Those who have driven it agree: the Hyundai i30 is an excellent car. You could disapprove of the "i" prefix, regarding it as another example of basking in the reflected glory of Apple's snazzy, super-functional products. But the i30, and the little i10 below it, deserve to bask. They are well-designed, high-quality cars with a convincing sparkle of what German carmakers would probably call premium-ness.
Model: Hyundai i30 1.6 CRDi
Price: From £13,855 to £16,455. On sale now
Engine: 1,582cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 115bhp at 4,000rpm, 188lb ft at 1,900-2,750rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 117mph, 0-62 in 11.9sec, 57.6mpg official average, CO2 128g/km
Yes, these are Hyundais we're talking about. And yes, the world has changed. These are cars going the way of Samsung and LG, aspirational brands which happen to be Korean rather than Korean brands bearing second-rate baggage. That notion is out of date.
So here's a new version of the Ford Focus-rivalling i30. It's an estate, but see it from the front three-quarter view and you might not spot the difference. The hatchback has an extra rear-side window behind the back door, its rear edge in a fashionable reverse slope, and the i30 Estate has the same feature in a similar shape. But it's longer, and so is the back door ahead of it because the estate car, like Peugeot's 308 SW, has a longer wheelbase (by 20mm) than the hatchback. That makes it roomier for rear passengers' legs, while enabling the load bay to be extra spacious when the seats are folded down.
Seen from the rear, the Estate is quite different from the hatchback. It still has tall tail-lights but they are more upright and yet taller here. They flank a tailgate that's also more upright, which opens to reveal a lower loading sill – it's at floor-level, in proper estate-car fashion. That means the number plate is displaced from bumper to tailgate.
What you don't get in the i30 Estate are sliding or removable rear seats, the option of extra seats in the load bay, or a separately-opening rear window, all of which the next-newest estate car, the Peugeot, offers. The best that the i30 can manage is a 12V power supply in the boot, a built-in cargo screen to keep highly-stacked loads where they should be, and roof rails.
I can see virtues in the simplicity, not least in the prices. This car's bigger virtues, though, are revealed in how it feels to drive. My test car had the 1.6 CRD turbodiesel engine, which produces 115bhp and 182lb ft of pulling ability while adding just 128g/km of CO2 to the atmosphere. This is a marvellous little diesel engine, one of the best of its size for its combination of power and fuel efficiency. It's smooth, with the usual deep, metallic diesel note but no clattering or grumbling. And it responds crisply to command, like a good petrol engine, while delivering the deep surge of effortless overtaking energy that is one of a good diesel's most appealing attributes.
It somehow shrugs off the i30's weight, making this estate car feel lean, keen and eager. It has accurate, natural-feeling steering, a fluid way of stringing bends together, and light-footed handling of lumps and bumps.
Wow. Can this car do no wrong? I suppose I'm a little blown away by the way the i30 gets the important things right and doesn't get sidetracked by superficial attractions. Not that it's barren inside. There's a solid, slightly sumptuous quality to the interior, helped by the leather-faced Premium (that word again) trim of our test car, in which state it's still cheaper than the cheapest 308 SW or Ford Focus estate with comparable 1.6-litre diesel engines.
Plenty of surfaces are soft-touch, chrome accents add visual value, displays are softly lit in blue. This top model also has automatic air-conditioning and 17-inch wheels which manage not to spoil the ride comfort, despite their low-profile tyres. It even has a heating element in the windscreen designed to release frozen wipers. Other trim levels are Comfort and Style; all have ESP stability control and a built-in iPod/MP3 interface. There's also a 1.6-litre petrol engine although this seems a pointless purchase next to this diesel.
So that's the Hyundai i30 Estate. Seldom does a modern car have such clarity of personality and feel so innately right. If a compact MPV seems like overkill but you want to lug the odd load as well as a family, then given the Hyundai's remarkable value – including a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty – this is the obvious way to do it.
Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi estate: from £17,150
Recently given a facelift and probably the best car to drive in this class, although the i30 runs it very close. Howver, it's expensive for what it offers.
Kia C'eed 1.6 CRDi LS SW: £15,00
A close relative of the Hyundai, with similar driving qualities. More plasticky interior and brasher instrument graphics reveal why it's cheaper.
Peugeot 308 1.6 HDi SW: from £16,595
Tilts at the MPV market with its removable seats and seven-seat option, shares its 110bhp engine with Ford. Contrived styling, pleasing cabin.