New car review: Hyundai i30 Elite

Hyundai’s small hatch handles family holiday challenge.

Okay, so I’ll admit I was skeptical when I learned that our family wheels for the Christmas holidays would be not the expected large SUV, but a compact Hyundai hatchback.

We were grateful for being able to access a test car in tropical Cairns, a long way from the Korean car maker’s Sydney head offices, of course, but a hatchback for a family of four with two teenage daughters who pack for holidays like Imelda Marcos once did? 

To be fair to the kids, mum and dad aren’t exactly light travelers either and the pile of luggage sitting beside the smart-looking i30 in the busy forecourt of Trinity Hyundai looked daunting. 

Three medium-to-large suitcases and one slightly oversized carry-on case, plus a couple of backpacks and assorted loose luggage looked like an unsolvable Tetris puzzle.

But, after several unsuccessful attempts at getting the packing configuration right, we managed to crack the code and stood back somewhat amazed as the hatchback swung shut without impediment and the tailgate lock engaged with a satisfying snick. Wonders will never cease.

Like many Australian families, we long ago gave up on the idea of travelling in anything other than a generously proportioned SUV, even opting for a seven-seater as our own vehicle, despite being a quartet. 

So, if you’d asked before we embarked on our north Queensland road trip if a small hatchback like the i30 could accommodate us and our holiday luggage, I’d have said “not a snowflake’s …”.

But over a two-week stint with the thrifty i30 we discovered that the amount of useable boot space (395 litres, as it happens), wasn’t the only pleasant surprise about Australia’s second-largest selling small car.

Hyundai i30 Hatch

Last year, only the ever-popular Toyota Corolla bettered the i30 in its category, notching 25,882 sales versus the Hyundai’s 20,734. 

These days the i30 badge stretches across a sprawling 16-model line-up that encompasses hatchback, sedan and fastback body styles, along with multiple engine and transmission options. 

Hyundai’s recommended pricing starts at $23,420 for the entry model, simply dubbed the “Hatch” and rises all the way to $42,910 for the fire-breathing 202kW/353Nm Fastback N. 

The i30 Elite tested here sits roughly midway in the line-up and can be had in hatch or sedan body styles with Hyundai charging a $570 premium for the latter.

Both Elite variants are powered by the same 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, driving the font hoops through six-speed automatic transmission. 

Curiously, the hatch’s outputs of 120kW/203N is slightly more than the sedan’s (117kW/101N), perhaps in deference to the fact the former weighs around 80kg more. 

Sliding behind its leather-stitched wheel the i30 immediately makes a good impression with its clean and attractive dash layout plus leather-appointed seats and gear shift, which collectively lend the interior a pleasingly premium look and feel.   

Immediately ahead of the driver is a 7.0-inch colour instrument cluster with nice clear graphics and the ability to change the information displayed at the press of a wheel-mounted switch. 

Hyundai i30 Hatch

At the centre of the dash, framed in glossy piano black, sits a high-mount 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen incorporating satellite navigation with live traffic updates, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In-car nav systems are only as good as their latest update and this version comes with complimentary 10-year map updates while ever you service with a Hyundai dealer. 

The overall system is pleasingly easy to navigate with the touchscreen in easy reach of the driver and a rotary selector dial and range of shortcut buttons below the screen. 

Wireless smart phone charging is a handy addition and the kids’ favourite tunes could also be easily streamed to the decent quality seven-speaker premium audio system. Dad’s Johnny Cash never gets much of a run on such trips.

Speaking of walking the line, the Elite’s standard rear-view camera with dynamic parking guides and parking sensors was put to good use, given the gear in the boot partially obscured rear vision.  

Other standard safety features include a generous complement of seven airbags, and Hyundai’s Smartsense safety package which bundles together a range of the latest driver assistance technologies. 

It includes forward collision avoidance, blind-spot collision warning, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, smart cruise control with stop and go, driver attention warning, forward collision warning, high-beam assist and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The latter came in handy when we picked up a nail while running around Cairns, meaning we were alerted to the slow leak and were able to have the 17-inch tyre repaired and replaced by the friendly folk at Trinity before embarking on the scenic 350km run down the Bruce Highway to Townsville.   

Hyundai i30 Hatch

Fully laden with four occupants and boot brimming with luggage the i30 certainly felt the weight of its load and was understandably a tad lethargic off the mark in urban traffic. 

In these conditions it performed notably better in the Sport transmission mode, but once out on the highway the engine and transmission were more relaxed in the default Normal mode, cruising at the speed limit willingly enough, with enough in reserve for careful overtaking manoeuvres. 

Not surprisingly, it was the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension that bore the brunt of circa 400kg of occupants and luggage with the weight compressing the springs and dampers to the point where there wasn’t a lot of travel left to absorb bumps.

Indeed, there were a few occasions where the suspension found its bump stops but given the task at hand the ride and handling remained impressively stable and secure throughout.   

The driving position and seat comfort were also impressive with a decent range of manual adjustment for the driver who stepped out after several hours at the wheel without any noticeable kinks or aches. 

The leggiest of my two rear-seat passengers found things a little cramped when seated behind your correspondent but the smaller of the two professed to having plenty of room. 

On such extended journeys we also had cause to appreciate some of the Elite’s standard comfort and convenience features including push-button start-stop, accurate cruise control, one-touch turn signal, rain-sensing wipers and that multifunction steering wheel which groups controls for audio, phone, cruise and trip computer.  

Having begun that journey and this article being somewhat skeptical about the ability of a small hatchback to comfortably accommodate a family of four plus their gear on a tropical road trip, I’m happy to eat a serve of humble pie. 

While I won’t go so far as to say the i30 would be my first choice for our next family road trip, it’s certainly up to the job and, indeed, ate the task with gusto, and a side of pineapple relish. 

Key stats

MLP: $33,934.  

ENGINE: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder.  

ANCAP CRASH RATING:  Five stars (2017). 

FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km): 7.4L/100km (173g/km CO₂)

FOR: Contemporary design inside and out, intuitive infotainment system, five-year warranty, good boot space, full-size alloy spare. 

AGAINST: Engine struggled a little with a big load on board, suspension bottomed on occasions.