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
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