SINGAPORE (June 4): To call the new Hyundai i30 a ­multicultural car would be something of an understatement. While it is, of course, a ­Korean brand, the car was designed, engineered and tested in Germany, and built in the Czech Republic. So it has a very European flavour.

How is this possible? Hyundai opened a technical centre in Germany in 2003 to help it compete in the crowded European market. And out of that facility emerged the new i30. While I initially thought it sounded more like a hybrid or electronic car, the i30 is ­nothing of the sort.

In fact, this new model is a hatchback that Hyundai hopes will compete with VW’s Golf, one of the world’s bestselling cars. That’s a tall order in anyone’s book but you have to admire the ambition of the Koreans. Building it in Europe is definitely a smart move, especially if Hyundai wants to compete with VW.

At first glance, the i30 does look similar to the Golf in its size and shape. Curvy lines give it “hot hatchback’’ status, along with some elegance, thanks to its smooth-looking headlights.

The i30 is ever so slightly bigger than the Golf, thought that is not obvious. Another thing it has in common with its German rival is the power plant — a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine mated to a seven-speed transmission. So, it is clear to see the Golf provided a lot of inspiration for Hyundai.

But it’s not quite a carbon copy of the Golf, with an “H” instead of a “VW” on the front grille being the only difference. There are plenty of other differences between the two cars, which become obvious the more time you spend in the Korean upstart. For starters, the i30 is far cheaper than the Golf. That does not mean it looks cheap, however. The i30 actually has a sturdiness and quality about it that some will find surprising.

It’s fair to say that Korean cars have a bad reputation in Singapore, and so many drivers opt for German brands instead. But things have changed a lot in recent years and both Kia and Hyundai deserve a second chance. Their cars are getting better, feature technology that is similar to the German luxury brands’ and, of course, are much cheaper. But will this be enough to overcome Singapore’s brand snobs?

The way Korean cars perform on the road is also improving. The i30 may be a cute little hatchback but it provides a punchy ride with smooth delivery of power when you ask for it. It zips around corners and moves in and out of lanes with ease. It is not as fast off the blocks as the Golf, however, taking just over nine seconds to get to 100kph. Maybe, in time, the Korean brands will improve on that, but the i30 has already taken a great leap in narrowing the gap with European manufacturers.

The i30 has auto cruise control, a speed limiter and a wireless charging pad for mobile phones

The car’s interior is not very upmarket, but offers functionality and value for money. So, a 5.0-inch LCD infotainment screen makes sense at this price point. The car is currently selling at less than $100,000 and you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of gadgets. These include a rear-view camera and an electronic parking brake. Other tech features include auto cruise control, a speed limiter and a wireless charging pad for mobile phones.

On the whole, the cabin looks neat and tidy and is definitely as comfortable as a European-equivalent hatchback, even if it lacks the plush materials. At 395 litres, the i30’s boot is also generous. The interior is spacious and has good visibility.

I drove a Hyundai Tucson for many years and wondered why it was so cheap, given that it was a reliable, comfortable and very practical car. The reason was because most motorists overlook Hyundai and Kia, opting first for Japanese brands, and then European ones if they could afford it.

This was great news for me. And the i30 is more great news from a brand that is really shaking things up — Kia’s sporty-looking Stinger has also got people talking.

So, if you are on a budget, looking for a hatchback with a decent amount of technology and not a brand snob, then the i30 ticks a lot of boxes. It could actually be the best car on sale today for less than $100,000.

Hyundai i30
$92,999 including COE
Engine: 1,353cc, 16V, turbo in-line, four
Power/torque: 138bhp/242Nm
Fuel efficiency: 5.5L/100km
0 to 100kph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 205kph

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

This article appeared in Issue 833 (June 4) of The Edge Singapore.

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