Hyundai hits a home run with hatch
In the wider scheme of things the most impressive attribute of the new Hyundai i30 N hot-hatch is there has never been another Hyundai like it before.
First time up to bat in a market segment that has demanding performance benchmarks the Korean marque has slammed a home run.
Two litres of modern direct-injection turbo urgency, a six-speed manual gearbox and sophisticated suspension tuning makes the i30 N a polished performance car. It accelerates strongly with a throaty engine note and maintains cornering poise with a fully resolved suspension tune that copes with lumpy back roads just as well as smooth track surfaces.
All of the important performance hardware is in place with large diameter disc brakes providing powerful stopping, an electronic limited slip differential to assist with lowspeed traction, firmly bolstered front seats that offer an excellent driving position and drive modes to select the desired level of aggression.
And the $54,990 pricet ag finds a place among the most competitive of the serious hot-hatch alternatives.
Of the two models available overseas, Hyundai New Zealand has selected the more potent 202kw Performance version and there are no specification choices to be made apart from colour.
In the realm of five-door, front-drive and manual transmission hot-hatches the $54,990 Hyundai i30 N window sticker compares to the Ford Focus ST — with 184kw — at $52,840 and the 228kw Honda Civic Type R at $59,990.
With five doors and two pedals the choice is widened to include the Volkswagen Golf GTI with 169kw that starts from $59,490 and the 221kw SEAT Leon Cupra at $56,900 — both with the six-speed DSG gearbox.
The SEAT is the only car in the group I haven’t driven. Among the other four the i30 N has a broadest set of skills with considerably more performance than the Focus ST and Golf GTI while being not quite the track focused screamer which means the Civic Type R is exciting but also compromised when it’s not being thrashed.
And that’s the main appeal of the i30 N. With 202kw at 6000rpm and 353Nm of torque from 1500-4700rpm (and 378Nm on overboost) it tips just over the 200kw mark while retaining flexible partthrottle response and relaxed sixth gear highway cruising.
The gearing is matched to the early torque delivery with 100km/h being achieved at 2200rpm in sixth gear and the downshifts equating to 2750rpm in fifth and 3300rpm in fourth gear. Hyundai claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.0L/100km and my road test average was 8.6L/100km.
The i30 N has a notable low speed ride quality for a car of this type riding on low profile 19-inch rubber. Electronic damper control provides the roll firmness and body control for serious driving but away from the main roads where camber changes and lumpy surfaces are common the i30 N also shows impressive compliance and doesn’t react abruptly. It’s especially notable for its progressive pitch control which is achieved without a rigid ride.
A longer trip on rural highways in the i30 N would be a significantly more relaxed journey than in the Civic Type R.
A big part of the car’s feel and competence is the high quality Pirelli tyres. Look closely at the sidewalls of the 235/35 R19 Pirelli P-zero rubber and the letters ‘HN’ tell you the tyres have been developed in conjunction with the car.
Visually the i30 N tells a reasonably understated performance story with a slightly lower stance and larger wheels than other i30 models. Red painted brake callipers and a red highlight strip on the front and rear aprons are the eye-catching elements of the exterior treatment and there’s a reasonably prominent N badge on the grille and tailgate.
But it’s not an overtly sporty car and is a long way removed from the cluster of aero add-ons that at first glance makes a Civic Type R look like an extrovert racer. As well as the performance the standard specification provides a few upmarket treats including Proximity Key entry and push button start, an alarm and immobiliser security system, Qi wireless charger, satellite navigation with SUNA traffic updates, dual-zone climate control and rain sensor wipers.
There are heated front seats and the driver’s seat has 10-way power adjustment with firm side bolsters to provide the lateral location to match the cornering ability. Adjustable cushion length and plenty of lower back support offer comfortable support over a longer journey.
There’s plenty of rear passenger headroom but the large seats up front do restrict the rear legroom.
Open the tailgate and there’s another clue to the performance focus with a sturdy rear suspension brace that runs across the load area just behind the rear seats. It does interfere a little when the 60/40 split rear seat is folded to increase the 381 litres of cargo space.
The roster of safety equipment includes seven airbags and the modern inventory of brake assist, autonomous emergency braking and Vehicle Stability Control along with a reverse camera and front/rear park sensors. Lane Keeping Assist is standard while one of the few disappointments with the i30 N is that it lacks Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Potentially the biggest discussion point and limiting factor in the appeal of the Hyundai i30 N will be the manual gearbox. I loved driving a genuinely quick manual car and the positive shift accuracy of the sixspeed, its well-spaced ratios and the Rev Matching function that blips the throttle on downshifts makes it a rewarding experience.
But I’m also in the minority and the market has matured to the point where two pedals is the go-to choice even in serious performance cars and having a manualonly range restricts sales. So it will be interesting to see if Hyundai brings a sevenspeed DCT or eight-speed auto into the i30 N family. That won’t make it better car but it will attract a bigger audience.
The main theme here is Hyundai’s impressive debut in the performance car sector. With a performance level above the Volkswagen Golf GTI and just below the Honda Civic Type R — and pricing sharper than both — the Hyundai i30 N finds a hothatch sweet spot.
If you want a car that shouts racer and goes everywhere with the volume turned up the Honda Civic Type R is still the sharpest machine.
If you want all-round driving dynamics that shine away from smooth surfaces, a degree of everyday comfort and something that flies just a little under-theradar the Hyundai i30 N is a compelling solution.