With a fresh new look for 2021, the Hyundai i30 still proves to be all the daily driver you could ever need.

After four years on sale, the current Hyundai i30 still remains one of the most popular cars in Australia. The second-best-selling passenger car and seventh-best-selling overall, it’s unsurprisingly won a lot of fans due to presenting itself as an intelligent and good-value buy that is sensible yet not entirely boring.

However, Hyundai has decided to give its top-seller a freshen-up for 2021 with revised looks – such as a new grille, tweaked rear bumper, and sharper alloy wheel designs – and more interior kit, although prices have risen slightly across the range as a result.

The car you see here – the Active, which sits one step above the unnamed base model – will probably prove to be one of the most popular variants on offer given its keen $26,920 price tag, and strong list of standard features.

Although it is, in effect, simply a base model with slightly larger wheels and perforated leather seats – not that either of those are exactly unwanted additions – it’s not like it was lacking much else to begin with.

New for 2021 is a semi-digital instrument cluster, along with standard fitment of an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system running new software that not only gives it a more slick look but adds wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the mix – although for as much as that’s a welcome addition, I did find CarPlay to be slightly glitchy on occasion, as I also did in the Kia Rio GT-Line which runs an identical system.

There’s more in the way of active safety technology as well, most notably the addition of Level 2 semi-autonomous driving – that being its lane-centring technology – although all models other than the Elite do strangely lack blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which ought to be industry standards by this point even in cheaper models.

Manual climate controls might also be a deterrent for some who prefer simply pressing the ‘auto’ button and letting the car figure it all out for you, although I’m sure some may appreciate the simplicity of it. The air con is perfectly up to the task on stinking hot Aussie summer days as well, which is hugely important.

Also important is the fact that while the i30 may not feature Rolls-Royce-rivalling interior materials – although it’s hardly trimmed like a skip bin – it’s an impressively comfortable car to spend time in, as a 700km road trip over the Christmas holidays to the seaside town of Robe and back proved.

The seats are supportive where they need to be, there’s plenty of room in the back for someone even of my 6’2” frame, and the driving position up front is absolutely bang-on. The boot’s perfectly-sized, too, although there is a little bit of a lip to contend with when the rear seats are folded flat, not that it’s the end of the world in a small car like this.

As far as engine choices for the regular i30 range go, Australia – which sources its i30 models from South Korea, while European-delivered models are built in the Czech Republic – is stuck with two petrol lumps that are getting on in years, although both have proven themselves to be simple and reliable, which is a strong attribute.

In the case of the base i30, the Active on test here, and the Elite, you’ll find a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-pot which makes 120kW and 203Nm paired to a six-speed torque converter automatic and front-wheel drive, although the base model can be had with a six-speed manual as well.

If you’re after a little bit more zest, you can also step up to the N Line models which feature a lovely little 150kW 1.6-litre turbo unit paired to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission or a six-speed manual. The Czech-built i30 N, one of my favourite hot hatches out there, is also an option for those after even more kick from its 2.0-litre turbo, although a manual gearbox is the only option until the updated model arrives with its optional DCT.

Although the smaller turbocharged European-market engines would be nice to have – Australia’s low-quality, high-sulphur fuel is what’s left us with the old atmo unit as an entry-level unit – the 2.0-litre is perfectly up to the task in most circumstances, with a perfectly adequate amount of power even for overtaking on country roads.

Admittedly, it can sound a bit thrashy at higher revs – if not as much so as the 2.0-litre unit in the i30 Sedan, which bears little relation to this under the skin – but around town or on the cruise it remains relatively relaxed and hushed in the background. I easily matched its 7.4L/100km fuel consumption claim as well, so it’ll be kind on your hip pocket, too.

Most impressive to me with the way the atmo i30 drives, though, is its chassis.  Despite featuring a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension setup – as opposed to the N Line’s multi-link independent rear – it feels nicely balanced through the bends with perfectly-weighted steering (a tiny touch on the heavier side, but that’s how I personally like it) and impressive composure dealing with mid-corner bumps.

No matter how hard I pushed it, I struggled to get it to push wide or step out, and even if there was a hint of such histrionics, it’s easy to reign it in as its chassis – which is actually made of Australian steel – feels malleable yet still rigid.

Make no mistake, you’re only going to be getting those ‘driving a slow car fast’ sort of thrills here, but if you rock up to a rental desk and are handed the keys to one of these, you’ll be able to take solace in that it won’t be quite so soulless as what you could’ve ended up with, and you’ll actually be able to have a good laugh behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, no matter the fancy patterned perforations on its leather seats or the size of its diamond-cut rims, it’s hard in some respects for this Active model to escape that rental car feeling – even if the flashier N Line models far remove themselves from it – but at the same time, the average buyer looking at one of these isn’t going to mind.

Rather, they’re going to see a well-priced and cheap to run car with a strong five-year warranty and lifetime capped-price servicing, so never mind if there’s a bit too much grey plastic inside or a basic climate control unit – it’s ultimately all the daily driver they could ever need.

This is one of those cars that you can simply buy, run about in it every day, and never have any real problems, and for as much as stylish and exciting cars might be what scratches our petrolhead itch the most, after running this little thing around for three weeks, it served as a strong reminder to me that there’s a lot to be said about fuss-free motoring.

2021 Hyundai i30 Active Hatch List Price: $26,920 | As Tested: $27,415
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Smart new looks, proven and reliable drivetrain, impressive chassis for a more ‘regular’ variant, strong value for the money
Cons: No blind-spot monitoring or RCTA, glitchy wireless Apple CarPlay operation, smaller turbo Euro-market engines off-limits for Australia

In a nutshell: Although it might not be the most thrilling car out there, it’s easy to see why the i30 has become a household name in Australia and continues to see so much popularity after four years on sale in its current guise. If you’re after fuss-free reliable motoring, you couldn’t do much better than this. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Motor Company Australia for three weeks with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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