Hyundai i30 N
Hyundai’s first hot hatch promises a lot. We belt one over some of Europe’s worst, and best, roads to gauge the fuss
I’M PULLED over on a crumbling road somewhere in outer Rome, Italy. I’m poking at a touchscreen and being asked how I’d like my dampers. Normal, Sport, or Sport Plus? The bi-modal exhaust needs delegation, too. And then there’s a ‘corner carving’ differential. Set it to Normal, or have it go for corners like a dog at unguarded snags?
As I’m thumbing away, switching the differential to aggro, exhaust to anti-social, and so on, it takes a while to sink in. The last time I did this was in a BMW M4. This car is not a BMW M4. When this arrives in Oz next year, it will cost less than $50K and wear a Hyundai badge.
Remembering that, tired Korean car jokes start to swirl around in my head. But Seoul’s been producing solid cars for some time. After elbowing Japan out of Australia’s top-selling spots, it then dipped its toes in warm-hatch waters. Hyundai began with SR models, which have been good, before Kia’s ProCeed GT showed us what the country can really do.
The difference between these two, of course, was a European influence. The ProCeed GT was designed by Peter Schreyer, ex-Audi guru, and made in eastern Europe. It showed in its sophisticated suspension, dynamics, and style. The writing was on the Hyundai boardroom wall, then, when dreaming up how to build a bona-fide hot-hatch.
So three years ago it went head hunting and found Albert Biermann, four birthdays away from retirement at BMW M division’s top spot. Rather than capture him with high-powered HR, it cajoled him with an opportunity to write history for Hyundai, and guide its leap from mass-market models to high-performance ones. Once convinced, it installed him at the top of Hyundai’s new ‘N’ division, dropped Wolfsburg’s evergreen Golf in his cross hairs and gave him the fourthgeneration i30.
He was gifted a team of enthusiastic engineers, some with little to no experience on performance cars, and a body shell. Like the ProCeed, it’s built in Slovakia, has multi-link rear suspension, and visited Peter Schreyer’s design studio during its inception. Interestingly, it also has the same 2650mm wheelbase. Biermann concedes the five-door shell is heavier than competitors, over half of it is made from high strength Hyundai steel, making the i30 N at least 50kg chubbier than a Golf GTI.
The upside to this is body stiffness. Its secret ingredient when combined with new electronically adjustable adaptive dampers. They were pinched from the recently revealed G70 Genesis and fitted with custom valving for the N. Developed by Mando, a company from Hyundai’s myriad subsidiaries, the dampers inject stiffness into the setup when needed and dial it back when not.
This allowed softer springs to be used, specifically 3.8kg/mm front items and 4.7kg/mm rear ones, while high body strength meant the dampers could focus less on body control and more on aiding the softer springs for compliance. As mentioned, they obey three driving modes, like everything else except the differential. But we’ll get to these later.
At speed, the suspension allows enough travel to glide over bumps on undulating landscapes, but also enough control to keep an equal spread of weight on the tyres. And it’d want to. Biermann’s boys and girls raided the parts bin for larger wheel bearings, installed new aluminium steering knuckles, and beefed up the front subframe.
You’ll find the result is the N relays enough about surfaces that it’s informative, but not too much that it becomes tiring. The steering system, too, is the best Korean system we’ve sampled. A higher-torque motor now latches onto the rack and is geared by a faster ratio. It’s accurate, well weighted, and linear.
It lacks the outright sharpness and feedback we’ve come to expect of a Golf GTI or Focus ST. Oh, and the turning circle’s big. However, the i30 N produces enough response, point, and grip from the front-axle to shade not only any Korean car, but put it right in the mix with the rival’s I’ve just mentioned. Besides
The Performance Pack’s brake calipers have been pinched from a Tuscon. Cost saving was a big focus for the i30 N, however, it doesn’t feel that way from the driver’s seat. It’s a well resolved and refined car