Tony Bosworth: Last Sunday I went for a quick drive in a bright red Hyundai i30, along the winding, climbing, swooping, Putty Road over the NSW Blue Mountains and back.

According to Google Maps the 171km journey from my house to Margan Wines in the Hunter should take two hours 20 minutes. Fair enough, it has tight bends, chicanes, steep drops, some dodgy road surfaces and thus is much-loved by motoring publications as a road that really allows you to get to grips with a car…

When I stopped for a fuel fill-up the brakes were smoking just a little bit… I forgot to look at the pump number. The servo bloke laughed and said, “the red Ferrari?” Of course, that was the joke because, yes, it was red but the Hyundai i30 Active five-door I was driving is no sports car, and certainly no Ferrari. And it is an automatic too.

The fact is, while everyone looks when a Ferrari rumbles by, you only stare at an i30 if the sound system is cranked up too loud.

But the reason for my high-speed jaunt had a serious intent behind it.

Back over two decades ago I worked on What Car? magazine and we took a Ferrari Boxer and a Volkswagen Golf GTi – at that time a 1.6-litre engined-beast – to the mountains of mid-Wales. We wanted to see if the Ferrari really was a much better car, at least in terms of driveability, performance and handling.

On the straights the red Ferrari could pull away cleanly, showing the GTi a clean pair of chromed exhausts. But on the windy bits the Ferrari could barely keep up with the VW. The German car was smaller, more nimble, and with enough front-wheeldrive grip and power to get it through the bends.

This last weekend I relived that drive, albeit in another set of mountains a world away from Wales, and with no following Ferrari. So, what did I find?

Well, the Hyundai is a very competent piece of kit. I’ll go into more detail about its practicalities when I write up the full road test, but my Sunday morning drive allowed me to push the car to its very limits.

It corners cleanly and turns in tight, especially when you switch to the Sport steering option (the others are Normal and Comfort) which has extra weight and a more robust feel to it.

The i30 has little body roll and plenty of front wheel drive grip, though I made the tyres sing on the really tight 30kph bends and there were a few moments when the ABS anti-lock brakes started skittering over bumpy surfaces. I’ve experienced that with the i30SE too, and frankly I think the ABS needs recalibrating – it simply comes on too soon.

The extra weight of the automatic gearbox also heavied the nose up a bit, but after a few kilometres it wasn’t noticeable.

Seat side support is good enough, though that length of journey will have you yearning for a touch more lumbar support.

The automatic gearbox is a very smooth shifter, you’ll barely notice the upshifts, though the 1.8-litre engine starts to really whine when you push the car hard in each gear. It certainly doesn’t have the silky train-like smoothness of, say, a BMW engine of similar capacity.

Still, at speeds well above the legal limit on straight stretches of road the i30 still remains poised and pretty confident. There’s been some criticism of Hyundai suspension in some other publications but I reckon it’s fine. The only time it makes you grit your teeth is if you have three adults in the back and you hit a bump – then it can feel like you’ve hit the suspension stoppers with a bit of a bang.

When I picked the car up the on-board computer told me it was consuming 9.7L/100km. By the end of the trip – and let’s be honest, I wasn’t exactly going easy on the thing – I was getting 8.6. I was a bit sceptical about that but I’d brimmed the tank myself and worked out the figures and that was spot-on.

So, Hyundai or Ferrari? Of course it’s not a fair question, but the point is this, the Hyundai is a safe, capable and predictable machine, doesn’t cost the earth to buy or run, and you don’t get everyone staring at you as you drive past. Not unless you have the sound system blaring.

You can read our full, in-depth road test of the Hyundai i30 Active Auto later this week.


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