If, in choosing a Focus-sized Family Hatchback, you merely want to buy a very good one and pay as little as possible for it, then Hyundai has a proposition for you - its much improved third generation i30. With more efficient engines, a smarter look and the option of an impressive dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox, it's certainly a more competitive proposition than before. Spacious, sensibly-specced and value-laden, this is one car that all the other big volume manufacturers are keeping their eye on.
We've yet to drive this MK3 model but the prospects look good. Let's look at the engines on offer - there are three petrol units and one diesel. If you're a mainstream buyer fuelling from the green pump, you'll be choosing between a couple of advanced T-GDI units, a three cylinder 1.0-litre 120PS variant and a four cylinder 140PS 1.4-litre derivative, which can be ordered either with a six-speed manual gearbox or 7speed DCT auto transmission. The same transmission choices are also offered to diesel folk, who get the 1.6-litre CRDi 110PS powerplant carried over from the previous generation line-up. At the top of the range, the i30 N hot hatch gets a 2.0 TGDI petrol unit developing either 250 or 275PS.
Hyundai says it's put a lot more work into ride and handling this time round, developing this car in Europe at venues like the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe. This is where the marque's first high performance 'N'-branded i30 model was developed, a variant we'll see shortly. In more mainstream i30 variants, the completely reworked chassis should certainly make the car feel more responsive, aided by more accurate electric power steering that is supposed to be 10% more direct than before.
There's a choice of three i30 bodystyles, a five-door hatch, a 'Tourer' estate and a sleeker five-door 'Fastback' model. Either way, you'll find the front end marked by the brand's latest stylistic signature, its so-called 'Cascading Grille'. In combination with the three-projector LED headlamps and the vertical LED daytime running lights, this gives the car a much stronger visual presence than it had before. To further enhance this, projector-type front fog lamps are integrated into the air curtains. Under the skin, the structure is much stronger, with 53% of the framework now fashioned from Advanced High Strength Steel.
It's much smarter and classier inside too. The floating screen of the optional eight-inch navigation touch screen on the dashboard integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features and there's a redesigned multifunction three-spoke steering wheel too. For enhanced comfort, the front seats can be heated or cooled in three stages. When customers choose power seats, these can be adjusted in 10-ways including lumber support. There's an optional panoramic glass roof to fit with the current segment trend. And bootspace has been slightly increased - to 395-litres. Overall seats-folded space is slightly down on before though, now rated at 1,301-litres. Versatility is enhanced with a practical two-stage luggage board and a ski hatch in the rear centre seat. Go for the Tourer estate version and you get a 602-litre boot, extendable to 1,650-litres.
In summary then, an effective package - as this i30 has always been. For complete desirability in this segment though, you sense that in the future, a touch of unpredictability might be needed from Hyundai when it comes to a car of this sort, something truly ground-breaking that still ticks all the boxes on every Family Hatch buyer's wish list. We've little doubt that one day, the brand will provide it.
In the meantime though, what we already have here is still enough to leave the industry's more established car makers with furrowed brows. Ultimately, it's hard to do too much better for the money. Which means that for the time being at least, the i's still have it.Click here to find out more about our Hyundai i30 range
The Honda Civic has always been a more interesting choice for buyers in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment. This completely new version is the tenth generation model and has forty years of heritage to build upon. There's a more spacious, dynamic-looking body, stronger standards of safety and media connectivity and, perhaps most importantly, two completely fresh petrol engines. It all sounds quite promising.
Top of Honda's 'to do' list in developing this tenth generation Civic was to sort out the petrol side of the engine range. The 1.4 and 1.8-litre i-VTEC units offered with the previous ninth generation model were an embarrassing distance away from the class standard in terms of efficiency but that's all changed now. Instead, with this MK10 model, there's an entry-level three cylinder 1.0-litre VTEC TURBO unit with 129PS and a larger four cylinder 1.5-litre VTEC TURBO powerplant with 182PS. Both have more power and torque than the old engines could offer and come with the choice of either 6-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission.
Despite all this effort, the majority of Civic customers will continue to want a diesel. Unfortunately, it seems there wasn't any time or development budget left to do anything in this regard, so this latest generation model continues on with the previous version's 120PS 1.6 i-DTEC unit which fortunately, continues to be a strong contender in this segment. As for handling, this is claimed to be 'the most agile and dynamically proficient Civic ever'. Support for that claim comes in the form of all-new suspension, a lower centre of gravity and a boost in body rigidity. Ride comfort has been improved too.
There's a sleek and swept-back shape this time around, with larger, wider wheels emphasising a lower-set, sportier stance. Buyers get a choice of either the usual five-door hatch or, this time round, a four-door saloon. Either way, the sharp lines are complemented by the most comprehensive aerodynamic packing in the segment, including complete under-body panelling. More importantly, this MK10 model Civic is bigger than before, in hatchback form 30mm wider and 130mm longer than its predecessor. All of this sits on a more advanced unibody platform that Honda says is 16kg lighter and 52% stiffer than before.
Inside, the previously rather confusing cabin has been completely redesigned with higher quality materials and a simpler, more sophisticated design theme that includes a new digital instrument binnacle. At the top of the centre console, there's a 7-inch Honda Connect 2 colour touchscreen display. The driving position is lower and buyers should certainly notice the extra cabin space facilitated by the larger body. Passengers on the rear seat get 95mm more legroom as well as 45mm more knee clearance. Out back, luggage space remains class-lading, with 478-litres on offer in the hatch version. Plus there's a hidden underfloor compartment on most models that offers a further secure storage area.
'Kaizen', the Japanese approach to 'continuous improvement', characterises every aspect of this tenth generation Civic. The sharpened handling is welcome and the extra space useful. More important though, is the news that Honda has finally got its house in order when it comes to petrol power, the 1.0 and 1.5-lite VTEC TURBO units looking good enough to go up against the class best.
A lot of boxes have been ticked then, yet it's clear that Honda has also worked hard to maintain this car's more characterful approach in this segment. Add in British build quality, a great driving position and strong standards of safety and media connectivity and you've got a potentially very appealing package. Dynamic functionality was Honda's goal in creating this car. They may well have achieved it.Click here to find out more about our Honda Civic range
Toyota returns the Corolla name to the family hatchback segment with a more class-competitive hybrid-focused model line-up of hatches, saloons and estates. If you'd previously dismissed the Japanese brand as an also-ran in the Focus class, it might be time to think again.
We're looking forward to the chance to try this latest Corolla. For this car, there's an important advance in the development of Toyota's self-charging hybrid technology, this being the first of the brand's models in Europe to offer customers a choice of two hybrid powertrains - a revised 120bhp 1.8-litre system and a fresh 178bhp 2.0-litre unit that's engineered for more power on demand and more effortless acceleration, without compromising overall fuel and emissions efficiency. As full hybrids, both powertrains have the advantage of offering an all-electric drive capability, with zero emissions and fuel consumption. Both, as you would expect, are also matched to a seamless belt-driven CVT automatic transmission with six speeds. There are wheel-mounted paddleshifters supplied as part of this transmission package, but it's unlikely that typical buyers will make much use of them. For the record though, the 2.0-litre hybrid variant should get from rest to 62mph in around 8 seconds, which is reasonably rapid by class standards. Expect refinement to be excellent; certainly far better than it would be in a rival rumbly diesel.
Toyota hasn't carried over much from the previous Auris model but an exception to that rule is the installation of that older model's conventional 115bhp 1.2T direct injection turbocharged engine in entry-level Corolla variants. This comes only with a manual gearbox.
It's not only the styling that's more purposeful than that of the outgoing Auris model. Toyota has made much more of an effort with interior space too, helped by the extra flexibility of this 12th generation Corolla model's new 'TNGA' 'Toyota New Global Architecture' platform. In hatch form, it's 40mm longer, 30mm wider and 25mm lower than the old Auris. That makes it only slightly shorter than a Ford Focus and quite a bit longer than a Golf.
Inside, the cabin should feel considerably more up-market than the interior of an Auris ever was, with better-quality materials used and an 8-inch 'Toyota Touch 2' centre-dash infotainment screen as standard, complete with a DAB tuner and a reversing camera. On most variants, it will feature navigation too. The extra space freed up by the more generous exterior dimensions should be particularly obvious in the rear, though some reports suggest that the optional panoramic glass sunroof does eat into headroom. Apparently, it reduces it by 22mm. Family folk are probably going to be directed towards the 'Touring Sports' estate body style. This station wagon derivative, like the alternative Saloon body style, sits upon a lengthened 2,700mm wheelbase version of the TNGA platform.
So what do we have here? A name from the past which packages up technology from the future. Very soon, all family hatchback-class models will feature model line-ups that are primarily electrified. But Toyota has brought us that right now. In a car its volume brand competitors will have to take very seriously indeed.
If you're going the hybrid route with a car in this sector, it makes sense to buy into the brand that has most experience in producing this kind of powertrain - and that's unquestionably Toyota. But this model also has other things to recommend it, with levels of safety and media connectivity that rivals struggle to better. If you're looking for a car in this segment, a Corolla probably isn't currently on your shopping list. We think it ought to be.Click here to find out more about our Toyota Corolla range