No wonder Hyundai planned an extensive drive for its new i30, with everything from Hawke's Bay back roads to the Rimutakas and Wellington's business district.

This model makes up a third of its burgeoning sales as the Korean company cements its position near the top of NZ's sales tables, so this second generation must succeed if Hyundai is to maintain sales momentum.

However, fog disrupted the New Zealand launch last week with arriving journos hustled into cars then diverted to night-time rural highways in lashing rain that may not have delivered the ultimate handling test, but proved just how easy it is to get comfy and confident in a well laid-out car.

Hyundai has reined in earlier design excesses to create a handsome hatchback with incisive lines and definite character, easily identifiable even at night, thanks to its tail-light design. The cabin also carries Hyundai DNA, along with quality materials and build.


Hyundai says this new i30 sits atop a modified Elantra platform with a body 55mm longer, 5mm wider and 10mm lower than before, though wheelbase remains the same.

The changes deliver more head and leg room for front passengers at a small cost to the rear seats, while boot size increases despite the full-size spare wheel beneath its floor, something we were glad of after suffering a flat tyre at dusk, with hours of driving still ahead.

There are two engines on offer, the 1.8-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel, both in standard manual and auto, or Elite auto formats.

The $34,490 entry car includes seven airbags, stability control with stability management that weights the wheel to help steer you out of trouble, 16-inch wheels and cruise control plus Hyundai's standard first aid kit, fire extinguisher and high-vis vest.

The Elite adds a reversing screen mounted in the rear-view mirror using a camera inside the rear badge, which swivels open when reverse is selected.

You'll also get a proximity key with push-button start, seat warmers for the electrically-adjustable front seats, auto defog, an electric park brake that liberates more centre console storage and helps direct air to the rear, and a rather nice welcome-home feature in which the car recognises its key is approaching, unfolds the wing mirrors, and turns on door handle and puddle lamps to light the ground around your car. And finally, 17-inch alloy wheels which deliver a touch more tyre noise than the 16s.

All that for $4000 extra, which will make Elite the private buyer's choice.

My introduction came in the entry-level auto, the 1.8-litre petrol unit that replaces the outgoing 2.0 delivering 110kW at 6500rpm and 178Nm at 4700rpm. Given the conditions we did not stress the motor, though did approve of how quiet this car is, and how well the engine responded when hills or overtaking required acceleration.

An eco button on autos alters engine, transmission and air conditioning response, Hyundai claims it improves economy by 5.8 per cent; without it our fuel figure was 8.1l/100km, over the claimed 6.9 (auto - 6.5l/100km for the manual).

Next day's 1.6-litre diesel drive from Martinborough via Lake Ferry's narrow, lichen-encrusted tarmac, the Rimutakas and wind-blown Wellington proved this engine's flexibility, with 260Nm available from 1900 to 2750rpm en route to 94kW at 4000rpm, 10 per cent more than before. However, in 2012 just 5.7 per cent of buyers opt for diesel in this bracket, down on 2010's 8 per cent, because of the inconvenience of road user charges and a payment structure which discriminates against more frugal cars.

Hyundai claims 4.5l/100km for the six-speed manual and 5.6 for the six-speed auto; we saw 7.0, no doubt due to a brisk approach to the second day's hilly drive.

Given the wet conditions we'll await a longer road test to confirm our handling impressions, which suggest the MacPherson strut front and coupled torsion beam rear do a competent enough job assisted by 'flex steer', which delivers light resistance below 60km/h and firmer response above it, on request.

Hyundai NZ general manager Andy Sinclair said i30 sales would take a small dip as therewas now no 1.6 "a bracket now covered by Accent" but the wagon will arrive from Czechoslovakia in September.