Quietly assured, loaded with equipment and featuring improved interior quality within its restrained yet handsome bodywork, the third-generation Hyundai i30 hatchback is immediately up with the C-segment class elite. What a pity, then, that it just lacks for a little in the way of excitement, a commodity that might have seen it take the ultimate honours from Volkswagen's Golf and the Opel Astra.
In the metal
The styling of the new Hyundai i30 is a tricky one. It previews the new corporate look of all Hyundais going forward, denoted by that 'descending' grille (it's supposed to look like a pair of hands gently cupping the car's nose badge; nope, us neither) and sharp crease lines, and there's no doubting it's a handsome, perhaps even fine-looking machine. However, look at it for only a few minutes and you'll immediately start spotting other cars in its lines - in profile, there's more than a passing resemblance to the Peugeot 308 and even the faintest whiff of Fiat Tipo, while staring at it dead-on rear will only convince you that it's a direct mash-up of a BMW 1 Series and a Volkswagen Golf. Given that both Hyundai and its sister brand Kia have long since stopped slavishly copying European designs, the i30 could be construed to be a disappointment... until you realise that it is styled, developed and built in Europe anyway, so that would explain its faintly derivative looks.
Moving inside, things are excellent, if lacking visual flair. There are acres of space front and rear, most of the major touchpoints are rendered in high quality-feeling plastics and leather, the displays are all pin-sharp and crystal clear and the switchgear is laid out in a thoughtful, intuitive fashion. Step up the simple trim ranges (detailed below) and there are nicer bits of trim sandwiched into the cabin's beltline plus the addition of more leather on the seats, and we also heartily approve of the eight-inch touchscreen centre top of the dash, but some rivals have more daring cockpits than this - the French cars, for instance, spring to mind.
The Hyundai i30 is beautifully refined and extremely capable in almost all situations, but at no point is it in the slightest bit thrilling to drive. This, however, is not the major minus it could be, because if you drive any mid-spec C-segment diesel hatch - be it a Golf, Astra, Focus, 308, Megane or whatever - they're not what you'd call interesting, either. So the Hyundai can't really be marked down for pulling off the same unexciting dynamic trick.
What lets it down on the road-holding front are the three-mode steering and an inert rear axle. Hyundai still can't quite sort out steering feel - switch between Eco, Normal and Sport and all that you get from setting to setting is additional (and artificial-feeling) weighting. In the end, you just leave it in Normal. That leaves you with a capable yet sedate chassis that's mated to a pair of decent drivetrains - the 1.6-litre diesel engine has less power than the turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit, but it has masses more torque so for the sort of leisurely driving style that most flatters the Hyundai's dynamics it's the engine to pick. Opt for the DCT automatic gearbox, too, because it's a smooth operator that rarely gets flustered in everyday motoring situations. Taking it easy then allows you to focus more clearly on the i30's lovely ride quality, its impressive suppression of both tyre and wind noise and its generally easy-going nature that makes it a pleasant motor no matter if it's being threaded through town or cruising along a motorway. And there will be a hot 'N' version later in the year to up the range's adrenaline levels, anyway.
What you get for your money
Two specifications are offered by Hyundai Ireland plus two engines make for a four-car i30 line-up, starting from a very reasonable €21,995 - or €228 per month on PCP. Choose from Deluxe or Deluxe Plus, the latter adding such luxuries as a leather-bound steering wheel, half-leather seats, the larger eight-inch touchscreen for the infotainment (Deluxe models make do with a five-inch item) and satnav, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. All models get Bluetooth, 16-inch alloys, electric windows all round, keyless entry and a rear parking camera, while the 1.6 CRDi commands a €2,000 premium over its 1.0-litre petrol equivalent.
Hyundai's new i30 is a thoroughly pleasant machine, but it doesn't feature much in the way of risk-taking. That might put some people off the car, but aside from its mediocre steering and thoroughly neutral chassis, there's really not a lot to dislike about the Korean hatchback. It's a strong all-rounder that preserves Hyundai's traditional selling points - loads of equipment and a long manufacturer warranty - and so it is safely among the front-runners in the class.