Look closer

By Guilherme Marques

Hyundai is the fastest growing automotive brand in the world. In 2012 it sold exactly 4,401,947 cars globally. That is more than eight cars per minute, so I am guessing dealers have not had much sleep.

Not that many years ago, Hyundais were bought on value and reliability alone, their image and quality a long way from established European rivals, but the Koreans are not suffering the economic crisis the old continent has had to deal with for the past four years; quite the contrary actually …

Hyundai is a mega company loaded with cash. It set up a development centre in Germany, just down the street from Opel in Russelheim, and began brainstorming about what makes Europeans like Europeans cars – and forget about patriotism.

I guess it did not take them long to come up with the answer, because their new batch of cars – the Veloster, i20, i30, i40, ix35 and the Santa Fe are more European than some European cars I have driven lately.

Let’s talk about the i40, since it is this week’s test. It sits on the market alongside the Insignia, Mondeo, 508, Laguna, etc. It looks good, with the new ‘fluidic sculpture’ design language, creating a shape that gives it an original identity, while placing it well within the aesthetic orientation the market is following right now.

The LED front lights mirror the eyes of a falcon and the back reminded me of the Jaguar XF, which is definitely a good thing.

Inside I was amazed by the equipment available, which included an electric hand brake and hill hold, a decent navigation system, automatic air conditioning, electric seats, parking assistance with rear view camera, electric mirrors, iPod connection and supportive leather seats.

The build quality is the same as you will find in the equivalent Opel or Ford, and only some of the materials are not very pleasant to touch, but it has to be said they are located in places you won’t normally touch unless you were looking for them, like we have to do to give you the full insight.

Our press car came with the excellent, and extremely quiet, 1.7 CRDi diesel in 136 horse power guise and had no trouble in hauling the big Hyundai forward.

With the help of a precise six-speed manual gearbox, progress is swift, smooth and efficient – the board computer showed 6.9 litres when I left the car back at Hyundai, a very satisfying number considering I did not drive one kilometre worrying about consumption and travelled 80% of the time with three other people in the car.

The market is shifting in two directions – up to Germany, where the premium brands are downsizing their engines and offering better cars for a lot less money, and to the right, to Korea, where Hyundai and Kia seem to understand what those who still cannot afford BMWs, Mercedes and Audis want right now.

This leaves me genuinely worried about the Hyundai’s rivals I mentioned earlier. Because with a 5-star EuroNcap rating, a 5-year maintenance plan included, an image for reliability, improving residual values and an unquestionably interesting design language, Hyundai is leaving the market with no excuses to overlook its cars.

This i40 sedan may not offer the most engaging drive in its class, but does its target audience really care about that enough not to buy it? I would say it doesn’t.

Prices start at €31,465 for the model we tested and it is definitely a quality item that represents excellent value for money.