GANGNAM style is not good enough for Hyundai in 2017.
These days, new-model development is all about the bright lights of Europe.
For the all-new i30 hatchback that means competing with the Volkswagen Golf. Hyundai has spent big and dug deep to pitch the latest i30, which goes on sale in Australia in the middle of April, as a genuine rival for the class-leading VW.
It's a big call but Hyundai has been getting better and better. We're already impressed with the latest Elantra which uses much of the i30 hardware, and the South Korean newcomer is going to have a big price advantage over the German benchmark car.
Hyundai Australia has also run through more than 50 local suspension packages to get the i30 tuned right for our roads and drivers, and will have a hotrod N version with a turbocharged engine and 205kW later in the year as showroom bait.
A frosty two-day preview drive of the third-generation i30 in wintry Korea confirms the class of the car. It's a little bigger in the cabin, sharper in the styling, more refined in every way, and performs well with 1.6-litre petrol turbo and turbodiesel engines.
It's very tough to be sure without driving the 2.0-litre manual price leader, and driving on frozen mountain roads with Korean suspension, but all the signposts for the new i30 are pointing in the right direction.
It's the sort of car to recommend to friends, even with the imminent arrival of an updated Golf series 7.5, especially if Hyundai can hold the price line from $21,450.
No one from Hyundai Australia will talk pricing, or crucial details such as service costs or a safety score, until the car is here.
But with the runout model effectively selling from $20,990 on the road with an automatic transmission - an effective discount of nearly $7000 - there is no reason to expect the recommended retail price to move. And Hyundai has a long history with red pencils on showroom stickers.
"The price is not settled. We're not expecting it to be done until a few days before launch," says the boss of Hyundai Australia, Scott Grant.
"There are a few proposals around. We've been thinking about different specifications. There is a possibility of value packages." He's preparing shoppers for the worst, but obviously pushing hard for the best price. Grant says: "The car is a step change, even at entry level, and that has to be recovered at some level."
There could be increases up the scale, as the i30 is available with everything from full LED headlamps, leather trim and auto safety braking to the perky turbo petrol engine, but it's still going to be a value leader.
The package took four years to develop, with an emphasis on export buyers outside Korea.
"It is European design and driving performance. We change everything," says Yu Chan Yang, group leader for the i30 at Hyundai's development base at Namyang.
He confirms there will be three body styles for the i30, with a wagon and fastback to follow the five-door hatch. He is less happy to talk about two rear suspension systems, a modern independent system fitted for all European deliveries that's only on the upscale cars for Australia. So dollar-driven buyers here will be short-changed with a basic rear beam axle.
Instead, the talk runs to technology including Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, and safety stuff from radar cruise control and auto safety braking to high-beam assistance on the LED headlamp package.
On the road
The sales champion i30 will no doubt prove very popular when it does arrive, but there are many buts at the moment.
We don't know the price, we don't know the service costs, we don't know the fuel economy or the all-important ANCAP safety score. And we are not driving the basic i30 with 2-litre engine, or a manual gearbox, or the less sophisticated Australian suspension.
Hyundai is obviously putting its best cars forward, the turbo petrol and diesel models with seven-speed dual-clutch auto and paddles on the petrol, but that's typical of international press previews. It's also claiming these cars, not the price leader, will be more popular than in the past with a "richer mix" for buyers here.
The 150kW turbo petrol is perky, but also very quiet and comfortable. The body is not hugely different in shape from the current car, but the cabin is clean and crisp with a big iPad-style display and impressive materials.
The torque, with 265Nm on tap, makes it easy to overtake and when we get into the mountains it's a fun package. The chassis is reasonably taut, the brakes are good and the steering is alright if a bit light and vague.
Moving across to the turbodiesel - with 100kW and 280Nm - I find it just as comfortable and competent. It is good for freeway cruising and the economy sits in the six litres/100km range for the run.
After a bit more time in the petrol car, with some lively driving on slippery mountain roads made slick with ice and grit, I'm liking the car even more. And I cannot wait to see how it drives at home with the locally tuned suspension that's a signature item at Hyundai.
There are still doubts without knowing the price and getting some seat time in the basic model, but only a few. The new i30 is going to be good. The only question is just how good.
Model: 2017 Hyundai i30.
Details: Five-door front-wheel-drive small hatchback at launch (followed by a wagon and fastback).
Engines: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 150kW and 265Nm; 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol with 120kW and 203Nm; 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder diesel with 100kW and 300Nm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.
Fuel economy: 6.0-litres/100km (as tested).
Bottom line: To be confirmed.
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