Hyundai i30 N hits Bri­tain

FIRST DRIVE Top-spec hot hatch wowed us. Now we try ‘en­try’ ver­sion on Bri­tish tar­mac

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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

DRIVE MODES You can con­fig­ure the i30 N’s drive modes to find the ab­so­lute sweet spot. That’s a good thing, be­cause the sus­pen­sion is sim­ply too stiff in the ‘N’ setting

PRAC­TI­CAL­ITY You get the same 395-litre boot as in reg­u­lar i30. Base N has touch­screen sat-nav and AEB. But wheels are smaller than in Per­for­mance Pack­age and there’s no elec­tronic diff

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