Hyundai has built a reputation for creating cars that offer excellent value for money. But the company also has a reputation for building cars that aren't even remotely glamorous. The Korean manufacturer is trying to inject a much needed dose of sexy, however, with its brand new i40 Tourer, an estate designed to smack large 'D segment' family cars, such as the Mondeo, upside the head gasket.
We recently went hands-on with the 1.7-litre, 113bhp CRDi, Blue Drive, six-speed manual-transmission version, to see if it could deliver value as well as va-va-voom. It costs £19,395, but the range starts at £18,395.
Sadly, no loins were stirred during our time with the i40 Tourer. Its coachwork is adorned with plenty of attractive elements throughout, including a headlight cluster designed to resemble a falcon's eye, rear lights that draw inspiration from a falcon's wings, and a silhouette that Hyundai's designers claim was inspired by a fighter jet. Sadly, despite the company's best efforts, this car suffers the same fate as most estates -- it looks more functional than fabulous.
Thankfully, the car's interior is rather more appealing, The dashboard, which is reminiscent of the one found in the Ford Focus, is constructed from soft, premium plastics that give the car an upmarket feel, and all the buttons, vents and fixtures have a curvaceous, contemporary design.
The i40 Tourer's seats are very comfortable. The pews at the front can be heated and cooled at the flick of a switch to help you regulate the temperature of your backside. The rear seats are heated too, but don't believe Hyundai's hype about them being reclinable -- the back rests can only be moved an inch or so, which makes very little difference to your overall comfort.
More usefully, the rear seats fold forward to make room for bulky luggage. They don't limbo to a fully flat position, but they do shift out of the way to increase luggage space from 553 litres to a maximum of 1,719 litres, which is enough to rival most other estates.
Up at the business end of the cabin, there's a decent amount of gadgetry to keep you occupied, including a very well specced stereo system. Those who opt for the entry-level Active trim get a six-speaker set-up, courtesy of Infinity, that plays audio from a host of sources.
DAB radio isn't an option, unfortunately, but the system will play AM and FM radio, as well as CD and iPod tunes. It will also stream Bluetooth audio from compatible mobile phones. A module in the centre console allows you to connect an MP3 player via a 3.5mm auxiliary cable, or a USB mass storage device. Both of these backlit connections are within easy reach, unlike the fiddly, difficult-to-reach ports seen in many of the car's rivals.
The audio quality from the speakers isn't ground-shaking, so, if you take your tunes seriously, you might want to splash out on the Style or Premium trim levels, which offer speaker systems upgraded with an amplifier and a subwoofer.
The audio sounds reasonably good in our configuration, though. It won't rattle windows at full volume, but it delivers a balanced sound and will keep your ears entertained on long journeys.
Seven inches of pain
The Style and Premium trim levels bring with them a 7-inch touchscreen. This provides several features, including a Navteq-based sat-nav system, which we found quite frustrating to use. Its mapping data seemed out-of-date, despite the car being brand-new -- several roads on our test routes were missing from its database -- and it routinely sent us on wild goose chases.
Hyundai says the maps can be updated on a yearly basis by visiting your local dealership, but roads can change a great deal over the course of 365 days, so it's almost inevitable that you'll experience navigation headaches with this system at one point or another.
Park and ride
The i40 Tourer's most impressive feature is arguably its automatic parking system. We've seen several gimmicky implementations in the past, but this is by far the most effective system we've encountered. It's easy to use and will park just as well as any human -- if not better.
To use it, you simply push the 'P' button on the centre console, drive along a row of cars and wait for the i40's ultrasonic parking sensors to detect a gap between two cars. If the gap is deemed large enough, the car will instruct you, via a small display in the instrument binnacle, to engage reverse gear and begin backing up. It does the rest, turning the steering wheel automatically until you're resting safely in the space.
The system isn't quite perfect, though. It can only detect spaces if you've driven past them with the parking-assist feature switched on, as this is its only means of measuring the gap between the cars. If you've attempted to park manually and made a hash of it, parking assist will not come to your rescue unless you abandon the manoeuvre and start from scratch.
The i40 Tourer comes relatively close to driving itself on the open road, too. The car has a 'lane-keeping assist' feature that monitors road markings to check whether you're drifting out of lane. Should you veer off course without indicating or actively turning the steering wheel, it'll sound a warning and, if you don't take appropriate action, the car's drive-by-wire steering will physically steer the vehicle towards the centre of the lane.
Slowly but surely
The i40 Tourer is available with a choice of 1.6-litre, 1.7-litre or 2-litre diesel engines. Our test car featured the 1.7-litre, 113bhp unit and six-speed manual transmission that Hyundai believes will prove the most popular among the UK public.
It's a smooth, refined powertrain that Hyundai reckons will achieve a 0-60mph time of 12 seconds if you push it hard. Sadly, we found the i40 Tourer incredibly ponderous around town, even with just two people in the car. We imagine its performance will drop to barely tolerable levels once fully laden with five passengers and a boot full of gear, but we took solace in the fact that the car's handling is relatively rewarding. It's fun to drive on twisty roads, with a poise and sure-footedness that belie its size.
The upshots of the i40 Tourer's lack of straight-line speed are its low emissions and very high fuel economy. With the 1.7-litre, 113bhp, manual unit, the car spits just 113g of CO2 per kilometre and achieves a huge 65.7mpg, making it an obvious choice for those who want to save cash at the pumps.
The i40 Tourer isn't as sexy as Hyundai would have you believe, but it's a comfortable, well-equipped estate that gets most things right. It's affordable, equipped with plenty of cutting-edge technology, and satisfying to drive, provided you're not a speed demon.
Edited by Charles Kloet