Hits the ground run­ning

Hyundai’s ‚irst hot hatch suc­ceeds in both its jobs: it’s huge fun to drive, and it’s trans­formed our ideas about the Korean brand

CAR (UK) - - First Drives - ADAM BIN­NIE

AHYUNDAI HATCH­BACK on OZ Rac­ing al­loys and slick Tro­feo R tyres is an ar­rest­ing sight. Th­ese are not op­tional extras we’re used to see­ing fit­ted to an i30 or any other Hyundai.

This is no nor­mal Hyundai hatch­back, though; it’s an i30N, the first car from the Korean man­u­fac­turer’s per­for­mance di­vi­sion. It’s re­spon­si­ble for set­ting the tone for the fol­low­ing wave of N mod­els and trans­form­ing the brand’s im­age.

It’s more than a sim­ple power hike and bodykit. This i30 has been thor­oughly re­worked – it’s lower and stiffer, and features huge brakes, a lighter front axle and quicker steer­ing.

There’s an op­tional diff or stan­dard torque vec­tor­ing, plus launch con­trol, while the fa­mil­iar 2.0-litre petrol en­gine gains a new in­let man­i­fold and ex­haust. You can have it in 247bhp form or the 271bhp Per­for­mance Pack­age – Hyundai ex­pects that 90 per cent of cus­tomers will find the ex­tra £3000 for this ver­sion.

As well as a faster 0-62mph sprint (6.1 sec­onds vs 6.4), this pack adds 19-inch al­loys with wider, grip­pier Pirelli P-Zero tyres, and larger discs for in­creased stop­ping power.

It also brings a new ex­haust sys­tem, which is both louder and more char­ac­ter­ful thanks to rally-spec over-run crackle. It eas­ily out-bur­bles more pow­er­ful VW Group or Honda ri­vals.

The short-throw six-speed man­ual gear­box features rev-match­ing, which can be turned off with a ded­i­cated but­ton on the wheel rather than via a labyrinth of sub-menus. This is good.

How­ever, the main draw is the elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, which en­ables hi­lar­i­ously high cor­ner­ing speeds by sub­tly tight­en­ing your line, and then lets you de­ploy all the torque lu­di­crously early.

The car suits the long, fast cor­ners of our test­ing ground, Rome’s Val­lelunga cir­cuit, and feels hero­ically grippy, bit­ing hard on turn-in and main­tain­ing re­as­sur­ing chas­sis bal­ance mid-bend. You can tuck the front wheels in neatly by lift­ing off but oth­er­wise the rear end feels quite tied down. The i30N clev­erly treads the line be­tween trust and ad­justa­bil­ity – when the grip does run out it’s the front that gen­tly and pre­dictably lets go first, after an aw­ful lot of tyre squeal.

The brakes are strong but not in­vul­ner­a­ble to fade on track. Un­der nor­mal run­ning con­di­tions, though, the i30N pulls up quickly with plenty of feel through the pedal.

Adap­tive sus­pen­sion is stan­dard on the Per­for­mance Pack­age car and is su­per com­posed on track. In the real world, on atro­cious tar­mac, it proved it can be comfy too. This is a car you’d be happy to use ev­ery day.

Help­ing that cause is a sub­stan­tial stan­dard spec – LED head­lights, adap­tive cruise con­trol, 8in touch­screen sat-nav – at a price that un­der­cuts its ri­vals. Safety features like au­ton­o­mous brak­ing, lane keep as­sist and road sign recog­ni­tion are car­ried over from the non-N, plus you also get a five-year war­ranty.

In a mar­ket in­creas­ingly ob­sessed with soul­less lap times, of­ten at the ex­pense of emo­tional en­joy­ment, the i30N pro­vides some wel­come laughs. The i30N doesn’t ad­vance the hot hatch game in terms of out­right per­for­mance, but for Hyundai it’s an in­ter­ga­lac­tic leap.

Metal ped­als the main change to an un­fussy but e ec­tive cabin

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