Hyundai's Elantra replacement, the i30 Sedan, presents itself as an economy car with some added pizazz, but although it looks to be excellent value for money, the drive, it must be said, is nothing to shout about.

To those familiar with the ever-popular Hyundai i30, it’s important to note right off the bat that this isn’t actually one. While it might say i30 on the back, the fact it sits on the new K3 platform and features bespoke bodywork and a unique interior means it has nothing in common with Australia’s second-best-selling small car beyond that household name.

That’s because this first-ever i30 Sedan is actually the replacement for the Elantra in its primary target market, the United States, where it still retains that name, but with younger buyers one of the key target demographics for this more techy and stylistically-daring sedan, the Elantra name had to go.

A look at the price list confirms this aim, as with prices starting at $24,790 for a base manual – with the auto-only Elite model on test here charging a very reasonable $30,790 – it’s well within reach of those looking to buy new without spending big.

Although small car sales are on the decline – bigger cars are big business, and the profits from selling them are bigger, too – clearly, there must still be enough of a business case for sedans like this as Australia is, at present, the only right-hand drive market in the world to get this car. Given the considerable expense involved in producing such a thing, then, Hyundai will no doubt have big hopes for it.

So, what does thirty-grand get you in the case of the Elite model you see here? An awful lot, actually, as it’s a very comprehensively spec’d thing. Most notably – and noticeably, from the second you open the door – is a truly stunning two-tone interior.

While the white leather seats dosh out a big dose of premium feel and the grey cloth trim used in sections finds the perfect mid-way point between the lighter and darker tones found throughout the cabin, the thing you mightn’t notice at first but which will dawn on you eventually is that this is a truly unique two-tone layout – look at the dashboard and door cards on the driver’s side and all is finished in white, while on the passenger side it’s finished in black. Some might not be a fan, but I personally love the quirkiness of it.

Although the 10.25-inch infotainment screen in the middle of the dashboard is effectively par for the course at this point, the equally-sized fully-digital instrument cluster isn’t, making it a welcome point of difference to see here. It mightn’t be quite as customisable as some – the fact you can’t bring the map up in it is a sore spot – but being able to switch out the traditional round dials for digital cubes does make for a fun and very futuristic touch.

The standard Bose audio system, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control with Level 2 semi-autonomous steering assistance, full suite of active safety technology, remote engine start, and keyless entry all go a long way to making it feel like a thoroughly impressive value-for-money proposition.

However, dig deeper and you’ll find some areas where the cost cutting that allows for all those niceties happens. There’s no auto-dimming rear-view mirror, for instance, and the driver’s seat lacks power adjustment. In fact, it lacks any tilt adjustment at all, which will be a sore spot for taller folks as there’s a clear lack of under-thigh support in the front row.

In the case of this car, I think the looks are worth mentioning here as well, as I found them to be quite divisive among the usual group of friends and family that dish out their thoughts on the cars I review.

While I’m a big fan of its terrifically angular side and swooping rear, the full-width radiator grille up front is truly gopping. Ultimately though, it proved to be a 50:50 split between lovers and haters of its looks in my own surveying. Whether you like its looks or not, I’d suggest that its stunning interior design goes a long way to righting any wrongs.

Onto what’s under the bonnet though, there are two main engine options on offer, with the Elite model on test here featuring what will likely prove to be the more popular of the two – a new ‘Smartstream’ 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol with 120kW and 203Nm on tap, which is channeled to the front wheels through a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission, although a six-speed manual is available on the base Active model.

If you’re after something with a bit more pep, you may want to look in the direction of the N-Line model with its familiar 1.6-litre turbo four that makes 150kW and is available with both a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch, or you may even want to wait for the hotly-anticipated full-fat N model.

Although markets such as the US will also receive a hybrid version of this car, it’s not slated to join the Australian lineup – instead, you’ll want to look in the direction of the Ioniq if either a conventional or plug-in hybrid drivetrain is what you’re after.

As for this 2.0-litre four-pot though, it’s not exactly anything to shout about. Although its power outputs look alright on paper, it’s all hidden away high up in the rev range, meaning you’ll need to push it hard to get any real performance out of it. Wind it up to the upper reaches of the rev range and it gets a bit shouty, too, meaning its far better suited to city driving than getting it out on the open road.

To its credit, though, it’s a very smooth driveline, with the engine never feeling too coarse even if it sounds it, and the torque converter auto slurring the gears softly. Being such a simple engine, it ought to be very reliable in the long run as well.

If there’s one thing that left me disappointed, though, it’s the ride quality. Although others have praised it, on the lumpy and bumpy roads of the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula it felt terse and busy, most likely due to the less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension setup – something the turbocharged N-Line swaps out for an independent setup.

Like with many front-wheel drive sedans, particularly those with such a rear suspension setup, I found it suffered from a bit too much body roll in the rear that would cause it to tend towards lift-off oversteer if pushed hard. Will the typical buyer of this thing ever push it that hard themselves? Absolutely not, but it’s worth mentioning regardless.

Keep it in its element, though, and it proves to be a pretty inoffensive thing. It’s the sort of car that, if you were told it was to be your new company vehicle, you wouldn’t turn your nose up at it, and neither are you likely going to want to cancel and re-book your Uber ride if you see this is the car your driver is coming to pick you up in. An economy car with some extra pizazz – you can hardly complain about that, can you?

As far as the economics of it are concerned, it’s a mighty good bet, too. Not only is it great value for money up front, but with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and lifetime service plan ($259 per dealer visit normally, save for each fourth service which will cost $359) it’ll be light on your hip pocket in the long-run. The 2.0-litre’s meagre fuel usage of just 7.2L/100km during my 480km of testing will only help out further in this regard, too.

It may not be the most inspiring drive out there, but the i30 Sedan I think will prove itself to be a worthwhile addition to the range that already includes hatch and Fastback body styles, especially given it does offer a big point of difference with its funky interior. As a good value buy that ought to be durable in the long run, it looks like a mighty good bet.

2021 Hyundai i30 Elite Sedan
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Incredibly modern and funky two-tone interior, drivetrain remains smooth around town, plenty of kit for the money, not only cheap to buy but cheap to run as well
Cons: Terse ride, engine needs to be pushed hard to make any real power, divisive looks

In a nutshell: The i30 Sedan mightn’t be the most impressive drive out there in atmo 2.0-litre guise, but the basics are done well, with it serving up a funky and roomy interior and packing a lot of gear despite the very reasonable price tag. Ultimately, the drawcard here is that it’s going to be cheap to buy and cheap to run – and that, for many, has a great appeal.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Motor Company Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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