Hyundai's i45 has been updated to suit its loyal following
The Hyundai i45 is the car motoring writers love to loathe. The reason is simple: while so many mid-size cars on the market are engineered around European priorities - sharp styling, overtly sporting chassis dynamics - the i45 is unashamedly designed around Asian/American preferences of visual bling, light steering and a comfortable ride.
Hyundai hasn't helped the i45's PR by introducing the car's European-market cousin, the i40, into New Zealand. So now, not only is the car a critical flop, there's a direct rival within the company's own ranks that's much more sporty.
While motoring writers love to loathe the i45, thing is, actual car buyers know their own minds and quite like the i45's chromey goodness and built-for-comfort demeanour. It hasn't set the segment on fire, but the i45 claims a respectable 7 per cent of the segment (more than the Subaru Legacy, for example) and has established a bit of a following.
Hyundai Australia discontinued the i45 because it wasn't guaranteed enough supply from the factory.
Hyundai New Zealand requires much smaller volume and wouldn't dream of dropping the car because it has such a loyal following - though it could just sell the i40 in diesel (as it does now) and petrol forms. There's no diesel i45 available.
The most significant changes for this year's i45 facelift have come courtesy of the Australians - right before they dropped the car. The steering has been revised and the suspension retuned. Beyond that there's a new grille, repositioned daytime running lights and mirrors, and front parking sensors (as well as the existing rear ones) with reversing camera for the $49,990 Elite model.
Time for another try, then. But dynamically, the verdict is still the same. The i45 had the misfortune to follow the i40 in Driven's diary and really, you wouldn't believe they are from the same company. Well, they're not really - or at least they come from different divisions.
The i45 has sloppy steering and poor body control compared with its sibling - and most other cars in the medium segment. If you're a keen driver it's off the shopping list, it's that simple. But I can see the appeal. The blingy styling is not to my taste but I know lots of people who reckon the i45 exudes a premium look.
After a week in the i45, there's no question it has noticeably superior plastics, classier instruments and a bit more ergonomic good sense. Not so keen on the seats, though - they lack shape compared with those in the i40, especially in the leather trim of our test car.
The i45 also lacks the option of sat-nav with Suna traffic information, as offered on the i40. That's disappointing for a pseudo-luxury vehicle but cannot be rectified at this stage.
The i45 has a 2.4-litre petrol engine, of course, while the i40 is offered here only in diesel. The powerplant has plenty of punch and there are always those who will prefer the rev-happy nature and refinement of petrol over the gruff, torquey demeanour of diesel. Although the 1.7-litre i40 has plenty of it: 320Nm compared with the 250Nm of the i45.
Here's the thing: with the i40 now on sale, the larger, softer i45 doesn't really have to justify its existence any more, because Hyundai New Zealand can offer you an alternative. More to the point, the i45 has nothing to prove because it's been selling consistently since 2004. It's the sporty, critically acclaimed i40 that's got to argue its case in the sales charts.
The bottom line:
Still the soft option among medium-size sedans. But plenty like it, and if you don't Hyundai now has an alternative in the form of the i40.