Manufacturers take note… beware the ‘i’s of March
Breaking through the clouds, Cornwall suddenly comes alive, the sun bathing the grassy, undulating landscape in pools of light, the rocky coastline holding back the sea’s incessant demands for attention
I crane my neck as the plane tilts her wings and heads inland for Newquay after a 50-minute climb to 24,000ft and back down again from Manchester with FlyBe.
This is only the third time I have visited the southwest corner of England. The first occasion involved a drizzly couple of days under canvas whilst on honeymoon. Fed up of being wet and miserable, we decamped and headed eastwards along the M4 to Heathrow, where we parked up and watched the planes taking off and landing, thinking of what might have been if we had only booked that holiday on foreign soil. The second occasion was as Promotions Manager for the Nickerson Seed Company, when I took a journalist across from Penzance to St Mary’s in the Scilly Isles on a potato production factfinding mission. The weather turned suddenly, and we were ‘marooned’ for a couple of days – which was no hardship – until we managed to blag a return journey to the mainland by boat. Within days of my return the same British Airways Helicopters commercial Sikorsky S-61 helicopter which I had travelled on crashed into the southern Celtic Sea in poor visibility whilst en route from Penzance to St Mary’s. With only six of the 26 people on board surviving, this was to be Britain’s worst helicopter civil aviation accident at the time. A sobering thought, indeed.
So, third time lucky you may be thinking. Well, yes, when I eventually arrive that is, but let me backpedal to Manchester Airport. The last few days had been manic, and I had been meeting myself coming backwards. Passing through security, I am told to take my watch off. Fine, but I forget to pick it up again, and am in Duty Free when I realise. A £2,000+ Tag Heuer Calibre 5 going begging. I head back to security, and thank goodness it is there. I then pop into the washroom to freshen up, and inadvertently leave my passport in a cubicle. Moments later, I return to find the same cubicle occupied. I knock on the door, and my passport is discreetly passed underneath, like some clip from a spy movie. Time for a recharge. I head to the Escape Lounge and partake of a light lunch and coffee. Keeping a steady eye on the monitor, I note that Gate 16 is open for passengers. I join the queue to board, hand over my passport and check-in slip… and the machine suddenly bleeps. Cue FlyBe attendant. “Are you travelling to Exeter, sir?” Um, no, Newquay. “Well, in that case, sir, you should be at Gate …” For ****’s sake, can this day get any worse!?” Thankfully, no. I bumpy descent through the clouds, and there, in all her glory, beckons the UK’s most popular family holiday destination.
You may possibly be wondering where all this preamble is leading. Basically, to a set of car keys to a pre-launch Hyundai i30 SE Nav 1.0 T-GDi 120PS in a striking Engine Red. Why? Because the manufacturer kindly invited me to check out models from the New Generation i30 UK product line-up. The i30 has played a significant part in Hyundai’s transformation over the past decade, with over 117,000 i30s having been sold in the UK since the first generation was launched a decade ago. The second generation i30 achieved almost 70,000 sales, and, riding on the back of those impressive figures, it is predicted that the all-new i30 model will confidently build upon the success of its predecessor.
Regular followers of this webzine will know that I am not a motoring journalist, per se. To be frank, there is absolutely no point in my sticking my head under a car’s bonnet, because I know not what I am looking at. That department I happily leave in the more than capable hands of our Motoring Editor, Iain Robertson. In fact, the last time I did venture into this alien world, my brother-in-law told me to go back into the house, because he was somewhat embarrassed that I was sporting a pair of pink washing-up gloves, just in case I dirtied by fingernails. Mind you, he was not particularly taken with my man-bag, either, but I will leave that one for another day.
My destination is St Mawes, about 30-plus miles distant from the airport, around the winding roads of a county steeped in myth and legend. The route had been pre-set into the sat-nav, and I am also handed a map and contact numbers for on-the-ground Hyundai personnel, should the unforeseen occur. Perhaps Hyundai had received a tip-off about my predilection for turning left when the roadhead sign explicitly indicates right. Once seated behind the wheel, one thing which immediately catches my eye is the dashboard mounted 8-inch navigation touch screen, which integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features, its clever ergonomic design allowing the driver to keep focussed on the road, with merely a flicker of a glance for reassurance.
Perhaps it is the constantly winding roads that make for a steadier pace, but I am more than happy to enjoy the growing familiarity of the i30. Working my way nonchalantly through the gears, I find the car to be comfortable, extremely responsive and, yes, extraordinarily quiet. On several occasions I cock my ear to check whether the engine is still alive. Funnily enough, this comment is to be even more pertinent the following morning when, as part of the driving event, I have the opportunity to experience Hyundai’s IONIQ Electric Premium SE. “Be careful when approaching pedestrians from behind, because they cannot hear you,” is the advisory from one of Hyundai’s extremely obliging staff.
I follow the single-track road which leads down steeply to the harbour of St Mawes, where I check into the idyllically situated boutique hotel, The Idle Rocks, on the harbourside. I am shown to one of 19 individually designed bedrooms, complete with Juliet balcony and wonderful views over the harbour. The Idle Rocks has undergone several metamorphoses, and has a strong motoring connection, as the current owner is David Richards, former world champion rally co-driver, former chairman of Aston Martin, and chairman of Prodrive, which he created in 1984 to engineer and run the newly formed Rothmans Porsche Rally Team in the European and Middle East Rally Championships.
My fellow diners include Hyundai Motor UK, President and CEO, Tony Whitehorn, and Product Manager Min Kim. It is a rather lavish affair, with a six-course taster menu consumed in the chic restaurant which overlooks the harbour. The menu comprises sea trout rillettes, wasabi, dill and brown bread, followed by chicken ravioli, sherry, mushroom and xato (a sauce traditionally made with almonds, hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, salt and the nyora pepper). Next to arrive is roast hake on a bed of brandane, celeriac and seaweed, followed by a succulent beef sirloin with caramelised onion, red wine and smoked butter. Sweet is a hot chocolate fondant, hazelnut, white chocolate and lime. The dinner is nothing short of superb, and I imagine it will not be long before those well deserved rosettes begin appearing over the front door of the Idle Rocks.
Over dinner, Tony Whitehorn explains that the original i30 was the model which sowed the seeds of Hyundai’s growth, and the company is confident that the New i30 will bring customers into the brand with its “great looks, technology and confident dynamic abilities”. In a nutshell, the latest line-up is showing a new level of maturity. “That says something about us as a manufacturer, and where we have got to in our growth,” says Tony. “It is interesting to see how design can reflect the manufacturer.” In terms of design, the company is introducing a newly developed Cascading grille, a further development of the Hexagonal grille with a downward tapering shape created by adding a concave element. The Cascading grille will become the new family identity for Hyundai models in the future. There, it seems, begins the familiarity; a functional yet clever way for the public to identify Hyundai as a brand moving forward. Inside the car are areas which are more ergonomically friendly, such as the ‘floating screen’ of the optional eight-inch touch screen on the dashboard, which integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features, allowing drivers to stay tuned to the traffic ahead, thanks to its ergonomic position. Even as a company insider, this is something which Tony admits to being particularly impressed by.
Last year, the UK car market grew by two-and-a-half per cent, despite Brexit and the doom and gloom predictions that it churned up, post referendum. In that same period, Hyundai grew by five per cent. Out of last year’s top ten manufacturers, only four were to embrace any growth. Three were premium manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, BWM and Audi. The fourth was Hyundai. In fact, 2016 was a record year for the manufacturer, the movement of 92,500 cars realising the biggest market share Hyundai had ever enjoyed. “To put that into perspective, eight years ago the figure was 27,000, so that is a massive increase, and perhaps says why we are the fastest growing manufacturer in the UK,” says Tony, who finds the way in which consumers are buying vehicles today of particular interest. Over 2,000 vehicles have been purchased through Hyundai’s two digital shops in the past two years. For a traditional industry which has sold cars the same way for the last hundred years through the dealership network, the idea of ‘Click to Buy’ may still be anathema to many, but there is a definite sea change in terms of a desire for transparency. Since 6th January 2017, customers have been able to visit Hyundai’s website and buy on line. A highly impressive figure of 206,000 people visited the website in the first 35 days, with 650 setting up an account, and 27,000 configuring their car. The first purchase was actually made within the first 36 hours.
If Hyundai is trying to change people’s mindset in the way they purchase a vehicle, then it is working. Interestingly, of the 206,000 visitors mentioned previously, over 50 per cent went on line using their mobile phone, and most of those were on line between the hours of 7pm and 9pm, when all the dealerships are closed. Having said that, the customer still expects some sort of a relationship. Many people are closing their eyes to the ‘clicks and bricks’ way of buying cars, because they believe it will bring about the death of the dealership. Instead, predicts Tony, it will only enhance the relationship which the customer wants and expects.
The following morning I take the keys to the IONIQ Hybrid Premium SE in a Marina Blue, a colourway which is quite appropriate, considering where I am. I enjoy a leisurely drive by the harbour, passing a cluster of small shops and idyllic properties, to St Mawes Castle, one of the best preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses, and certainly the most elaborately decorated of them all. This was one of a chain of forts built between 1539 and 1545 to counter an invasion threat from Catholic France and Spain. Guarding the important anchorage of Carrick Roads, St Mawes shared the task with Pendennis Castle, which I could just make out through the morning mist, which hung languorously over the Fal Estuary.
Although St Mawes Castle was designed to mount heavy ‘ship-sinking’ guns, particular care was taken with its embellishment, and it is still bedecked with carved Latin inscriptions in praise of King’s Henry VIII and his son Edward VI. The castle grounds stretch down from the small car park to the waters of the Fal Estuary, where, on a clear day, it is possible to enjoy stunning views across the waters.
I drive the IONIQ along more meandering country lanes back to Newquay Airport, and once again am highly impressed by the level of comfort the car affords. Hyundai states that the driving performance of the IONIQ line-up is among the best in its segment, with ride and handling, as well as noise, vibration and harshness levels having been tuned to contribute toward a superior ride quality, while insulation in the dashboard minimises engine noise. In fact, the IONIQ brings to the segment a range of considerations that other hybrid, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles may have compromised on in the past.
Rewind to the New Generation Hyundai i30, which will be made available to UK customers in March. This, the manufacturer’s ‘DNA’ car, represents the core of the brand in Europe, and the answer to changing contemporary values and customer preferences toward technology-driven solutions, individuality in style and flexibility. Building upon the success of its predecessor, the all-new model could well prove to be the car for everyone. There is certainly something harmonious going on here. Digital natives will love the infotainment and connectivity features, whilst everyone will undoubtedly enjoy the quality and reliability, underpinned by Hyundai’s unique, industry-leading, five-year unlimited mileage warranty. Last, and certainly not least in today’s day and age, is the excellent value for money.
Having enjoyed poodling around Cornwall’s roads, I can see the range appealing to singles and families across the generations. Much thought has clearly gone into its precise and tensed lines and the sculpted body, emboldened by the newly developed Cascading grill. Elegance or exhilaration, whichever side of the fence you find yourself, there is a car to suit from this family of four unique models. With prices starting at 16,995 for the Hyundai i30 S 1.0 T-GDi 120PS 6-speed manual, you may think the story ends here, but no, for this is merely the beginning. The organic growth is due to continue with the tantalising debut of the i30 Tourer at next month’s Geneva Motor Show.
I wrote earlier about a land of myths and legends. On reflection, it may be a simple myth on my part, but perhaps Hyundai’s decision to hold this pre-launch event in Cornwall will turn out to be the stuff of legends. Only time will tell.
- Images | © Michael Cowton Photography | Essential Journeys