Xanadu the Hyundai i30 in Warrumbungle National Park.
A few months ago we took the best-selling car in the world, the Toyota Corolla, on an Australian Outback test drive to see whether it deserved its prestigious title. It did. We were impressed by the new generation’s safety features and even declared it the new benchmark for cars in this segment, the most popular among passenger car segments. In Australia however, with the new generation came a 15% price hike for the Corolla now starting at AUD $22.870 (14.300€ or US$15.900) and from AUD $25.870 for the hybrid variant we tested. This coincided with an even sharper rise for the Mazda3 now starting at AUD $24.990 (15.600€ or US$17.400). This has created a vacuum where the Hyundai i30, priced from AUD $19.990 (12.500€ or US$13.900) and Kia Cerato, available from AUD $20.990 (13.100€ or US$14.600), have flourished, prompting some customers to call the i30 and Cerato “the new Corollas”: cheap all-rounders. 2019 Australian sales tell the story best: the Corolla is down -16.1% to 27.691 and the Mazda3 down -17.8% to 23.654 whereas the i30 is stable at +0.1% to 26.443 and the Kia Cerato shoots up 16.4% to 20.270.
This is where we’re taking Xanadu the Hyundai i30.
You’re looking at the four best-selling passenger cars in Australia, all fitting within the overall Top 10 but the order they come in is likely to change in 2020, with the i30 and Cerato securing all the momentum. The Toyota Australia marketing department is sticking to its guns, saying it has no plans to release a “base” Corolla priced under the symbolic AUD $20.000 that would be able to compete with the i30 and Cerato, putting the priority on profit rather than volume. Even though this dynamic is currently happening in Australia only, it is likely to be replicated in some developed markets over the coming years, giving it a very important and interesting dimension. We will therefore take a rental Hyundai i30 which is supposed to be bare-bones, therefore close to the AUD $19.990 model. Our last Test Drive, a Toyota RAV4, was baptised Vance, and I have a surprise Test Drive in store for you yet to be published that has snapped the W-name, so we’ll call our Hyundai i30 Xanadu. We’ll take Xanadu in Northern and Central New South Wales departing from Sydney as per the map above, totally around 1.600 km.
Warrumbungle National Park and its inhabitants.
Our first stop is the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, roughly 550 km (340 mi) northwest of Sydney. It offers volcanic landforms unrivalled in Australia such as the Breadknife pictured above, and is a unique transition zone between the arid western and wetter coastal areas of the country. The Park is an important national wildlife refuge, and indeed kangaroos are everywhere to be seen: along the road, peacefully eating near the walking tracks, even welcoming me near the Visitor Centre… It doesn’t get any more Australian than this! Faithful to their legendary unpredictability, kangaroos – both on the way to Coonabarabran from Sydney the evening before and in Warrumbungle throughout the day – routinely leap right onto the road before me and test the braking of the Hyundai i30. The fact that I didn’t hit any is a testimony to their efficiency. If the i30 can only muster a traditional contact key (no start button like on the Corolla) and the window opening is surprisingly laborious, the rest of the car is very ergonomic with loads of very intuitive commands on the steering wheel, a clear-cut cruise control, a well-levelled auto gearbox and very good sound system. First impressions show that despite the lower price, the i30 doesn’t pale in comparison with the Corolla.
Drought-affected area near Come by Chance.
Next we are headed north to Gwabegar and to my surprise the bitumen ends to give way to a dirt track for roughly 80 km (50 mi) up until Pillaga. Roughly 175 km (110 mi) north of Coonabarabran, we find ourselves in Come by Chance. Yes, this is actually the name of a “town” in a very arid part of the State. The population is supposed to be 125 but all I saw was one house with a barking dog… When George and William Colless purchased a sheep station in the area in the 1850s, they were surprised at being able to make such a purchase, and called the station Come by Chance. The town was later named after this property. Drought has affected this area – located near Walgett – particularly hard, with no rain for up to 3 years in some stretches of land. The soil is so dry that sand is taking over in large swaths of what originally were cereal fields as shown in the last picture above. No hay can be collected locally to feed cattle so it needs to be imported from further north in Queensland on long road trains such as the one pictured above. A few more days playing around with the commands on the i30’s steering wheel confirm these are one of the highlights of the car. The left commands let you turn up volume, go to previous or next song through Apple CarPlay and pick up a phone call, and on the right the cruise control can be completely adjusted, no need to touch any buttons anywhere on the central console. Something the Corolla (frustratingly) doesn’t do: when in a steep descent, the i30 automatically gears down and breaks to respect the cruise speed.
The car landscape of rural northern New South Wales: beware kangaroos!
The majority of cars encountered in this part of Australia is equipped with “roo-bars”: sometimes gigantic metal bars to absorb the shock of hitting kangaroos on the road. It’s a very simple indicator of the abundance of wildlife in the vicinity: the bigger the roo-bars, the more kangaroos around. Toyota Hilux, Land Cruiser 70 pickup and Land Cruiser 200 are by far the most common on the road, with the Ford Ranger and other pickups such as the Mitsubishi Triton, Mazda BT-50 and Holden Colorado also very popular.
The quirky mining town of Lightning Ridge and its black opal.
We are now headed 125 km (80 mi) further north to Lightning Ridge, population 2.600 and one of only a few typical Australian outback opal mining town alongside Coober Pedy which we visited with a Toyota C-HR and later in a Toyota Prado, and White Cliffs which we reached on a Toyota Corolla. As I’m sure you all already know (?), Lightning Ridge is the black opal Capital of the world. Australia has been the world’s leading source of opal for over 150 years, having produced 10 times more opal than the rest of the world combined, and more black opals have been produced at Lightning Ridge than at any other location in the world. Unlike ordinary opals, black opals have carbon and iron oxide trace elements present, causing the unusual darkness of the stone. Because of their dark body tone, the rainbow colliers in a black opal stand out much better than in lighter opals, hence their higher value. The black opal pictured above is only 14.08 x 12.18 x 4.24mm but worth US$7.500 (6.700€). The Walk-in-Mine is a highlight, full of Australian vernacular and a great source of information about how opal forms and is mined. The town is also peppered with mural paintings by John Murray such as the emus above. The heat is at its most intense during the entire trip, but the i30 is accommodating with unfailing aircon.
The drought finally breaks near Parkes.
The last stop of our adventure with Xanadu the Hyundai i30 is Parkes in central New South Wales, some 500 km (310 mi) south of Lightning Ridge. In what is shaping up to be a pattern, quite a few of the Test Drives I made across drought-affected areas in Australia have resulted in the first rains in sometimes years – including our trip to Cameron Corner in a Haval H9. As if on cue, on the second last day of the trip, rain suddenly hits the windscreen, automatically triggering the wipers – including the back window ones when in reverse, which I would find out later on when parking. This is national news (see above) as some areas hadn’t seen any rain in 3 years, and towns such as Bourke hadn’t seen that much rain in 8 years (!). The Parkes Radio Telescope became famous thanks to the film The Dish (2000) featuring Sam Neill which told a somewhat fictionalised account of the telescope’s role in relaying live footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The radio waves from cosmic objects are extremely weak by the time they reach earth, hence requiring such installations to capture them. One piece a trivia I found astonishing: the power received from a strong cosmic radio source by the Parkes telescope is about a hundredth of a millionth of a millionth of a watt: it would take about 70.000 years to heat one drop of water but one degree Celsius with this power!
So is the Hyundai i30 up to the fight against the Toyota Corolla? Yes, in the sense that it provides a cheaper alternative to the Corolla that is far from being bare-bones, especially when compared with the previous generation Corolla that was offered by the same rental company a few years back. Let’s not forget that there is a AUD $6.000 difference in pricing (3.750€ or US$4.200) between the base i30 and the base Corolla Hybrid we tested. This price difference covers some safety features such as road sign recognition, luxuries such as a start button replacing the traditional contact key and of course the hybrid engine. If you can do without it, the i30 is a perfectly credible cheaper alternative, which is enough of a big news in itself when the benchmark is the best-selling car in the world.
- Very ergonomic steering wheel commands
- Very intuitive cruise control. Actually breaks to respect the cruising speed when on a steep descent
- Sharp pricing
- Apple Carplay, reverse camera
- Well levelled auto gearbox
- Great sound system
- Spacious boot
- Back window windscreen wipers automatically turn on when you reverse in the rain
- Traditional key vs. Start button in the Corolla
- Windows only open completely with a long press of the button all the way, not just a touch
- No road sign recognition like on the Corolla
- No hybrid variant
- Exterior design now rather bland compared to the new gen Corolla – who would have thought?
- Nothing exceptional in the car, not particularly exciting but nothing outrageous either – “the new Corolla”?