Hyundai i30 N-Line, Kia Cerato GT and Holden Astra SV-R. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
Hyundai i30 N-Line, Kia Cerato GT and Holden Astra SV-R. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

COMPARISON TEST: Best affordable sporty 'warm' hatch

SOME hatch buyers like it hot, choosing small cars with scintillating performance, figure-hugging seats and uncompromising handling for a substantial premium over the regular model.

Others take a more sensible approach. So-called warm hatches represent a compromise for those who want to flaunt a new car with a degree of performance car panache without harming their spine, licence or wallet.

 

Hyundai i30 N-Line Premium

Value-packed turbo wallop helped the Hyundai i30 N rattle the performance car pecking order in 2018, something the less potent N-Line hopes to emulate this year.

It's no accident the N-Line looks near-identical to the i30 N. The big difference is under the bonnet - there is a smaller 1.6-litre turbo (150kW/265Nm), paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as opposed to the i30 N's six-speed manual.

Sounds familiar? Hyundai previously used the same engine and independent rear suspension in the discontinued i30 SR.

The Hyundai i30 N-Line looks the most impressive of the bunch. Thomas Wielecki.
The Hyundai i30 N-Line looks the most impressive of the bunch. Thomas Wielecki.

Priced from $29,490 plus on-road costs in N-Line auto form or $34,990 plus on-roads for the N-Line Premium tested here, the Hyundai brings 18-inch wheels wrapped in quality Michelin performance rubber, along with a sporty body kit, black-bezel headlights and dual exhausts.

The array of tech includes autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and eight-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The N-Line Premium adds LED headlights, heated and cooled seats, sunroof, seven-speaker audio and more. It's well equipped but expensive at almost $39,000 drive-away.

Strapping into well-bolstered, logo embossed sports seats, the N-Line's cabin presents well with red stitching, seat belts and air vent surrounds.

Drivers take hold of a circular, thick steering wheel with oversized shift paddles that will no doubt be shared with an auto i30 N due later this year.

Disappointingly, the Hyundai's steering feels numb and heavy on the road, particularly in sports mode.

The Hyundai and the Kia share the same underpinnings. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
The Hyundai and the Kia share the same underpinnings. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

It rides with more composure than the Kia or Holden. The i30's polish may come from its comparatively heavy weight, which saps performance and agility when pressing on. It's a competent car that takes the middle ground, aiming to please most without excelling in any one area.

Kia Cerato GT

Unlike its Hyundai cousin, the Cerato GT does not have a bigger brother to look up to. This is the peak of Kia's small car range, packing the same engine and transmission as the Hyundai, with different electronic tuning.

A little larger than the Hyundai, Kia's contender wins points for practicality thanks to a more spacious boot and the brand's seven-year warranty (the i30 and Astra have five-year cover).

It loses ground for expensive servicing, requiring customers to set aside $2655 for the first 60,000km of ownership - $835 more than the Hyundai and $870 more than the Holden.

The Kia has a jiggly ride. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
The Kia has a jiggly ride. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

Value is still impressive - priced from $31,990 drive-away, the Cerato GT undercuts the standard i30 N-Line while bringing kit to rival Hyundai's fully loaded Premium variant. There are adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled leather sports seats, similar eight-inch touchscreen and premium eight-speaker JBL audio.

The Cerato doesn't look as convincing out the outside, where naff elements such as cheap-looking red wheel caps let the side down. But the interior is a winner, landing punches through luxury-look ribbed seats with red stitching and flat-bottom steering wheel.

The Kia's cabin has superior storage options including a clever two-tier tray with inductive smartphone charging that makes Holden's moulded dash cradle feel about as modern as an in-car fax machine.

The Kia has a well thoughout interior. Photo:Thomas Wielecki.
The Kia has a well thoughout interior. Photo:Thomas Wielecki.

Fake engine noise plumbed through the Kia's speakers is a crude facsimile for the real thing, serving up an irritating drone that undoes the good work of its sports exhaust.

The Cerato's ride feels jiggly and can crash over bumps, while the steering lacks the feel of the Astra.

The active cruise control will slow to walking speed when the car in front stops but won't pull to a complete halt.

Holden Astra RS-V

Remember the Holden Commodore SV6? Holden's family sedan combined V8-inspired looks with humble (and frugal) V6 power, an irresistible combination that made it the best-selling model in the range.

The Astra RS-V has a cracker of an engine. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
The Astra RS-V has a cracker of an engine. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

The Hyundai takes a similar approach but the Astra RS-V follows a different path.

Looking much like a regular Astra - save for fussy 18-inch wheels and a splash of chrome trim - the RS-V flies under the radar while packing a 1.6-litre turbo (147kW/up to 300Nm).

The Astra weighs in about 80kg less than the Hyundai and its stronger engine helps it haul noticeably harder than rivals. Its conventional (as opposed to dual-clutch) six-speed automatic is less hesitant at low speeds and does a better job choosing the right gear in sports mode - which is good, as it's the only one here without paddle-shifters.

It also misses out on such niceties as power adjustable sports seats and the rear seats go without a central armrest or air vents. But it brings luxuries such as heated and cooled leather seats, heated steering wheel and a wide array of driver aids including AEB and active cruise.

A cheaper entry price helps justify a lack of tinsel. It's officially priced from $33,190 plus on-road costs but has been on sale for $28,990 drive-away for some time now, giving it a key advantage in the showroom. The Astra is also the cheapest to service and the least thirsty of the trio.

The interior has heated and cool seats. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.
The interior has heated and cool seats. Photo: Thomas Wielecki.

There's no veneer of sportiness in an Astra, which looks plain inside and out compared to the Hyundai and Kia.

But it's better to drive, with a lower centre of gravity, far more communicative steering and a chassis willing to entertain keen drivers.

Lighter on its feet, the Holden doesn't rely on meaty rubber to deliver cornering prowess, delivering poise the other pair can't match.

Verdict

Kia throws everything it can find at the Cerato GT for a sharp price, though it doesn't quite deliver on the road. Similarly, the Hyundai arguably represents style over substance in an aesthetically appealing package that doesn't quite borrow enough from the i30 N. The Holden is faster and sharper to drive while being the cheapest to buy and run. It's our pick here, even if the neighbours are less likely to be wowed.

Holden Astra RS-V

Price: From $28,990 drive-away (MY18.5)

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km, $1785 for 60,000km

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 147kW/300Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, blind spot alert

Thirst: 6.3L/100km

Spare: Space-saver

Luggage: 360L

 

Hyundai i30 N-Line Premium

Price: About $39,000 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km, $1820 for 60,000km

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 150kW/265Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise control, lane keep assist

Thirst: 7.1L/100km

Spare: Space-saver

Luggage: 395L

 

Kia Cerato GT

Price: From $31,990 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 7 years/unlimited km, $2655 for 60,000km

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 150kW/265Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert

Thirst: 6.8L/10km

Spare: Space-saver

Luggage: 434L


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