2017 Best Small Car of the Year: Hyundai i30 SR

Viewed from a global perspective, small cars represent the most important segment in the world of motoring.

These vehicles need to look good inside and out, feature plenty of equipment, protect their occupants and deliver decent dynamics – all for a retail price of less than $30,000 in Australia. Our four finalists represent some of the best new cars you can buy from Europe, Japan and Korea.

2017 Best Small Car of the Year: Hyundai i30 SR
­Famous for doing drive-away deals on competent-if-uninspiring models, Hyundai is in the midst of a transformation intended to attract car lovers to buy cars because from the brand, not despite it.This i30 SR is fruit of that.Priced from $28,950 plus on-road costs in automatic form, you get plenty of features including partial leather trim, autonomous braking, Apple CarPlay and a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty rivals can’t match. It even has the biggest boot.That price includes a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and seven-speed dual-clutch auto combination with 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, making it the quickest of our quartet by a handy margin. A few years ago, you would have been paying around $40,000 to get that kind of grunt in a small car – something like Volkswagen’s Golf GTI.

This is a cheap way to get more than 200 old-fashioned horsepower in a thoroughly modern package, one that feels a little bit special with performance-inspired touches including sports seats and a splash of colour throughout the interior. While the SR sits toward the upper end of the i30 range, you do get a lot of car for your cash – it really does feel like a $30,000 machine, as opposed to more basic alternatives. The Hyundai i30 SR is a different type of small car, proof that a value-focused model can also be special.

Quiet and composed on the road, the i30 SR aced our dynamic tests and impressed judges with its breadth of ability – fun to drive when you want to press on, but also relaxed and refined for everyday motoring. It isn’t perfect – sizeable 18-inch wheels give its ride a little more edge than some rivals, and the dual-clutch auto is capable of the odd clumsy moment – but for the most part, this is the complete package.

Hyundai’s i30 SR is Drive’s Best Small Car for 2017. Photo: Mark Bean

Pulling three first place votes from our team of six judges, the Hyundai i30 took the brand’s first trophy in this class, becoming a worthy winner as Drive’s Best Small Car for 2017.

The numbers that matter:

  • 5 years, unlimited kilometres – Hyundai’s warranty outstrips rivals’ three-year guarantees.
  • 7.5 seconds – The i30 SR is easily the quickest small car finalist to 100km/h.
  • 395 litres – It also has the biggest boot.

Verbatim: “The i30 looks like a premium small car – it comes across as having that layer of polish on it” – Stephen Ottley

What we liked: Punchy engine, sports car interior, mega warranty

What we didn’t: Not cheap, firm ride on 18-inch wheels, automatic quirks

Price: From $28,950 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol

Power: 150kW at 6000rpm

Torque: 265Nm at 1500-4500rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 7.5L/100km



Finalist: Ford Focus Trend

The Ford Focus Trend is something of a favourite for Drive, having won this category in 2015 and 2016 with its combination of turbocharged grunt, well-sorted dynamics and decent value.

Ford raised eyebrows with the current-generation Focus, ditching its budget-minded entry point in favour of the Trend model seen here. Though it may be the lowest point on the blue oval’s small car totem, it doesn’t miss out on good hardware, benefiting from a turbocharged 1.5-litre engine that lends excellent thrust.

Ford’s decision to ditch its troublesome “PowerShift” dual–clutch automatic transmission was also a good one, as this car’s conventional torque converter auto has proved smoother and less troublesome in the real world.

Dynamics remain a strong point for the Focus, which handled our emergency tests and road loop with impressive composure.

Judges also praised Ford’s latest 8-inch touchscreen and “Sync3” infotainment system, which features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as its clever programmable “MyKey” that allows owners to add an additional layer of safety for teen or novice drivers.

But its interior fell down in other areas. A sea of drab plastic, it doesn’t feel as special or well-finished as other cars in this category. Packaging also emerged as a problematic area for the Ford, which feels cosy in the cabin while offering the least cargo space of this group.

While it has no bearing on the judging process, we are still surprised by Ford’s lack of sales success with the Focus, an excellent vehicle currently sitting 10th on the small car sales charts – it hasn’t resonated with Australian drivers.

The numbers that matter:

  • $2300 – An optional technology pack brings autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, blind spot monitoring and more.  
  • 316 litres – Ford’s contender has the smallest boot here
  • $1495 – The Focus is the cheapest car to service over 60,000 kilometres.

Verbatim: “The Focus is still a sweet car, it’s completely underrated in this market,” – Andrew MacLean.

What we liked: Handling dynamics, engine performance, servicing costs.

What we didn’t: Interior presentation and packaging, active safety a $2300 option, cargo space.  

Price and specifications:

Price: From $24,390 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo

Power: 132kW at 6000rpm

Torque: 240Nm at 1600-5000rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 6.2L/100km