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Germany

Hyundai Takes Aim At Bypassing VW Passat?

In Germany and Japan, no competitor has been able to match the VW Passat. But Korean carmaker Hyundai is taking aim at the midsized market. A German car reviewer takes a spin.

Hyundai i40
Hyundai i40
Thomas Geiger

The bosses at Volkswagon and Toyota should watch out. In recent years, Korean carmaker Hyundai has become - along with its subsidary Kia - the fifth largest car manufacturer in the world. And on the wave of this success, Hyundai is now poised to take on a new opponent.

The car that will lead this attack has a very simple name: the i40, but the competition better take notice, says Allan Rushforth, head of the Korean company's European operations. "This is our first serious car in the so called D-segment."

D-segment means mid-sized car ("large family" in Europe), and officially, the i40 will be positioned against cars like the Toyota Avensis or the Mazda 6. "But in this segment, there is only true one yardstick: the VW Passat," says chief engineer Axel Honisch.

It's the Passat, the bestseller from Wolfsburg, that Hyundai engineers had in mind when they developed the i40's suspension, steering and gearbox. It was the measure for material selection, quality, and size. "Of course we are not the best in every category, but in all disciplines we come pretty damn close," says Honiball.

The i40's stand-alone qualities show how important Hyundai's success in Europe is to the company. The car doesn't follow the U.S. model (like its predecessor the Sonata), or the typical car from Korea. Instead, the entirely new car was created at the German Development Center in Rüsselsheim, with its own technology and unique design.

On a test ride through the Taunus, the 4.77 meter long car has a smooth ride, is quiet on the road, and still picks up quickly through uphill curves. Later, on the highway, we have a chance to check out the dashboard. The consoles are stylish, decorated with plenty of chrome, piano lacquer, leather, and brilliant displays akin to those of an iPad. This car has nothing to do with the plastic boxes of Hyundai's past.

For those willing to pay more than the 23,000-euro base price of the car, Hyundai will offer a number of extra comforts and handy features, including active parking guidance and xenon headlights.

Thanks to a 2.77-meter wheelbase and adjustable-angle seatbacks, the i40 also grants a surprising amount of comfort to backseat passengers. With a whopping 553 liters of trunk space, the i40 hatchback's storage space grows to 1719 liters when the back seats are flipped forward. Though this is slightly smaller than the Passat, the i40 makes up for it with a much lower loading edge.

Even with i40s drive keeps up with the German competition. Hyundai's new 1.7-liter diesel engine is available in either 115 or 136 hp, along with two gasoline engines of 1.6 and 2.0-liter displacement, and 135 or 177 hp.

Rushforth's official sales target for the car is relatively modest: "60,000 vehicles a year, a place in the top six in its class, ahead of the Mazda 6 and the Toyota Avensis." It is nearly impossible to threaten the Passat on its home turf, but in the United States, where both VW and Hyundai are visiting players, the competition looks very different. In the U.S., registrations of the Volkswagon model came in at 12,500 for the entire year of 2010, while Hyundai has been selling over 16,000 Sonatas -- per month.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - KCB

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