While you would rightly expect a hot hatchback to be appreciably better than the car on which it is based, it is unusual for the difference to be quite as extreme as you’ll find with the Hyundai i30 and its souped-up counterpart, the i30 N. The gulf between Golfs ordinary and fast, for example, is nowhere near as great. The same goes for the Ford Focus and its breathed-upon derivatives, so too the Honda Civic, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia - and on it goes.
However, if upon seeing rave reviews of the Hyundai i30 N you've considered buying a cheaper model in the range in search of a diluted version of that car’s many talents, I’m afraid you’re going to feel short-changed.
It’s not that the standard i30 is objectively bad, rather that it is the kind of car you’d recommend to people who don’t like driving, only to find that even they find it too dull for words. It is therefore going to be interesting to see if Hyundai has been able to work any of its transformative magic on this new i30 Tourer (estate) and its forthcoming saloon counterpart to inject a little more charisma into the line-up.
To find out we’ve been driving an i30 Tourer with the company’s 1.6-litre diesel engine in plush Premium specification. In this guise it produces 108bhp and 206lb ft of torque, which is unchanged over the hatchback.
Other engines include a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol with 118bhp, a 1.4-litre turbo petrol with 138bhp or a more powerful 134bhp version of this diesel, while gearbox options fall to a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. That there is no five-speed manual is typical of Hyundai’s generous approach when it comes to specification.
The Tourer’s gently curving rear bodywork is also neatly executed, particularly as the downward slope doesn’t kick in until after the passenger compartment ends, thus not eating into rear headroom. The boot space has clearly been carefully benchmarked against a range of this car’s important rivals too, because at 602 litres with the rear seats in place it is bang on for the class. Same goes for the 1,650 litres you get when the seats are folded flat - and in the i30 Tourer they really do go flat. You also get a completely flat load lip, and some useful underfloor storage compartments.
As we’ve established, headroom in the back is fine, but you won’t enjoy as much legroom as there is in a VW Golf Estate, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer or Skoda Octavia Estate to name but three. It’s a point to bear in mind if you plan to carry a bulky rear-facing child seat.
In the front meanwhile there’s a sensible amount of in-car storage, a simple control layout and a real feeling of quality to the various surfaces. If your idea of the inside of an i30 is all scratchy plastics and second-rate technology it’s time to think again. Indeed, Hyundai’s upgraded 8-inch touchscreen system (as standard it’s 5 inches) is genuinely among the best in class, whether you judge it on ease of use, quality of graphics or number of features.
It is therefore with high hopes that you turn the key to crank the car into life. Oh dear. Like most four-cylinder diesels, this is not an engine that sounds its best at a cold idle, but if you persevere and get some warmth into it things do slowly improve, if not quite to the level of the Astra's 1.6-litre diesel.
As far as performance goes, the 0-62mph time of 11.3 seconds is indicative of the leisurely pace at which you’ll be getting things done.
With the 1.4 petrol engine making its peak torque at a diesel-rivalling 1,500rpm as well as being quieter around town and capable of cracking the 10 second barrier to 62mph, we’d be tempted to go for one of those instead. Or, for that matter, the cheaper 1.0-litre petrol motor. Neither will match the diesel’s official fuel economy of 74mpg, but then in real world driving nor could we, instead seeing a steady 55mpg. From experience of the hatch, that’s about 10mpg more than you’re likely to get out of a petrol i30 Tourer.
Now, sadly, to the point in the review where we deliver the news that the Tourer is no more interesting to drive than its hatchback equivalent. As with that car, the steering needs to be more accurate for it to generate anything but ambivalence from its operator, the body leans too much in corners and everything generally just takes longer to respond than you expect.
It does however ride well, particularly at motorway speeds, at which point engine, wind and road noise are also impressively absent. In fact, it is in this domain that the i30 Tourer starts to make more sense, easing away the miles in highly competent fashion.
The other area where it might just convince you of its merit is in the value it represents. Hyundai only charges £500 more for this Tourer than it does the hatchback, which is a couple of hundred pounds less than most others do. What’s more, because the Tourer is now also available in entry-level S specification prices start from £17,495, again making it look extremely competitive. This is especially so considering that even S spec models come with the six-speed gearbox, air-conditioning, alloy wheels, DAB radio, electric windows front and rear, Bluetooth and driver’s seat height adjustment. That’s equivalent to a trim level up for most manufacturers.
Opt for SE and there’s also parking sensors, a reversing camera, bigger wheels, the 5in touchscreen and leather-covered steering wheel, while SE Nav gains you an excellent satnav on the bigger touchscreen with full smartphone compatibility. In this, our recommended spec, with the 1.0-litre petrol engine you’re looking at £20,305 before discounts, which is a saving of £1,000 over a comparable Golf Estate or Astra Sports Tourer. Look at dealer-sourced PCPs and again it’s the Hyundai that’s the cheaper of the three over a four-year term, this time by more than £2,000 (at the time of writing) thanks to heftier discounts upfront.
That might sound like a worthwhile difference, but to be honest it sounds about right in terms of the appeal of the respective cars.
The good news here is that in the i30 N Hyundai has shown it can build a hatchback that is practical, good value and brilliant to drive. All it needs to do now is apply the same magic to this Tourer and it’ll be on to a winner.
Hyundai i30 Tourer Premium 1.6 CRDi
TESTED 1,582cc four-cylinder turbo diesel, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE Range from £17,495, as tested £23,630/now
POWER/TORQUE 108bhp @ 4,000rpm/206lb ft @ 1,500rpm
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds
TOP SPEED 117mph
FUEL ECONOMY 67.3mpg/74.3mpg (EU Urban/Combined). On test 55mpg.
CO2 EMISSIONS 99g/km
VED £120 first year, then £140
VERDICT That it is practical and represents good value is to be commended, but the i30 Tourer is sadly also about as exciting as the white goods its boot has been designed to carry.
TELEGRAPH RATING Three out of five stars