There’s a real buzz surrounding the new i30 N – the first car from Hyundai’s new ‘N’ performance sub-brand – but is it just hype or can it mix it with established hot hatch rivals?
What is it?
Based on the underrated i30 hatchback, the i30 N is front-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
The engine is available in two states of tune – either 247bhp, developing 260lb ft of torque, or the 271bhp Performance model we’ve tested here.
The more powerful model also has 279lb ft available on over-boost for 18 seconds, giving it some extra punch for overtaking. It can hit 62mph from standstill in 6.1 seconds and has a top speed of 155mph.
Just to put that into context, the Honda Civic Type R has 316bhp, the VW Golf GTI (227bhp), Focus ST (247bhp) and the Seat Leon Cupra 300 (296bhp).
No mention of the Ford Focus RS or Golf R? Well, no, because we wouldn’t be comparing apples with apples, because both these amazing cars boast four-wheel drive.
The i30 N has been developed with three ‘Fun to Drive’ pillars in mind – “Cornering, Race Track Capability and Everyday Sports Car”.
Priced from £24,995 (£27,440 for the Performance version), standard equipment includes LED head and tail lights, Smart Adaptive Speed Control, Keyless Entry and Start/Stop Button, plus an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with sat nav and Android Auto/Apple Car Play compatibility.
Go-faster equipment on the standard i30 N includes 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, electronically controlled suspension, beefed-up brakes, a torque vectoring system.
The i30 N Performance gets 19-inch alloys, Pirelli P-Zero tyres, an electronic limited slip differential, bigger brakes, leather and suede seats with electrical adjustment up front, plus an Active Variable Exhaust System.
If you prefer your hot hatches slightly more understated, then the i30 N is for you. It has a quietly aggressive bodykit with wider wheel arches, rear spoiler, bigger wheels, red detailing and discreet ‘N’ badging, while the twin exhausts are the biggest giveaway.
However, there’s a lot going on under the skin of the i30 N, and that’s what makes it special. Apart from the performance equipment already mentioned, the front suspension and body have been reinforced for extra stiffness and it sits 8mm lower than a regular i30.
Inside, it’s not radically different to the standard i30, which isn’t such a bad thing because it’s the standard car’s cabin is very nice too, but perhaps for some it’s not quite special enough (like a Golf GTI, for instance?).
The good news is that the driving position is excellent with comfortable sports seats that are supportive in all the right places. The dashboard layout, complete with big, clear touchscreen, is well laid out.
The addition of the steering wheel-mounted Drive Mode control, which allows you to access and customise engine and suspension settings, is ideally placed. For the record, there are five modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom.
The i30 N is only available as a five-door and there’s room for adults front and rear. It also has a decent-sized boot of 381 litres, rising to 1,287 litres with the rear seats down.
How does it drive?
Fire up the i30 N and the Active Variable Exhaust System kicks in. The Performance version, particularly, has a glorious growl. Switch to N or Custom drive mode when you’re on the road and you can savour those intoxicating pops and crackles, especially on downshifts.
Hyundai’s N department is led by Albert Biermann, the former head of BMW’s illustrious M division, and it shows. Sharp, well-weighted steering, coupled with playful dynamics, make this a car to enjoy.
The willing engine and sweet-shifting gearbox are perfectly matched, while the grip is excellent considering so much power is being channelled through the front wheels. The Performance version’s electronic limited-slip differential (LSD) develops even more traction.
Naturally the ride is on the firm side, so Normal drive mode is best on rougher roads or longer journeys, but if you want some fun, then switch to Sport or N, where the i30 N gets a little more hardcore, but never scary. Flat cornering and a fantastic feeling of agility make for an impressive package.
There’s even a launch control feature, which enables the swiftest possible getaway from a standing start.
The i30N isn’t faultless, but pretty close. For some, it may be a bit on the subtle side, while on paper, it’s capable of 40mpg, but such is the urge to explore this car’s performance and body control to the max, you may end up getting closer to 25mpg.
Oh, and there’s a very obvious bracing bar between the wheel arches behind the back seats, breaking the flow of the luggage space when the seats are dropped for maximum load space.
Verdict: The N brand is named after Hyundai’s global R&D Centre in South Korea, where the i30 N was born, and for the Nürburgring (home to Hyundai Motor’s European Test Centre), where the i30 N was further developed and tested. Well, now there’s another ‘N’ to add to the equation. Hyundai has absolutely nailed it with the i30 N – one of the most engaging hot hatches on the market. What’s more, it’s the only one with a five-year warranty.