Should you buy a Hyundai i30 instead of a Toyota Corolla or Mazda3?
The Hyundai i30 is the ‘other’ popular small car in Australia. Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla fight it out - a photo-finish for first place in sales - but i30 is third, and counting, among cars.
(I say ‘cars’ because sometimes the Toyota Hilux ute injects itself into the top-sellers, on a monthly basis. Occasionally, it's the top-selling vehicle in Australia. Check out my review of the 2016 Hilux >> )
The Hyundai i30 range was upgraded with new specification grades plus styling and powertrain tweaks in January 2015.
2014 SALES - THE TOP THREE CARS
- Toyota Corolla: 43,735
- Mazda3: 43,313
- Hyundai i30: 31,505
- (Toyota Hilux: 38,128)
The year 2013 was a kind of boardroom Bollinger cork-popping one for i30, when it overtook the Holden Commodore. Go back eight years, before the GFC, and tell me you could have predicted that.
A couple of quick links:
Top three cars, 2014
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The Hyundai i30 has never beaten the top-selling Toyota Corolla or Mazda3 - not annually. Part of that is thanks to Hyundai’s idiot savant disinclination to unify the i30 range.
The i30 sedan is called the Elantra - and nobody within Hyundai or externally can offer a rationally defensible reason for giving it a completely different name.
Actually, Hyundai has always had an each-way bet on taxonomy. Even today, half the Hyundai range is alpha-numeric and the other half use actual words for names, some of which are even part of the language.
It’s very confusing for buyers.
Here's how the sales play out when you combine i30 (hatch & wagon) with Elantra (sedan):
- Hyundai i30 (2014 sales): 31,505
- Hyundai Elantra (2014 sales): 8779
- Total: 40,284
When you add Elantra sales to i30, you can see how close the fight really is.
Incredibly enough, one in every 10 new vehicles sold in this country is one of these top four cars.
(Corolla plus Mazda3 plus i30 and Elantra represent 127,332 sales out of 1.1 million total vehicle sales. This class of car and these top three/four are insanely popular.)
Top three cars, 2014
Corolla owners love their Corollas - but it’s one of the world’s most boring cars. A huge volume of Corolla sales go to fleets - like government departments and rental car companies.
Fleet buyers really only care about cost. And that’s why base Corollas are so stingy - exactly right for fleets. To fleet buyers, ‘excitement’ is a distant last priority. Fleets are basically what props Corolla up. As well as little old ladies who need to get to lawn bowls.
Corolla is super successful. It's been continuously in production since 1966, and has sold around 40 million units worldwide. Some people just want an unexciting, reliable, quiet car that does almost everything right (except excite you). Actually - quite a lot of people want that, so criticising the Corolla for being unexciting is poor form - as is buying one and expecting excitement.
Mazda3 is a very impressive car - but the desirable ones - like the SP25 Astina - they’re pretty expensive. So, up the deep end of the pool - north of $35,000s - that’s a place where i30 and Corolla really don’t swim.
Check out my Mazda3 SP25 review >>
Mazda3 has a reputation as a compelling entrant because of technical superiority, and also because of its reputation for quality and reliability and a sharp price. THere’s no denying any of that. Mazda3 is a great car, and Mazda has done a great job reinventing itself over the past seven or eight years - at a (post-GFC) time when many Japanese carmakers, notably Honda and Nissan have been either asleep at the wheel or dead in the water, or both.
Most car reviews are drowning in subjective assessments of performance and dynamics - which is fine for performance cars. But in cars like this - comprising ordinary transport - there are some tangible things that actually matter a lot more to owners.
(Don’t get me wrong - even in this segment performance and dynamics matter. But they matter like this: they have to be acceptable. If they drive OK, other stuff matters more - to actual car buyers.)
In this ‘stuff that matters more’ domain: Hyundai just smashes Mazda and Toyota on, for example, warranty. And the Toyota’s service interval is embarrassing. Toyota’s just doing that to pump up dealership profits. There’s no underlying engineering need for it.
- Hyundai warranty: 5 years and unlimited kilometres
- Mazda warranty: 3 years and 100,000 kilometres
- Toyota warranty: 3 years and 100,000 kilometres
Mazda has notional 12-month servicing - but the distance interval means a service every eight months for average punters. (Average punters drive about 15,000km annually in Australia.) Hyundai’s is also a clear winner on service - which is bang-on once a year for a capped price service if you’re an average Australian driver. And the price cap is for the life of the vehicle.
- Hyundai service interval: 12 months or 15,000km
- Mazda service interval: 12 months or 10,000km
- Toyota service interval: 6 months or 10,000km
The other big fail for the Mazda3 is the space saver spare tyre - which I guess is okay for Tokyo traffic - but it’s ridiculous for Australian driving. Space savers are limited to just 80 kilometres per hour. That’s outrageously dangerous in some typical Australian highway driving situations. Freeway at night - you’ve got to be kidding.
Corolla has a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which is fine if your car is just an appliance for getting you to church. A CVT is generally one step removed from the actual driving process, and some people want that. It’s reliable and safe, conservative. But if you actually like driving, the Mazda3 and i30 are both better.
These three cars are all very close in most ways - but the warranty and the servicing, the space saver - they’re objective differences that nudge people towards Hyundai. Personal preference is also quite a big deal here - if all your friends drive Corollas, you certainly don’t want to be the one bad apple turning up in an i30 for a blue rinse and a Pimms. That would be socially irreconcilable at the bowling club.
HYUNDAI i30 IMAGES - INTERIOR & DETAILS
HYUNDAI i30 RANGE
On the i30 menu, you’ll note there are 16 different flavours on offer. Incredibly. You are confronted, maybe confounded, by choice - permutated by body style, powertrain and the inevitable different hair and makeup across the different specification grades. It’s complex.
- Hatchback or wagon (or Elantra sedan - the ‘other’ i30)
- Petrol or diesel
- 1.8 multi-point petrol or 2.0 direct injection diesel
- Manual, auto or dual-clutch transmission
- Specification grades: Active, Active X, Premium, SR or SR Premium
There’s basically two different strains of i30 DNA - the conventional car, and the sporty option called the ‘SR’ - and they kinda sit in parallel. Like North Korea and South Korea. Only friendlier. One has toilet paper and a functioning economy; the other has a mad dictator with a nuclear arsenal and the worst hairdresser on earth.
Hyundai i30 Active (RRP $20,990-$25,890)
In the conventional range, i30 Active is reasonably well equipped, but still not the one you most probably want. It’s got steel wheels with those bad-taste plastic covers. I hate that. If steel wheels weren’t embarrassing, why cover them up with plastic that tries and fails to look like alloy? Carmakers persist with this, but it’s about as dignified as strapping on a Wonderbra. If you’re a man.
At least Hyundai has seen fit to make a reversing camera standard across the range - which is going to save lives, even in the cheap seats. No doubt about that. And I hate it when car companies make safety socio-economic. So it’s great Hyundai hasn’t done that.
On i30 Active you get cruise control and a trip computer and Bluetooth, and a multi-function wheel. So: i30 Active is not exactly a poverty pack, but it’s still a fleet buyer’s special.
Hyundai i30 Active X ($22,090-$26,990)
Next step up is the i30 Active X - a smarter choice for private buyers. You get alloy wheels (instead of steel with Wonderbra), the side mirrors fold electrically, there’s a splash of partly fake leather (and you’ve gotta love fake leather - especially if you’re a cow.) Generally, with i30 Active X, you get more premium materials and equipment, and it’s only $1100 more. So: pretty good value.
Hyundai i30 Premium (RRP $34,490)
i30 Premium comes fully loaded - and so it would want to because it’s going to knock you back an incredible $12,000 more, which is a sizeable step up. It works like this: If you start at Active X petrol manual, it’s gunna cost you $2300 for an auto. And another $2300 to step up to the diesel - which also means upgrading from a conventional six-speed auto in the petrol to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the diesel. And the diesel rocks - it almost matches the petrol on peak power, but its real strength is low-rpm torque - 50 per cent more, at less than half the revs. So it goes like a locomotive in the mid-range. So, the really equation is: Premium equals diesel engine plus dual-clutch transmission, plus about $7000 worth of additional fruit.
Hyundai i30 1.6-litre CRDi engine
- 1.6-litre four cylinder
- Turbocharged & intercooled
- Common rail direct injection
- Power: 100kw @ 4000rpm
- Torque: 300Nm from 1750-2500rpm
- Economy: 4.9 L/100km
Premium i30 really is drowning in fruit. It gets bigger alloys, the full hi-tech lighting package front and rear, big touchscreen, Nokia GPS, proximity key, alloy pedals, electronic park brake, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control with rear air conditioning vents, the big fat black glass roof, auto wipers ... and a premium knob.
Gotta love that premium knob.
Hyundai i30 SR ($25,590 - $32,890)
In the sport-driven domain there’s the i30 SR, and that’s in two flavours: vanilla, and SR Premium. The big news there: a 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine with more power and torque than the 1.8 mulit-point petrol from Planet Conventional.
The Hyundai i30 SR also has more power and torque than Mazda’s equivalent 2.0-litre engine in the Mazda3, just, but Hyundai revs it harder to get there, so the two engines perform about the same at mediocre revs. And the i30 SR really doesn’t match the 2.5-litre engine in the Mazda3 SP25 lineup.
See how the engines compare, below:
ENGINES: HYUNDAI -VS- HYUNDAI -VS- MAZDA
Hyundai 1.8 multi-point petrol
(Active, Active X & Premium):
- Power: 107kW @ 6500rpm
- Torque: 175Nm @ 4700rpm
Hyundai 2.0 direct injection petrol
- Power: 124kW @ 6500rpm (+16% compared with 1.8)
- Torque: 201Nm @ 4700rpm (+15% compared with 1.8)
Mazda 2.0 direct injection petrol
- Power: 114kW @ 6000rpm (-8% compared with i30 SR, but 500rpm lower)
- Torque: 200Nm @ 4000rpm (within 1% of i30 SR, but 700rpm lower)
Mazda 2.5 direct injection petrol
(Mazda3 SP25 models)
- Power: 138kW @ 5700rpm (+11% compared with i30 SR, and 800rpm lower)
- Torque: 250Nm @ 3250rpm (+24% compared with i30 SR, and 1450rpm lower)
Equipment is very good on the base SR - it’s way better than i30 Active X. And the SR Premium is a delightful car - but here’s the paradox: i30 SR Premium is gunna cost you $1100 more than a Mazda3 SP25 GT. And that’s something of a philosophical bridge between the brands that you’ve gotta cross. Which is gunna be impossible for some people. So, you might struggle with spending more for the hot hatch Hyundai than a sporty Mazda with a more potent engine. In mitigation, the i30 SR Premium has very similar equipment levels, a better warranty, a full-sized spare wheel, capped-price service for life, a superior service interval, and two more years’ warranty.
HYUNDAI i30 SR Premium Vs MAZDA3 SP25 GT
The i30 SR is also a little more refined than the Mazda, thanks to some excellent local tuning on the suspension - and also because it’s just better at attenuating the road noise. That’s a perennial Mazda bugbear. They’re a bit noisy. Another plus is: Hyundai doesn’t do the equivalent of Mazda’s hateful i-Stop system - i-Stop being one of the most philosophically reprehensible engineering executions in any modern car. And the i30 has the proper spare tyre and the superior warranty and servicing benefits. So it’s pretty clear: On fundamentals, if you want to set the lap record: buy the Mazda3 SP25. If performance matters, the Mazda has about 17 per cent more of that, and it manages to be more efficient as well as slightly larger. If you want a slightly slower but ultimately more refined car with a better consumer support package: the i30 SR Premium.
Hyundai i30 SR Premium
Power: 124 kW @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 201 Nm @ 4700 rpm
Kerb Wt: 1385 kg
Power/Wt: 91.5 W/kg
Trans: 6 sp auto
Economy: 7.7 L/100km
Length: 4300 mm
Width: 1780 mm
Mazda3 SP25 GT Hatch
Power: 138 kW @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 250 Nm @ 3250 rpm
Kerb Wt: 1357 kg
Power/Wt: 107.4 W/kg
Trans: 6 sp auto
Economy: 6.1 L/100km
Length: 4460 mm
Width: 1795 mm
I guess we all want what we can’t have. I’ve always wanted that… I’ll take the Mazda SP25 engine, the SP25 price tag, and all the tangible ownership benefits of the i30 SR Premium, as well as its overall greater civility. And if they could make it look like an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta, that’d be great. I also think an i30 SR diesel would rock. Meanwhile, back on Earth, everything’s a compromise, and life’s not perfect. You have to make a choice and then live with it.
HYUNDAI i30 WAGON
There’s also a pretty neat i30 wagon available. Hyundai calls it a 'Tourer' (very upmarket-sounding, don't you think?) It bridges the practicality gap on the way to SUV ownership.
The i30 Tourer/wagon is manufactured in a completely different factory, on a completely different continent: they come from the Czech Republic, but the hatches are South Korean. (That’s the Korea whose leader doesn’t employ Fred Flintstone’s barber.)
- Wagon grades: Active & Elite
- Wagon engines: 1.6-litre diesel & 1.6-litre petrol
DUAL-CLUTCH TRANSMISSION: HUH?
Finally: the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. That term: dual-clutch transmission. It’s almost become an automotive obscenity. The Michael Bay of transmissions, largely thanks to the spectacular failures in the Ford Focus and Fiesta, and every second Volkswagen on the planet. But Hyundai seems to have applied the dual-clutch durability secret sauce. Veloster has had one for some time, and they just don’t fail. Hyundai seems not to be experiencing the night of the living dead dual-clutch movie marathon that Ford and Volkswagen re-run on every day ending in ‘Y’ lately. So I really wouldn’t worry too much about that in the diesel i30.