Hyundai has a come a long way from its perceived reputation of “adequate budget” cars to its current status of a modern premium brand. The South Korean auto giant was a fringe player in the late 1990s locally with its “cheap” products, adequate specification all wrapped up in timid styling.In the past five years, the automaker began its new model assault on South Africa with the debut of its “i” nomenclature with the launch of its i10, i20, i30 and ix35. SWING AND A MISSModels which retained their traditional names have also done incredibly well such as the Sonata, Elantra and Accent.Not every model introduced since the automaker’s resurgence has been a success as its outgoing i30 was a “swing and a miss” for the brand in SA. The hatchback was marginally larger and more powerful than the hugely successful i20 but carried a hefty price tag over its sibling. Globally the i30 was a hit with over 360 000 sales recorded since its launch in 2007.Image gallery!Hyundai went back to the drawing board and in 2012 launches a model that has been 48 months in the making – the new i30.The new model is a complte redesign and bears only a passing resemblance to the outgoing model. The brand’s “fluidic sculpture” design language is realised in another striking model on the market which the automaker hopes will redefine the luxury compact hatchback market. The new i30 sports Hyundai’s hexagonal grille, assertive curves along its flanks and a sporty rear. The new model has attractive alloys - 16-inch for the 1.6 and a special 17-inch design for the 1.8. Even naysayers of the brand will have to concede that Hyundai has launched some fantastic-looking vehicles.The overall length (4.3m) and width (1.7m) has been increased, while the height has been reduced (1.4m). Despite its new design, I can't help but notice the i30 has some resemblance to Chevrolet's Sonic.DRIVING ITThe new i30 is available in two petrol options (1.6 and 1.8) with a choice of six-speed auto or manual transmission. The more powerful 1.8 is only available in manual guise.The 1.6 is capable of 95kW at 6300-rpm and has a torque peak of 157Nm at 4850rpm. The manual claims 6.4 litres/100km, the auto 6.8.The 1.8 is capable of 110kW at 6500rpm and 178Nm at 4700rpm and comes with a six-manual and has a claimed fuel consumption of 6.5 litres/100km.So what's the new i30 like to drive? In short – enjoyable, though missing some much needed oomph.If you’ve driven the Elantra you’ll be right at home as the new model borrows the engines from its sibling and has similar handling characteristics. If you’re going to copy somebody it might as well be yourself and the i30 does not disappoint out on the road. The vehicle is poised, nimble and pleasurable to drive. The i30 has three steering modes – Normal (default), Comfort (lighter steering for parking) and Sport (Stiffens the steering wheel for taking on twisties). The i30 makes for a great city car and maintains a balanced ride through twists and bends. Not exactly grin-inducing stuff but the car's stability systems allow you to push the i30 knowing it will get you out of a bind should you be over-enthusiastic in cornering. Hyundai has no plans to introduce a dual-cluth gearbox or diesel variant in SA though it's currently testing a turbocharged engine...PREMIUM CABINHyundai’s fluidic design continues in its cabin. The interior is decked out in black gloss plastic materials, cloth and partial leather (1.8 only). You get the sense that Hyundai’s designers have worked just as hard on the exterior as they have inside as the interior is a pleasing space to be. The i30 is packed with a high level of standard kit including dual-zone aircon, parking radar (front and rear), power side mirrors, auto lock doors, cruise control, keyless entry and central locking. The 1.8 has alloy pedals.The new i30 takes on the likes of the Toyota Auris, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Opel Astra and its Elantra sibling. The vehicle comes across as a higher-end Accent and is marginally more expensive than the premium Elantra. If you’re in the market for a large premium hatchback the i30 makes more sense than the fully specced Accent (R181 900). It will be tough to choose the newcomer over the Elantra (2012 SA Car of the Year winner). The i30 is marginally pricier than the Elantra derivatives, especially the top-of-the range variant of its sibling (Elantra 1.8 - R 244 900).Overall Hyundai has once again pushed the envelope in terms of vehicle design with another stunner added to its line-up. Will it be enough to knock VW’s Golf off its perch? Hyundai certainly hopes so but is under no illusions about how brand-loyal SA buyers can be when it comes to German products and the Korean automaker has set itself a modest sales target of 250 i30s a month.Prices:Hyundai i30 1.6 – R229 900Hyundai i30 1.6 auto – R247 900Hyundai i30 1.8 – R249 900The i30 comes standard with a five-year or 150 000km warranty, five-year or 150 000km roadside assistance programme and five-year or 90 000km service plan.