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

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - LOUIS COR­DONY

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

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