Life begins at i40

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FAST hardly does justice to the speedy way Hyundai has shaped its model range to suit European tastes, quickly enough to have some more famous makes quaking in their boots.

A few years ago the Korean car maker built dowdy cars that sold on price and the promise of reasonable reliability, but nothing more.

Not any longer. In double quick time the range has been revamped and can now look the European opposition squarely in the eye – and even outstare some of them.

The car on test here is a shining example of how far Hyundai has travelled since the days of the Stellar, Pony and Lantra.

Shaped and engineered in Germany, with a chief designer who has worked for BMW, the i40 is built in Korea and looks modern and swoopy enough in profile to have recently driven away from its motor show debut.

The interior is just as convincing, with decent quality plastics and masses of room; enough to make the i40 Tourer a fine way of moving four adults and their luggage around the north of England on a cultural quest.

In more than 500 miles of mixed motoring the test car managed 51mpg and impressed every inch of the way. Heading home on roads made treacherous by a sudden snowfall, the economy climbed to 55mpg, a useful consolation for so many hours of concentration on the slippery road ahead.

The i40 Tourer range runs from £18,225 to £25,895 and most buyers are being tempted by the 1.7 diesel fitted to the test car. Cheaper but thirstier 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol engines are expected to take only one in five sales.

Today’s test car came with flashy Blue Drive badges, indicating that some modest measures had been taken to make it more economical than the already frugal car it was based on.

Differences helping justify the £300 premium for going blue are tyres that roll more easily, an engine that cuts out when you stop (then starts again automatically) and a cunning flap in the radiator intake that closes at speed to cut air drag.

That all helps keep down fuel bills, but easily as impressive as the car’s economy was the way it rode. Doubtless thanks to unfashionably tall tyre sidewalls on smallish alloy wheels the i40 Tourer felt almost limousine like in the way it dismissed rough roads. That’s a big asset when you’re piling on the miles.

Performance, even pretty fully loaded was fine, although the engine enjoys more revs than some diesels and long hills found me changing down in the light-to-use gearbox more than expected.

The rakish rear might hint that style took precedence over boot capacity but there was bags of room for our... bags on the way to our hotel and still space for the inevitable souvenir purchases (yes, including a wooden duck) on the way home.

This mid-range model lacks for nothing in specification. Highlights include notably clear satellite navigation and a radio/CD sound system that wouldn’t feel out of place in a much dearer car.

Add in a warranty that makes rivals blush and you have one of the most sensible family cars I can recall in recent months. Thoroughly impressive.