The Big Test: Honda Type R vs. Hyundai i30N
Honda Civic Type R vs. Hyundai i30N
ONE IS OUR REIGNING CAR OF THE YEAR, THE OTHER IS CHASING IT HARD
The Fender Telecaster is one of the great sounds of rock, but too often it’s on rhythm while the Stratocaster takes lead. Venus Williams brought the world a new kind of tennis. But Serena has won more matches. The i30N Performance pack is a hot hatch of awesome engineering depth, and 275hp for
0–100kph in 6.1sec. Its only issue is the car whose triple exhausts it is now chasing. The Civic Type R, ditto, but 320hp and 5.8.
Hyundai’s argument goes that the i30N isn’t about chasing numbers or headlines. It’s got the engine that its chassis wants, and the chassis that its hot-hatch driver wants. The Type R, meanwhile, has zero patience with moderation. Its engine, like its bodywork, cleaves to the philosophy that too much is seldom enough. The Honda doesn’t only rock an extra 45 horsepower. It’s the TG Car of the Year. It’s also got generations of breeding, while the i30N’s bloodline is a lot shorter. But if the Hyundai doesn’t quite manage to emerge fully from the white car’s jagged shadow, there’s no disgrace. Really it’s competing more with the 308 GTi and various Golfs, but we put it against the Civic as these are the hatches of the moment.
The Hyundai is P367,113 cheaper. Mind you, Liberty Walk or Mansory would charge all that and more for making a base Civic look like the Type R, and never mind the engineering changes Honda has made. To be clear, though, this body kit isn’t just high-street attentionseeking, but a sign of a comprehensive aerodynamic makeover.
Some of the details—air breathers for the arches, the black blades ahead of the wheels that give drag-free downforce, the vortex generators—are gorgeously, spoddishly, right. But the size of the rear wing, on a street hatch, might give you rear-view issues, and make the driver behind think you’ve got self-esteem issues.
I wish the Type R kit had wiped away that silly blanked-off fake mesh, also used on the normal
1.0-liter Civic, around the front fog lights and rear reflectors. And why are some of the parts fake carbon fiber, not just black plastic? Without that nonsense the rest of the kit would seem more real.
Your personal attitude towards the Honda’s looks will be a good bellwether for the way you think about the Hyundai. If you think the Civic is too much, you might enjoy the i30’s subtleness. And if you love the white car’s single-mindedness you’ll probably think the blue one is a bit wimpy. The N’s bodywork is no wider than standard. Wider tracks and a bit of arch bulge might argue its case more, but while the R is about lap times the N is about feel, so maybe doesn’t need a wide track.
The Honda even has an aluminum hood with an air vent. Under which reside those crazed 320 horses. Well, not that crazed actually. Not unless you give them a bootful of encouragement. Up to 4,000rpm, it’s a performer, but with the downside of lag. But if you take the express lift via the fifth and sixth floors to the big seven, it’s a storm, and it has your arm flailing at the gearshift like a whitewater canoeist’s.
So, yes, the i30N is left behind. But, 275 horseradishes are still pretty saucy. The lag is marginally less of an issue, and with the variable exhaust and electronic sound enhancement in their top settings, the soundscape is perhaps the most satisfying in all of hot hatchery. And it has a manual ’box, with a superb shift. As good as the Honda’s—and neither of them are as insanely light and clicky as the old nat-asp Type Rs were. That’s presumably because you’re
shifting cogs that have to be more robust to cope with the torrent of torque.
To try to ameliorate the corruption of torque on steering, Honda has given the R double-pivot front suspension, not the usual Civic struts. That’s a badge of honor for premierleague front-drivers. Hyundai didn’t go that far, but it did re-engineer itself a tighter, lighter front suspension vs the base car. The Civic has a helical diff, the Hyundai an electrically controlled job.
So what we’re saying here is, both sets of engineers bust a gut to get the power to the road without the commotion of a spinning inside tire or the rim-yank of torque steer.
The Honda is more successful. On the wet roads of our test, it ekes out a load of unlikely traction, so full credit to its tyres, diffs and damper settings. In the dry, it’s amazing. And when the roadway is lumpy, the first time your right foot goes adventuring it’s apparent the Honda has the torque-steer business better sorted.
The i30’s wheel yanks and frets in your hands and the nose darts around as its tires sniff the hollows and lick the lumps. Let’s not get out of hand, mind. Versus an Astra VXR or Focus last-gen FWD Focus RS (both of which sported Honda-like double-pivot struts), the Hyundai is a model of decorum. But the Type R is by some way better again, and has more feel, too.
The Honda has a borderline insatiable gluttony for corners, as well as the straights between them. You bear down on a bend with the massive brakes clenched, pitch it in, mash the throttle improbably early, and off it catapults. The drama lies in the combo of extraordinary precision with sky-high g-loads. The ferocity is eye-widening.
Both these cars steer quickly (but not too quickly) and roll little. Both are fundamentally well balanced. But the Hyundai, as it clings slightly less hard, is a different proposition. It’s a dance for two. Driver leads and car follows, then car leads and driver follows. Lift off and it’ll oversteer (even in the ESP’s on-but-loose mode). Get on the throttle too soon and it’ll wash the front tires out. It doesn’t just give you more options than the Honda, it feeds you more communication. On the track, it’s prepared to trade lap times for fun. So it goes on the road.
In the set-up of its electronics, the i30N goes beyond interactivity into parody. On its steering wheel are two blue buttons. The left one cycles through modes affecting eight parameters: throttle map, exhaust flaps and sound enhancement, downshift rev-matching,
‘These two hot hatches are fabulous machines for pure driving’
dampers, diff, steering weight, ESP. The right one, the one with the checkered flag icon, calls up the N mode. That cranks all those systems one louder.
Finally you can configure, via the main screen, all those eight parameters through up to four stages to form a Custom mode. Well, you can, but trust me after a while you won’t, because picking your ideal from those combinations will do your head in. My maths days are long gone, but I tentatively calculate you have 1944 possible options. If you devote yourself to the task you might eventually find one set-up that feels dead right, but then the road or your mood will soon change and you’ll have to start again. By which time you’ll have forgotten to look through the windscreen and crashed.
The Honda has Comfort, Normal, Sport and R+. Sometimes you might feel deprived of a way to combine livelier ESP with gentler dampers. But as an escape route from the Hyundai’s tyranny of choice, the simplicity is just fine, thanks.
Anyway the Honda provides its own driver distractions. On the steering wheel are menu buttons to control its entertainment and driver info. It’s a howling lash-up of counterintuitive ergonomic inconsistencies. Its main touchscreen isn’t a whole lot better, and it runs horrid graphics. Fortunately you can just mirror your Apple or Android device.
That, though, won’t cover up the rest of the cabin’s visual clutter, or its mishmash of materials and subtlety-free rude redness. But then, the Hyundai goes the other way. As with its outside, the basic hatch is never buried. Maybe that’s what Hyundai wanted. This is the first N car, and it has to give you a mental trackback to the rest of the range, giving the whole Hyundai brand a lift.
These two are also fabulous machines for pure driving. The Type R operates in a plane where you didn’t think front-wheel-drive hatches could ascend. It’s focused to a pixel-sharp philosophy: get there quicker. The i30N isn’t such a mad intrusion into your visual field, and its power and lap times reflect that. But for simple rumbustious hot-hatch fun, it has enough, maybe even more, going for it. Sure, the R is the Strat, but the N, the Tele here, is music we love to hear too.
Two very different approaches to doing things