Hyundai hits a home run with hatch

Rotorua Weekender - - Driven - Road Test: Colin Smith Pic­tures: John Bor­ren

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.

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