Hyundai i40 Premium CRDi sedan
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $44,590
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Metallic Paint $595
Crash rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 6.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
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No surprise manufacturers tend to have a love-hate relationship with long-term tests ... Six months is plenty long enough to fall out of love with the latest and greatest, and start to nitpick -- just like real owners do.
Hyundai i40 Premium CRDi sedan
Did Hyundai look to Honda for guidance when it came time to revisit its mid-size product range in Australia? Just as Honda does, Hyundai offers Aussie buyers two cars that are broadly similar.
The only difference is that Honda's American-style Accord is a large car, according to VFACTS, and the Accord Euro is a mid-size sedan. In marked contrast, Hyundai offers two mid-size cars, sharing the same platform. The American-style i45 arrived first, with direct-injected petrol power only. Subsequently, Hyundai has launched the i40 here – firstly as the i40 Tourer wagon and now as a three-box sedan.
Unlike the i45, the smaller i40 has been developed in Germany and has a certain European flair about it. In the past we've driven the i40 Tourer and found it to be dynamically capable and very refined, with a typically Hyundai equipment list – which is to say 'generous'.
It was not specifically planned to replace our long-term Accord Euro with an i40, but that's how things panned out. While the two cars are certainly competitors – with some target buyer overlap – the Honda was the base model whereas the Hyundai is trimmed to the Premium level, meaning it gets all the good gear.
The i40 impressed from the get go. Chrome accents leavened the elegant but sombre exterior, presented in dark metallic grey. Around the front end the i40 looks a little fussy to some, but the cab-forward design and the prominent sculpture lines that go with the fluidic sculpture styling theme are interesting and appealing.
From the side the i40 looks low-slung – rather reminiscent of an Audi A5 – but entering the car won't pose a major challenge for older drivers and passengers. The i40 is very sleekly styled, but not at the expense of practical packaging.
The doors close securely behind you with a solid, Germanic thud and suddenly you're ensconced in a comfortable, nicely styled environment. Trim materials include piano gloss black fixtures, brushed aluminium decor, satin-finish plastics, woven cloth for the headlining and roof pillars, plus a charcoal leather/leatherette combo for the seats. It's getting very hard indeed to tell the Koreans and Japanese from their European competitors on the basis of quality shortcomings.
Unlike some of the more expensive European rivals, the i40's ergonomics are generally well sorted for Australian owners. The indicator stalk is on the right side of the steering column, for example, but we found the indicators were frequently hard to hear operating, particularly when the audio system volume was turned up a little higher.
Seats in the i40 are good, but not ultimately as inviting as the excellent seats in the long-term Accord Euro. Nor is the i40's front-seat legroom up to the same standard as the new Mazda6's. Knee room in the rear of the i40 is adequate for adults, even with the driver's seat parked well away from the wheel to ease access for six-footers and taller. Once the driver has started the engine the seat moves forward to the number one memory position, freeing up more knee room behind. But the rear seat accommodation isn't as ample when it comes to stretching out — and there is less wriggle room for toes under the front seat.
Headroom in the rear — especially for adults of average height — suffers slightly from the presence of the full-length glass roof, which features a power tilt/slide panel at the front and a powered blind — both operable from the same switch. In addition to power window switches and climate control vents, rear-seat passengers can luxuriate in the comfort of seat heating, with individual controls for the outboard positions.
The rear seats will fold forward to open up a through-loading port to the boot, but the seats don't fold flat and the port itself is not especially wide or high. As for the boot itself, it's usefully large and fully lined to keep heat, dust and noise in their place, but gooseneck hinges for the bootlid and a big sub-woofer suspended from below the parcel shelf set the limit for the height of wider items stowed within. The boot floor is shallower than in some market rivals because there's a full-size 225/45 R18 spare underneath — and it's fitted to an alloy wheel that matches the other four on the car.
Finding the USB port for the iPod/iPhone took a little while. It's co-located with an aux input jack and a 12V power socket, behind a hinged flap below the centre fascia – not under the centre armrest where more companies tend to place it these days. Under the armrest the phone/MP3 player and USB cable would be tucked out of the way. Pairing the phone is as easy as usual for any Hyundai.
Other features nice to have include auto headlights, cooling for the (front) seats, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera with the display sensibly located high in the centre fascia, a trip computer and remote switchgear on the steering wheel to operate it, as well as controls for cruise control/speed limiter and audio system.
A minor design quirk is the scrolling function on the steering wheel for songs being played through the audio system. The up arrow on the wheel scrolls backwards alphabetically through the list displayed, but if the display is the default 'media' view, the up arrow skips forwards through the alphabet. No big deal, but slightly odd if you change audio system views and expect the switch to operate the same way.
Still very new — just 1100km on the clock when it arrived — the i40 possibly needs to loosen up a bit before we begin to see respectable fuel consumption figures. Based on a mix of suburban traffic (little of it during peak hour) and some open-road work, the i40 struggles to post an average fuel consumption below 10.0L/100km. By the time this writer had handed it over the trip computer was showing a figure of 9.5L/100km. It was on the way down however, and one of our staff said that he had seen figures as low as five or six litres while driving the car around town.
The 1.7-litre diesel engine is refined and responsive, delivering reasonable performance from launch and providing comfortable cruising. At freeway speeds there is not a hint of sound seeping into the cabin from the drivetain. The brakes weren't so subdued. They worked effectively but the pads seem to feature a high metallic content, with plenty of squealing evident as the car pulled to a halt.
While tyre noise can be excessive occasionally, even on some freeway surfaces, noise dampening in the cabin is very good overall, particularly for a diesel-engined vehicle. Other than the tyres (Nexen 225/45 R18) the pre-eminent source of noise is wind flowing over the car's body.
If the tyres are inclined to hum on some surfaces, they are also likely to squeal under stress. But as the principal point of contact between the car and the road, they deliver good grip in corners. Steering response in the i40 is a little slow, possibly being calibrated for European freeways rather than Aussie country roads with plenty of twists and turns. However, we have no complaint with feedback through the wheel. The i40 is a communicative chassis relative to the standard set by many of its peers in the mid-size segment. It will hold a line quite nicely with power applied and tightens up just enough on a trailing throttle. Ride comfort is adequate in most circumstances, but the i40 gets knocked off line by mid-corner bumps and we did experience some crash-through over pot holes and other rough stuff.
The i40 would be more capable through the twisty bits if not for the diesel engine and automatic transmission. Even in Sport mode (which changes shift points and power delivery) the i40 is reluctant to kick down for immediate power out of tight bends, and the sequential-shift paddles are very conservative about changing down to a gear the car's drivetrain deems too low for the road speed. Inevitably, if you want second, you'll enter the corner with third – with less performance available accordingly. In short, the i40 could be a fun car to drive with a revvy petrol engine under the bonnet – or a larger-displacement diesel. As it stands, it's very much a tourer rather than a sports sedan.
And still on the subject of the shift paddles, they're largely redundant. Whether in Sport or normal mode, the auto box will kick down when the accelerator is floored. Select a gear manually with the paddles and the transmission either won't give you the gear you want – as described above – or it will change up without input from the driver – just past 4000rpm and well before the redline. Many European diesels will rev out to 5000rpm and Mazda's SKYACTIV-D will reach 5500rpm in the new Mazda6. It's not all about who can achieve valve-bouncing revs in a diesel, of course, but the i40's passive dynamics and the little tell-tales like the shift paddles suggest this is a car that could have been sportier still.
The car's stability control also steps in to quash any untoward handling traits and the diesel powerplant doesn't really deliver the power a sedan as large as the i40 needs, to be something more than a plodder. It's fine around town, where keeping up with traffic (and even getting ahead) is no great feat, but we question how it would cope with overtaking if you have the whole family on board. At no point could we induce torque steer, axle tramp or power-induced understeer – which is laudable and safe, but also symptomatic of the i40's power deficit.
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