Five years ago family hatchback buyers had few choices when it came to buying a new car. They’d either head to Ford and Vauxhall or, if they wanted some style, they would plump for the big-bottomed Renault Megane.
But now things have changed with some new hatchbacks from Korea. Kia and Hyundai have really upped their game in recent years, and their family cars are real alternatives to market leaders Ford and Vauxhall.
So to see just how far Hyundai has come, we took the opportunity to get behind the wheel of their recently facelifted i30, pitching it against the market leader – the Ford Focus.
The Focus has rapidly become the default choice for family hatchback buyers. And for good reason. It is sensibly priced, is a class leader in terms of driving dynamics and boasts a badge many buyers are proud to put on their drive. But as the years have crept on, so has the list price. When compared to rivals like the i30, the Focus seems unnecessarily expensive.
Under the bonnet
Ford’s Focus range has a plentiful choice of powerplants. From the mighty five cylinder turbo-charged ST to the green-minded Econetic, the range has it all. We’ve gone for one of the most popular choices – the £18,345 2.0-litre TDCi. It’s not really fair comparing a 2.0-litre with a 1.6-litre diesel but, that being said, this is one of the best sellers. It’s a 134bhp unit with 320Nm of torque which will manage 124mph flat out while returning 48mpg.
On the road
Jump out of any hatchback and into the Focus and you begin to notice how far behind other makers are. Even now. The Focus is class leading for a reason – the way it steers and handles is a benchmark for the industry and it’s clear to see why. The brakes are sharp, the slightly-stiffened suspension leads to a planted ride, and the six-speed Powershift auto ’box is smooth and quick to respond.
The dash is simple but lacks design flair. But it is packed with equipment such as a natty ST-style body kit with privacy glass, 17-inch alloys, air conditioning, Quickclear windscreen, comfy sports seats, and stiffened suspension. On the outside you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an ST.
As you would expect there is a whole array of airbags (six), Ford’s Intelligent Protection System, ESP, EBD & EBA, and a deflation detection system is available at a modest £75.
It’s a huge task taking on the Ford Focus, but the i30 has a good go at it. Sitting above the hugely popular i10 – made famous by the scrappage scheme – and the Fiesta-sized i20, the i30 is a well priced, well built five-door with a few stylistic nods towards the BMW 1-Series. It’s just had a facelift making the front-end a little sharper, but you’d hardly notice.
Under the bonnet
The i30’s 1.6-litre diesel can’t manage the Focus’ top speed, but it’s not far off. With 113bhp and 260Nm it’ll manage 117mph tops, but returns a mightily impressive 62mpg. There’s also an eco version of the 1.6-litre diesel with 89bhp, and a couple of 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols. The only real criticism, however, is the noise our £16,450 diesel model made – it’s just a little too loud.
On the road
The first thing you notice about the Hyundai is how well it rides. It’s not quite as planted as the Focus with a whisker more body-roll – but it’s still very good. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and the brakes are very responsive. But the big let down is the steering. Spin the wheel and it seems turning the wheels is the last job on the steering’s agenda.
The interior of the i30 looks much newer than the Focus’ yet its lofty driving position means it’s more comfort orientated. The Hyundai comes with half-leather seats, air conditioning, electric windows, trip computer, heated door mirrors, iPod input and a set of slightly gaudy chrome inlaid 17-inch alloys.
The Hyundai has as many safety features as the Focus with six airbags and something called ‘active front head restraints’. The i30’s comprehensive list of safety features is an example of how the Koreans have matched their products the Europeans.
Five years ago comparing a Hyundai with a Ford would have been like comparing Ann Widdecombe to Dannii Minogue – comical and a tad pointless.
But these days that’s not the case. With the i30, Hyundai have made a car that really rivals the Focus – costing less and has the benefit of a five-year warranty.
Unfortunately, the i30 is not quite as complete as the Focus – but if the Koreans keep on trying, a Hyundai could steal Ford’s crown sooner that we think.