First model in Hyundai's new eco-brand does the business

These days, any carmaker serious about world domination knows it must have a separate eco-brand to show it's on the cutting edge of sustainable motoring. Once upon a time it was the done thing to have a name with "green" in it. For fairly obvious reasons.

I think that all the good green names got taken fairly quickly, because "blue" is now very popular. Presumably because it reminds us of things we'd like to keep nice and clean, like the sky (which contains birds) and sea (dolphins live there).

As Hyundai stretches ever more upmarket Gangnam-style, it has of course developed its own eco-brand, called BlueDrive. The first BlueDrive model to be launched in New Zealand is the i40. It comes with an enormous badge on each front guard and another on the tailgate, just so you know.

On the surface, it does seem a bit like Hyundai spent more time on branding than on engineering, because the i40 BlueDrive differs from the entry-level i40 diesel in only two ways: it has a six-speed manual gearbox and it has stop-start technology. That's it. Same body/aerodynamics, same tyres, same equipment. Same car really. Except that the BlueDrive does have 10Nm more torque (330Nm). Shouldn't it have less?


So here's the funny thing: such modest measures get massive results. The i40 BlueDrive achieves an incredible 4.5 litres per 100km in the Combined cycle, which is 1.1 litres better than the entry-level i40 diesel automatic. Which is in itself an extremely thrifty machine.

Just to declare an interest, I do think the i40 is the best thing that Hyundai does at the moment. It was designed for (also in) Europe and that really shows in style that's much more restrained than the blingy i45 and pretty decent chassis dynamics.

Just to declare another interest, I quite like driving manual cars. Yes, even in Auckland traffic. I don't think traffic actually has anything to do with the near-disappearance of manual-transmission cars in New Zealand. After all, they still quite like changing their own gears in London and Paris, where cars move at walking pace a lot of the time. Modern automatics are extremely good (the i40's certainly is) but I just think a manual allows you to experience more of a car's true character.

Which is the point I'm getting to about the i40 BlueDrive. Yes, it goes forever before you have to fill up and you can feel all smug because everybody can see your blue badges. But it also highlights everything that's good about the i40 because you get to change your own gears and form more of a connection with the car. Bit old-fashioned I know.

So it's good to drive and generally practical too, because it's a medium-to-large station wagon. Not as much in favour with Kiwis as high-riding crossover wagons these days, but that's another way that I'm a bit old-fashioned: I still think a sleek-looking estate is a pretty cool way to transport the family around.

Hyundai has done well with this car, although apparently nobody grasped that you're supposed to charge a premium for your eco-brand.

Anyway, the i40 BlueDrive is $47,490, or $1500 less than the diesel-automatic model.

In summary, the BlueDrive is the most economical i40 by far but you don't have to care because it's also the nicest one to drive.

You really do get the best i40 in this configuration, plus a really big set of badges.

The bottom line

Providing you don't have an aversion to three pedals, BlueDrive is arguably the best i40 to drive - as well as being more economical than a Toyota Camry hybrid.