HYUNDAI'S growing reputation will no doubt be given a shot in the arm by the recently launched i30SR, a sporty small hatch that will do much to crinkle the Korean manufacturer's penchant for practicality ahead of fun.
No one quite knows what the SR stands for exactly but Hyundai is confident the car will boost sales in the small car segment especially with performance developed by a local tuning program.
Ten months in the making, the SR sports a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in lieu of the 1.8-litre petrol and 1.6-litre offerings presently powering the i30 range as well real improvements to the front and rear dampers.
The SR boasts a 20% increase in power, courtesy of - believe it or not - some ingenious incremental tweaking from some of the best engineers in the business and is quicker to 100km by more than three seconds despite being some 30kg heavier.
The SR, like the i30 Elite on which it is based, is familiar with modern-day trappings combining a somewhat funky feel with efficiency for a cabin that is functional but still has a bit of zing.
It is stylish without being too exciting but the brush metal highlights, textured materials and leather and leatherette features manage to offer an overall feel of quality.
Seats are comfortable with good support under the thighs but could do with a touch more bolstering.
The console is nicely set out with the dials and buttons most used close to hand and the steering wheel and gear stick feel good to the touch. Head and legroom is generous for a small car with a decent cargo area expanding from 378 litres to 1316 litres with the rear seats folded.
On the road
This is a warm hatch not a hot one, so don't expect a throaty growl or blink of the eye acceleration. What you will get is a fun, sparky drive in a car that retains its practicality.
The i30SR has been made specifically for the Australian market and engineers, acting on the input of British racing legend David Potter, have spent thousands of hours fine-tuning the suspension and tweaking the ergonomics to deliver a sporty performance.
Sitting strong on its haunches the SR is nicely balanced, agile around the city and responsive under foot.
It strides perfectly into corners, although there can be some drift when pushed, is keen to take instruction and exhibits a restrained controlled hand whatever you throw at it.
You do feel the bumps a bit but
nowhere near as much as you would a hot hatch.
The gearbox is smooth with the clutch releasing at just the right height and even a rather tall third gear is not annoying enough to sour the experience.
What do you get?
Inclusions mirror those in the i30 Elite and feature among others automatic headlights and wipers, infotainment system with 17.7cm touch-screen, sat nav, reverse sensors, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, push button start with proximity key, cruise control and dual zone climate control.
The SR also adds leather upholstery, electric driver's seat, alloy sports pedals, Xenon headlights, LED rear lamps and SR badges.
The panoramic glass sunroof is an optional extra at $2000.
Safety is five-star with seven airbags and an active suite including anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control and a vehicle stability management system which helps the driver maintain control by applying counter-steering assistance to guide the vehicle back into the correct steering direction.
Hyundai is looking to the Mazda3 SP25 (and the Ford Focus Sport (from $31,690) as the main competition but you could also add the Holden Cruze SRi-V ($26,490), Kia Cerato SLi (from $27,990) and Nissan Pulsar SSS (from $29,240) into the mix.
The appeal of the SR lies in its ability to provide a sporty drive but still manage to do everyday tasks with ease. Of course having four doors helps too.
Official figures are 7.2 litres/100km for the manual 7.5L/100km for the auto. Our manual test car was far from frugal coming it at close to 8.7L/100km admittedly with more city than highway driving. Hyundai offers a fantastic warranty and three years capped price servicing.
The i30SR is a stylish package with rear spoiler and diffuser and sporty front grille combining nicely with 17-inch alloys and a modern rear lights package for a flirty look. It could be harder and more aggressive but it remains pleasant.
It is a credit to Hyundai that it managed such a performance boost with minimal changes - and in just 10 months.
The SR will be a nice compromise for those who need the practical aspects of a sensible car but still want to feel the occasional thrill of a good drive.
One can't help but think however that Hyundai would be even better served if they pushed the envelope a tad more.
Model: Hyundai i30 SR
Details: Four-door front wheel drive warm hatch
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto with electronic sequential manual mode.
Engine: 2.0-litre 16-valve DOHC petrol generating maximum power of 129kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 209Nm @ 4700rpm.
Consumption: 7.2 litres/100km (combined average, manual), 7.5L/100km (a).
CO2: 172g/km (manual); 178 (auto).
Bottom line: From $27,990 (auto at $29,990).
What matters most
What we liked: Nice handling, smart interior, value for money.
What we'd like to see: Cutting edge looks, a bit more grunt, extra exhaust soundtrack.
Warranty and servicing: Hyundai offers a five-year unlimited kilometres warranty with capped-price servicing - $219 for each service over the first three years. Servicing is annual or every 15,000km.