Hyundai i40 or i45 - choice is yours
Hyundai i40 sedan. Picture: Mark Watson

Catering for niche market segments has, in the past, been something that only prestige car makers have been interested in pursuing.

But it is something Australians are starting to see practised by more mainstream manufacturers as they battle to increase their share in what is regarded as the toughest car market in the world.

Earlier this month Skoda launched two new cars, a small performance wagon and a similar- sized hatch that can also be used as a small van because of its flexible seat arrangements.

Neither is likely to sell in big numbers, but for a small player like Skoda every one counts.

Now we have seen Hyundai adopt a similar philosophy.

This week it launched an all-new, European-designed i40 medium-sized sedan in Australia. It will sell alongside the almost identically sized North American-designed i45 sedan in one of the least-popular market segments.

So why is Hyundai bringing the i40 to Australia?

According to marketing manager Oliver Mann, the answer is quite simple - the two cars will appeal to different types of buyers.

The i45 is a slightly bigger car with more emphasis on comfort while the i40 has a more "European edge" to its looks and driveability. It also comes with the option of a diesel engine, something you can't get in the i45.

The new i40 sedan is available with the option of a 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine or 2.0-litre direct- injection petrol engine. Both are available with a six-speed manual (entry-level Active models only) or six-speed automatic transmission featuring steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The diesel engine matched to the six-speed manual transmission gives an impressive best-in-class fuel consumption figure of 4.7 L/100km, while the petrol-powered version uses 6.8L/100km.

Mr Mann also said the medium-car segment provided a platform for the Korean car maker to step up to the premium market segment.

The i40, which starts at $29,990, comes standard with features such as front and rear parking sensors, an MP3-compatible CD sound system with USB, auxiliary and Bluetooth connectivity, a multi-function steering wheel, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels (plus a full-size spare) and automatic headlights with daytime-running lights and static cornering function.

As you step up in the range you can add things like a touch-screen satellite-navigation system, reversing camera, panoramic sun roof, heated and ventilated front seats and leather upholstery.

All variants also score a five-star ANCAP safety rating thanks to nine airbags, vehicle stability management, electronic stability control, traction control and ABS with cornering brake control and emergency stop system.

The West Australian

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