What is the difference between a Hyundai and a Kia? Even if you are a bit of an anorak when it comes to cars, that is probably a question to which you have never devoted a second's thought. But for Hyundai and Kia, which have now been united under the same corporate roof for the best part of a decade after a major restructuring of the Korean motor industry, the difference is crucial.
Model: Hyundai i30 Estate 1.6CRDi Style
Engine: 1.6litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Performance: 117mph, 0-62 mph in 11.9 seconds, 57.6mpg, CO2: 128g/km; 113bhp at 4,000rpm; 188lb/ft between 1,900 and 2,750rpm
Vehicle Excise Duty Band: C
Worth considering: Ford Focus estate, Kia cee'd SW, Renault Megane Sport Tourer, Vauxhall Astra estate, Volkswagen Golf estate
The name of the automotive game these days, exemplified by the industry's giants such as Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen, is platform-sharing. This involves producing as many cars as possible that are very similar under the skin, in order to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs. At the same time, those cars should look and feel as different as possible, in order to maximise their appeal to as many different groups of customers as possible. It may surprise you to learn that the Hyundai-Kia combine is now a giant as well – the fifth largest automotive group in the world, in fact – so Kias and Hyundais ideally need to share a lot of parts, but the Kia and Hyundai badges need to attract different sorts of buyers.
Anyway, the official answer to the question I posed at the beginning goes something like this: Kia is supposed to be developed as the younger, sportier brand – you may have noticed the company's sponsorship of Euro 2008 and the Davis Cup, for example – while a Hyundai badge is intended to be invested with something of the "premium" feel that some established European brands already enjoy.
If you're not familiar with the latest cars from Korea, that sort of positioning may look hopelessly ambitious, but the truth is that the newer products from Kia and Hyundai are starting to live up to the billing, even if perceptions about these two former budget brands still lag behind the reality. Kia's little Picanto and its mid-sized cee'd already attract a lot of buyers because of their intrinsic appeal, not just because they are keenly priced, while the second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe SUV is a smooth, appealing machine that bears almost no resemblance to its rather dumpy looking predecessor.
Combine the need for Hyundais and Kias to share parts with the requirement for a Hyundai to have a bit of extra polish, and what you get from Hyundai in the Golf bracket is the car tested by our readers this week, the i30, which, you won't be surprised to hear, feels like a slightly posher version of the Kia cee'd.
Regular Verdict readers will know that any car that improves on the cee'd is a very good car indeed. The cee'd was launched with a great deal of fanfare last year as Kia's first "European" car and turned out to be an excellent all-rounder that met the best European models in its class on equal terms; the i30 gives you the same successful recipe, but with a slightly better interior and, to my eyes at least, marginally staider styling.
Leave to one side the Hyundai's improved trim, and subjective judgements about the design of the two cars, and the choice between the cee'd and the i30 boils down just one thing; how much time you are prepared to spend poring over specification lists and the small print attached to the two cars' generous warranties – five years in the case of the i30 and seven for the cee'd. But whichever of these cars you pick, you can't really go wrong; on that score, at least, there is no difference between a Hyundai and a Kia.
Barclay Davies, 42
Office manager, Gelli
Usual Cars: Toyota Avensis, Chevrolet Kalos
Once you overcome the disappointment that the "i" doesn't mean that it comes with an iPod loaded with the best summer driving music, this really is a very good car. The interior has a plush feel about it, and the estate version has impressive boot space. Inside, the cabin is neatly laid out, and everything is where you would expect it to be, with some nice touches, such as two sockets so you can plug in a satnav while charging your mobile. The only quirk I found was the collar to engage reverse gear. The driving position is good and the seats are fairly comfortable. On the move, the car cruises quietly with little road and engine noise – I can't believe it's a diesel! I live near some tough mountain climbs and the i30 negotiated these with ease. Hyundai would not have been a make that I would have considered, but the i30 is a very good car.
Mike Brough, 34
Civil servant, Bridgend
Usual Cars: Volvo S80, Mini
Hyundai, it seems, are trying to tap into the success of such things as the iPod or iPhone. Sadly that's where any resemblances of cutting-edge, must-have technology end. The car was functional and had a decent-sized boot, but the ride was poor and the seats uncomfortable. What then would make me buy an i30 instead of one of the many other cars available at a similar price? Nothing, not even the five-year warranty. The reason? Well, you'd spend most of your time driving it wondering what else you could have bought for similar money. Then one day you'd park next to a Ford Focus or VW Golf, and realise you'd made the wrong choice. It's like buying an iPod just before they bring out a cheaper, smaller version... and I've done that too!
Jonathan Hollins, 39
Managing director, Newport
Usual cars: Porsche Boxster, Ford Probe
I've always been a fan of coupés, and Hyundai's stylish offerings in this sector have made me warm to the Korean brand. I was therefore interested to see if any of the sports styling and performance had transferred to some of the more pedestrian models in the range. While not quite managing to deliver kerbside desirability, the i30 has a stylish and up-to-date design. The diesel engine proved responsive, with the smooth ride and comfortable driving position a welcome distraction to roadwork congestion on the motorway. I'm still a coupé man at heart, but the i30 is a competent companion to its sporty stablemate.
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