First drive: Hyundai i40 Tourer
Hyundai's aim to be a top five player in the UK market will move a step closer to reality when its latest and perhaps most significant car, the i40 Tourer, is launched in the UK next month.
Priced from £18,395 for the 1.6 GDi petrol Blue Drive, the i40 looks to follow Hyundai's usual high level of standard specification, coupled with a competitive cost of ownership.
However, this time the Korean manufacturer is talking up the new family and fleet estate as a serious rival to the Mondeo and Passat. So can the i40 really take on the best that the D-segment can offer from Ford and Volkswagen? Well, I headed to Aylesbury for the UK launch to find out.
Designed specifically for the European market, it was styled by Thomas Buerkle, Chief Designer at Hyundai's European Technical Centre. Design apart, there's a load of standard equipment including alloy wheels, sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity.
New technology on the options list includes a heated steering wheel, lane departure warning system and a Smart Parking System plus the reassurance of the five-year triple care warranty is sure to appeal to fleet and family buyers alike.
No surprise then that Hyundai are expecting a 60:40 split of fleet and private buyers for its new addition to the range.
There are elements of the ix20 and ix35 in the design, but it certainly looks like no other Hyundai I've seen before. An evolution of Hyundai's unique design language, 'fluidic sculpture', the i40 Tourer is best described as sleek and elegant.
Highlights from the front include the large headlights, which slash back far into the front wings and have Audi-like LED light detailing. There's also another interpretation of the Hyundai family front grille and if the headlights weren't distinctive enough, the triangular fog lights really stand out.
From the side, the most obvious styling feature of the i40 Touring has to be the sweeping roof. A three-piece, full-width panoramic glass sunroof is available as an option on Premium models.
There's also the distinctive beltline which rises from the front wheel arch to the large rear light clusters, the unusual rear quarter windows that appear to follow the curve of the rear window glass, the sculpted wing mirrors and the distinctive undercut on the front and rear doors.
At the back, it's all about the i40's curvy tailgate with its sporty rear spoiler. Like the front, the rear is dominated by the lights. The large, sleek light clusters follow the beltline down the side of the car, but also stretch across the tailgate, even under the rear chrome finisher.
About the only thing I'd change is the small rear window, which is difficult to see out of. Still a rear-view parking camera comes as standard on Style and Premium versions.
The interior design of the i40 impresses too, with its Infiniti-like console, which is fitted with touch-screen sat-nav on Style and Premium dominating the curvy dashboard. The dials with their digital centres displaying the petrol and temperature guages are similar to those you find in Mercedes cars and there's plenty of piano black and metal trim to lift the rest of the front cabin.
With the multi-adjustable steering column, the driving position is comfortable. The seats themselves are nothing particularly special, but are supportive.
Rear space in the i40 Tourer is huge; I'm over six-foot and there was more than enough head- and legroom for me to stretch out. A 577 litre boot is also a surprise considering the curvy shape; fold the rear seats forward and this increases to 1719 litres.
Overall, the i40 Tourer's cabin isn't quite up to Ford Mondeo or VW Passat standards, but it's certainly not far off.
Despite most of the dashboard plastics being soft-touch, the glovebox is made of harder, scratchier plastic. The graphics for the sat-nav, which is also shared with sister brand Kia, are hard to read and look a bit cheap. Then there are the column stalks which look the same as you'll find in an entry-level Hyundai i10 and finally the multi-function steering wheel is overcomplicated.
I had the chance to drive three different versions of the i40 Tourer, both petrol and diesel. First up was what is expected to be the top seller, the i40 Active 1.7 CRDi with six-speed manual transmission, priced at £20,195.
With 134bhp, this is the high-power version of the 1.7-litre diesel engine, it also has a healthy 325lb ft of torque on tap and a competitive CO2 figure of 119 g/km. Top speed is 124mph, with 60mph coming up in just 10.6 seconds.Yet, it's still capable of of 62.8mpg on the combined cycle. This engine is well matched to the six-speed manual transmission, the gearchanges are quick and precise.
After the diesel, I moved on to the only petrol available at the UK launch, the 133bhp 1.6 petrol in Style trim (a 174bhp 2.0-litre is also available). Also priced at £20,195, it's not as much fun to drive as the similarly powered diesel, lacking torque and sounding thrashy at high revs. C02 emissions of 140 g/km and a combined consumption figure of 47.1mpg are less impressive too.
The last i40 Tourer I drove was the low-power (114bhp) diesel in 'green' Style Blue Drive trim with low rolling resistance tyres and stop/start. It may have 20bhp less than the other diesel engine, but I doubt you'd notice much difference between the two in real world conditions. Plus there's the benefit of the lowest CO2 emissions in the i40 Tourer range (113g/km) and an impressive combined fuel figure of 65.7mpg.
The i40 Tourer's dynamics are almost up to Ford and Volkswagen levels too, as even with the bigger 17-inch alloys, the ride is refined and body roll is well-contained. To score over the Ford, the steering could do with a touch more feel and the change quality of the six-speed manual transmissions should be improved.
Still, the i40 Tourer is a fine effort and surely is the equal of the Passat and the Vauxhall Insignia to drive. Not a fan of the Tourer estate bodywork? No worries, despite predictions that the Tourer will be the top-seller, a saloon will follow in the last quarter of this year.
So to sum up, I think that along wthe the forthcoming Veloster, the i40 could be the car to change perceptions of the Hyundai brand. This car comes so close to top honours, that anyone considering a Mondeo or Passat would be foolish not to search out a Hyundai dealer and try the i40 Tourer. However, if driving appeal is at the top of your list, the Ford Mondeo is the best in class.