation i30 is pretty well an all-new model with just a little bit of carry-over on some of the drivetrains. The shell is significantly stiffer and stronger, creating a great platform to ensure ride quality and handling are first-rate. Exterior styling is definitely European, with a longer, lower overall look and elements of individual style, particularly in the SR spec that I'm testing.
The entry-level Active is available with a 2.0L petrol or 1.6 turbo diesel in manual or auto; mid-spec is Elite; with Premium topping out the standard range. Both these models offer only the 1.6L turbo-diesel engine. Sporting variants, the SR and SR Premium, get a 1.6L turbo petrol mated to a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
I'd been restricted to short commutes for the first part of the week, but a planned trip to Cradle Mountain would work in perfectly to really get to know the SR. Of course it wouldn't be the A1 highway trudge for me, I'd head inland towards Bothwell, skirt Great Lake, head over the top and down into Deloraine, through Mole Creek then on to Cradle.
The SR was well-mannered, with a comfortable ride on the first highway section. Overtaking was achieved with a minimum of fuss and the highway economy was showing less than 7L/100km. I acquainted myself with the interior on this section.
The centre touchscreen sits proud of the dashboard (I call it the iPad generation as many manufacturers are now doing similar things), it has good resolution along with positive touch interaction. Connectivity is easy with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both supported. Overall ergonomics are well-sorted with clear 'zones' for each interaction. Dual climate-control and standard leather-appointed seats are comfortable, but lack a little support on the base for sports seats.
There are hints of red right across the interior with seat stitching, air-vent surrounds and red seat belts – so if you don't like that colour, look somewhere else.
The Lake Highway provides a perfect mixture of roads to test any car – low and higher-speed corners, steep climbs and descents, mixed road surfaces and, at the time of year I was travelling, little traffic. Unlike my previous trip, the roads this time were dry and the sun was shining, but there was plenty of evidence of recent snow in the highlands with piles of snow in shaded areas at the road's edge. A perfect road with perfect conditions to test the SR.
Most Hyundais sold in Australia get the once-over from an Australian-based suspension engineering team, who again plied their trade across the i30 range. It definitely shows on the SR, which delivers an outstanding ride and direct steering control that on some questionable road surfaces didn't at any time put a foot wrong. Not at any stage did it crash through potholes or get unsettled on corrugations.
Unlike the run-of-the-mill i30, SR gets multi-link independent rear suspension that no doubt helped refine the handling. When really pressed you could induce some understeer, but 225-section Hankook tyres on 18" alloys held on beyond expectation.
On the climbing sections the small-capacity turbo engine didn't shy away from the job. At 150kW and 265Nm it doesn't match hot-hatch output, but wouldn't be totally humiliated in more expensive company. Its best work is done below 5500rpm – above that it becomes a bit breathless, but is happy to rev to the limiter if that is your want.
As I headed down the switchback section towards Golden Valley I gave the brakes a good workout. They are a little bigger than standard on the SR and stood up well under a number of extremely hard braking applications. All models provide a five-star 2017 ANCAP rating, but not all variants get the full suite of safety features.
In terms of the SR manual I drove, it missed out on AEB, forward collision warning, active cruise control and lane-keep assist. These features are limited to Elite, Premium and auto SR variants. However, my ride wasn't totally bereft of extra features, with blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert all included, along with a suite of airbags, stability and traction control.
I arrived in Cradle in good time and was probably quicker than heading up the highway with the roadworks currently going on. Economy had moved closer to 10L/100km, but I wasn't trying to drive economically. I stepped out of the driver's seat with no ill-effects of a long drive, so seating comfort also passed the test.
Some quality one-on-one time with the latest i30 has done nothing to shake my faith in the brand. In fact I'm reassured that the next time I get asked for a recommendation, I can confidently continue to direct people to a Hyundai dealership. The latest i30 is a quantum leap beyond the previous model, and there's little doubt it's aimed as a more premium vehicle with more standard equipment than ever before.
Moderate price increases and a limited range in terms of Elite and Premium spec vehicles at this stage will limit some buyers. However, the SR on test, at a touch over $29,000 drive away, offers plenty in terms of style, equipment and driver enjoyment.
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