TEST DRIVE: Hyundai i40

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Steve Sharpe tests Hyundai’s i40 saloon

Korean manufacturer Hyundai has been quietly going about its business over the years producing decent small cars at affordable prices – sometimes to a great reception, sometimes not.

Hyundai i40

Hyundai i40

But over the last few years the company has been aiming higher, looking to break into the sectors where the big -name manufacturers seem to have a stranglehold on the market.

Last year the company brought out the i40 Tourer, or estate, followed soon after by this model, the i40 saloon.

It’s a serious attempt to break into the large family car market and pits the company up against the likes of Ford’s Mondeo and Vauxhall’s Insignia. The company are hoping to carry on with their tradition of value for money in a quality package.

But the stakes have been raised, and the job facing Hyundai is to persuade a private customer or a fleet buyer to pick a Hyundai at £28,000 over a more traditional badge.

The range starts at £18,700 but my top-of-the-range model topped out at more than £28,000.

It’s a lot of money – but it has to be said that the i40 is an impressive car... surprisingly so.

First of all you have to say that it looks stunning. Photos don’t do it justice, because in the metal it’s a thing of beauty.

I was struck by how many friends and colleagues commented on it, and how classy it looked. Smooth and curvy, the bulky rear end slopes down to a classy-looking front section, with smart headlight clusters tailing back along the flanks.

The sloping, coupe-like roof gives a pleasing profile, too.

Inside the cabin Hyundai have banished all vestiges of a budget car brand.

The dashboard and console are clear and well laid out and the materials are high quality, the plastics soft to the touch and cushioned. Stylish glossy black inserts look great, too.

The requisite amount of buttons and knobs are dotted around but they’re pretty easy to get used to and simple to operate.

And when the sun sets the whole cabin is lit with an attractive blue lighting scheme .

There’s plenty of space, all around – headroom and legroom is fine for the front seat passengers, and although that coupe-shaped roofline affects rear headspace only the very tallest passengers will find their heads brushing the roof.

Storage space is good – the boot is huge but it’s an odd shape. It stretches right back so that you have to crouch and peer through the smallish opening to see the backs of the rear seats.

A high lip makes loading heavy, bulky objects a bit of a grunt and a groan, too.

The i40 is available in the UK with a 1.7litre diesel engine, in a variety of trim levels and “Blue” eco versions.

The emphasis is very much on refinement rather than performance.

The i40 is a smooth performer and road noise is well isolated. Very little wind noise comes through and the 1.7 diesel engine is smooth and distant.

Cruising at motorway speeds is a relaxing pleasure, the miles just slipping by in a unobtrusive hum.

For a big car that Hyundai handles well. It corners deftly, steers well and although there’s a bit of lean on fast corners it’s never too hair-raising.

The suspension is tuned for comfort rather than performance and it soaks up most of what it trundles over with very little problems, making the ride extremely comfortable and smooth.

The 1.7 diesel accelerates steadily rather than powerfully, and although the six-speed auto gearbox gets caught out every now and again it does what it’s asked to do.

It’s a really impressive car, a likeable family car that drives easily and looks great.

Hyundai’s biggest task seems to be persuading buyers to decide on their badge rather than the more traditional choices.

But when you compare like for like with the rest of the market leaders you do get a lot for your cash.

There are four trim grades available – equipment levels are good all through the range but my top-of-the-range model was overflowing with hi tech stuff, like a quality 7” sat-nav, cruise control parking sensors and camera, leather upholstery and a panoramic sunroof.

Plus there’s a raft of safety features throughout the range.

The i40 also scores well in the economy department. You’ll get mid 50mpgs and emissions are low, meaning a lower car tax bracket

And there’s Hyundai’s Five Year Triple Care package thrown in too – a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty to give potential buyers extra peace of mind.

The i40 Tourer received a great reception when it was first unveiled and this saloon version is equally impressive.

Great looks, economical and packed with equipment, as Hyundai’s statement of intent for an exciting future it’s pretty impressive.

Fact file

Hyundai i40

Engine: 1.7litre diesel.

Transmission: Six-speed auto.

0-60: 11.6 secs.

Top speed: 122mph.

Economy: 55.4mpg.

Price: £28,315.