First Look: 2011 Hyundai i40 Wagon

In North America, the new 2010 Hyundai Sonata has been nothing short of a success story. Sales in 2010 jumped to 196,623 units, helping the company to set an all-time sales record in the U.S. while giving giants like Toyota, Honda, and Ford a serious run for their money.

Can that success be replicated in Europe, where the midsize segment is crowded with competitors? Hyundai thinks so, and believes its new i40 — revealed at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show — may be the right tool for the job.

Beneath the skin, the i40 rides on the same D-segment platform as its wildly successful Sonata sibling (and, for that matter, Kia’s latest Optima), but the automaker proudly insists it was specifically engineered for Europe by Hyundai’s engineering center in Russelshiem, Germany.

One look at the car’s exterior suggests that may not be hyperbole. For starters, the i40 is launching as a station wagon, a bodystyle traditionally unpopular in North America (a sedan variant is due early next year). But a closer look reveals the i40 is more than just a Sonata with a hatch and a pair of D-pillars — apart from door skins and perhaps wheels, there is no exterior sheetmetal shared between the two.

Designers suggest the new front fascia is patterned after last year’s i-Flow concept, but in many ways, the entire front clip bears a close resemblance to the company’s new Elantra compact. Long, flowing headlamps stretch into the crisp upper edges of the fenders, while a large, rhombus-shaped grille opening is split in two. Triangular trim accents resemble lower air intakes, but merely serve as garnish for fog lamps. I40 wagons receive unusual concave D-pillars, but the long, tapering taillights are likely to be used on both body styles.

The i40’s cabin is almost a dead ringer for the Sonata’s, but a new trim accent, which flows across the dashboard and into the front door panels, infuses some additional style. Heated and cooled front seats are available, as are heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. Buyers who spring for the wagon also receive nearly 19.5 cubic feet of cargo space aft of the second row, trumping the Sonata’s trunk by 3.1 cubic feet. Fold the rear seat backs, and that figure swells to a substantial 61 cubic feet.

Like the North American Sonata, the i40’s powertrain offerings are restricted to four-cylinder engines, but Europeans do have a little more choice in what appears underhood. We suspect most i40 buyers will select Hyundai’s new 1.7-liter turbo-diesel I-4, which is available in both 113- and 134-horsepower forms. Opt for the former, and the i40 emits an average of 113 grams of CO2 per kilometer traveled — an important spec in Europe, where CO2 emissions are frequently (and heavily taxed).

Petrol heads can also opt for a 2.0-liter gasoline I-4, but in lieu of the Theta-family 2.0-liter sold here, this particular engine is derived from the Nu-series 1.8-liter used in U.S.-spec Elantras. Transmission options for both gas and diesel i40s have yet to be announced, but will likely consist of the six-speed automatic and manual gearboxes used in Sonatas sold in other markets.

The i40 certainly has the makings of a stylish, sophisticated midsize offering, and may fare well against the likes of the Opel Insignia, Ford Mondeo, and the new Volkswagen Passat. Whether or not this wagon has a future outside of Europe remains to be seen. Hyundai’s U.S. product planners aren’t afraid of bringing wagons to the states (in fact, a second-generation Elantra Touring should launch in the next year or so), but officials refuse to comment on the possibility of i40 wagons rolling into American showrooms.

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