First Drive: Hyundai i40 Tourer
Sector: Upper medium Price: £18,395-£25,895 Fuel: 39.2-65.7mpg CO2: 113-169g/km
The Koreans, it seems, are on a roll. From being creators of reliable but bland “white good” cars, the last few years have brought a much-needed investment in materials, styling and on-road dynamics to bring them up to mainstream rivals.
Meanwhile, recession has made consumers start to examine their buying habits and, sometimes, reassess brand loyalties. So, from 28,000 UK sales in 2008, Hyundai has grown to 65,000 units this year and it’s ambitiously aiming for 100,000 in the near future. The i40 will be an asset in that search for conquests.
In a market where fleet sales are now the majority, a quality product in the D Segment is exactly what the carmaker needs. Having already proven itself in the reliability stakes, in the i40 business drivers have a reason to consider chopping in their existing car for something Korean.
The i40 offers the big value you’d expect from a Hyundai. Its entry-level P11D price undercuts the Focus Estate, never mind the bigger Mondeo, and it’s well equipped. Bluetooth with an intuitive voice recognition system, for example, is fitted to all i40s while satellite navigation, cruise and climate control are bundled into the mid-range “Style” trim.
Thankfully this price isn’t reflected in fit and finish. The interior has an upmarket feel with a lack of cheap dashboard plastics and a clever use of switchgear that doesn’t leave entry-level cars looking bare. That said, it would be good to see the back of the trademark shiny plastic indicator stalks.
But it’s generally well thought out. There’s space under the armrest for an iPad, and a compartment in front of the gearstick that’ll hide an iPhone. Less well considered is the gloss black centre panel, which looks nice when parked but reflects dazzling sunlight at the driver on the move.
The i40 launches as an estate this month, with a saloon to follow in November. It’s smaller than the Mondeo, yet packs a similarly sized 1,719-litre boot with the seats down and the lowest load level in its class. Under the floor are handy compartments to store files, laptops or toys.
And it’s good to drive. There are two petrol engines – marginal in this segment – and two diesels with three power outputs expected to account for 80% of UK sales. The big-selling 136bhp 1.7-litre unit is a willing performer, serving up a huge shove of torque from just under 2,000rpm yet returning as much as 62.8mpg and emitting 119g/km. A balance only the Passat can match.
The 115bhp diesel isn’t much of a downgrade, but replaces that all-at-once punch with smooth and progressive pull through the revs. Both are refined and can be fitted with a Blue Drive economy-boosting package, marked out by gratuitously large Blue Drive badge the front wings.
Economy aside, the i40 cuts costs with Hyundai’s five-year fuss-free warranty, assistance and health check package, insurance groups as low as that of the Renault Twingo and best-in-class Benefit In Kind tax bands. Good going for a car that doesn’t look or feel like a budget runaround.
So overall it’s a very hard car to fault. It rides well on the softer UK suspension package, even when fitted with the largest wheels, yet won’t leave drivers feeling shortchanged when they’re behind the wheel. All Hyundai needs to do now is get its newcomer noticed against D Segment’s most famous badges.
The i40 is Hyundai’s first attempt at a substantial foothold in the fleet market, and it has stacks in its favour. Not only is it great value to buy and run, but it looks and feels up to the standard European and Japanese rivals. The D Segment mainstream has a new contender to worry about.