Hyundai i30 N hits Britain
FIRST DRIVE Top-spec hot hatch wowed us. Now we try ‘entry’ version on British tarmac
We loved 271bhp hot hatch. Is 247bhp version as good?
OVER the past decade, Hyundai has gone to great lengths to banish its image of being a bargain basement brand by launching a range of competitive models in most classes. But until now, it’s shied away from performance offerings, leaving European rivals to dominate the market.
At long last, the company has introduced a new ‘N’ performance sub-brand with this: the i30 N. We were impressed with it out in Germany earlier this year (Issue 1,492), but this is the real acid test on Britain’s broken and scarred tarmac. This is also our first chance to try the cheaper 247bhp base car, which costs £3,000 less than the 271bhp Performance Package model.
Hyundai’s engineers did hundreds of laps of Germany’s Nürburgring race track during development of the i30 N, although thankfully the company isn’t feeling the need to shout about it too much. The quietly aggressive bodykit, wider arches, bigger wheels (18-inch alloys on this car, compared with the top-spec model’s 19-inch rims), red details and large twin exhausts give the game away to enthusiasts, but those after more show from their hot hatch will be better served by the likes of Honda’s Civic Type R.
It’s a similar story inside. Hyundai has carried over the solid-yet-unexciting cabin of the standard i30, with only the drive mode selector on the steering wheel and a pair of nicely supportive sports seats setting the N apart. Yet that’s the same as you’ll find in most rival hot hatches, and the interior is well finished, spacious and intuitive to use.
This might be Hyundai’s first hot hatch, but the standard i30 isn’t exactly a fun base for one. That’s what makes the N all the more surprising when you get behind the wheel and find out that it is, in fact, a true challenger to the current class elite.
With the Civic Type R, plus four-wheeldrive competitors like the Ford Focus RS, pushing beyond the 300bhp mark, the i30 looks down on power even in Performance Package form. But the 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine seems almost as energetic as more muscular rivals, partly thanks to the short gearing. We drove both versions back to back, and while there’s slightly more pull at high revs in the Performance Package, the regular car feels just as fast most of the time.
It rips right up to the red line with urgency and barely any lag, meaning you can rifle through the gears with the i30 N’s slick
“i30 N’s turbo seems almost as energetic as more muscular rivals, partly thanks to the short gearing”
manual shift and find yourself covering ground at a surprising rate of knots. The base car lacks the switchable active exhaust of the Performance Package, but there’s still enough engine and induction noise to give it a hard-edged growl. We also love the revmatching tech, allowing quick downshifts without the need to heel and toe.
The engine is strong and willing, then, but the handling is even more impressive. This car lacks the electronic differential and bigger brakes of the Performance Package, although it hasn’t suffered too much. While the diff really keeps the pricier i30 N locked into its chosen line out of a bend, even this standard car grips and holds on keenly. The steering is quick, direct and surprisingly full of feel, boosting confidence. Adding to the tremendous sense of agility is the impressive body control, with the i30 N feeling remarkably well tied down in any suspension setting.
The drive modes are endlessly configurable, too, unlike in some rivals. We’d recommend using them to set the car up, because the ride is firm but well damped in the standard setting. Ramping up to Sport or (in particular) N mode simply makes it too stiff and easily unsettled for British B-roads. The smaller wheels of the base car help, however, and reduce road noise.
These rounded abilities and exceptional sharpness make the i30 N one of the finest front-wheel-drive hot hatches on sale. If you’re planning on doing some track driving then the Performance Package is the one to go for, but on the road the base car is almost as entertaining and significantly cheaper. At £25,000, it undercuts basically every rival and isn’t much pricier than a top-spec i30, so it is fantastic value for money.
Even without Performance Package car’s diff, i30 serves up lots of cornering grip
NEED TO KNOW Hyundai hired the former boss of BMW’S M division, Albert Biermann, to head up its N division