The Big Test: Honda Type R vs. Hyundai i30N

Honda Civic Type R vs. Hyundai i30N

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Contents - Words by Paul Hor­rell

ONE IS OUR REIGN­ING CAR OF THE YEAR, THE OTHER IS CHAS­ING IT HARD

The Fender Tele­caster is one of the great sounds of rock, but too of­ten it’s on rhythm while the Stra­to­caster takes lead. Venus Wil­liams brought the world a new kind of ten­nis. But Ser­ena has won more matches. The i30N Per­for­mance pack is a hot hatch of awe­some en­gi­neer­ing depth, and 275hp for

0–100kph in 6.1sec. Its only is­sue is the car whose triple ex­hausts it is now chas­ing. The Civic Type R, ditto, but 320hp and 5.8.

Hyundai’s ar­gu­ment goes that the i30N isn’t about chas­ing num­bers or head­lines. It’s got the en­gine that its chas­sis wants, and the chas­sis that its hot-hatch driver wants. The Type R, mean­while, has zero pa­tience with mod­er­a­tion. Its en­gine, like its body­work, cleaves to the phi­los­o­phy that too much is sel­dom enough. The Honda doesn’t only rock an extra 45 horse­power. It’s the TG Car of the Year. It’s also got gen­er­a­tions of breed­ing, while the i30N’s blood­line is a lot shorter. But if the Hyundai doesn’t quite man­age to emerge fully from the white car’s jagged shadow, there’s no dis­grace. Re­ally it’s com­pet­ing more with the 308 GTi and var­i­ous Golfs, but we put it against the Civic as these are the hatches of the mo­ment.

The Hyundai is P367,113 cheaper. Mind you, Lib­erty Walk or Man­sory would charge all that and more for mak­ing a base Civic look like the Type R, and never mind the en­gi­neer­ing changes Honda has made. To be clear, though, this body kit isn’t just high-street at­ten­tion­seek­ing, but a sign of a com­pre­hen­sive aero­dy­namic makeover.

Some of the de­tails—air breathers for the arches, the black blades ahead of the wheels that give drag-free down­force, the vor­tex gen­er­a­tors—are gor­geously, spod­dishly, right. But the size of the rear wing, on a street hatch, might give you rear-view is­sues, and make the driver be­hind think you’ve got self-es­teem is­sues.

I wish the Type R kit had wiped away that silly blanked-off fake mesh, also used on the nor­mal

1.0-liter Civic, around the front fog lights and rear re­flec­tors. And why are some of the parts fake car­bon fiber, not just black plas­tic? With­out that non­sense the rest of the kit would seem more real.

Your per­sonal at­ti­tude to­wards the Honda’s looks will be a good bell­wether for the way you think about the Hyundai. If you think the Civic is too much, you might en­joy the i30’s sub­tle­ness. And if you love the white car’s sin­gle-mind­ed­ness you’ll prob­a­bly think the blue one is a bit wimpy. The N’s body­work is no wider than stan­dard. Wider tracks and a bit of arch bulge might ar­gue its case more, but while the R is about lap times the N is about feel, so maybe doesn’t need a wide track.

The Honda even has an alu­minum hood with an air vent. Un­der which re­side those crazed 320 horses. Well, not that crazed ac­tu­ally. Not un­less you give them a boot­ful of en­cour­age­ment. Up to 4,000rpm, it’s a per­former, but with the down­side of lag. But if you take the ex­press lift via the fifth and sixth floors to the big seven, it’s a storm, and it has your arm flail­ing at the gearshift like a white­wa­ter ca­noeist’s.

So, yes, the i30N is left be­hind. But, 275 horseradishes are still pretty saucy. The lag is marginally less of an is­sue, and with the vari­able ex­haust and elec­tronic sound en­hance­ment in their top set­tings, the sound­scape is per­haps the most sat­is­fy­ing in all of hot hatch­ery. And it has a man­ual ’box, with a su­perb shift. As good as the Honda’s—and nei­ther of them are as in­sanely light and clicky as the old nat-asp Type Rs were. That’s pre­sum­ably be­cause you’re

shift­ing cogs that have to be more ro­bust to cope with the tor­rent of torque.

To try to ame­lio­rate the cor­rup­tion of torque on steer­ing, Honda has given the R dou­ble-pivot front sus­pen­sion, not the usual Civic struts. That’s a badge of honor for pre­mier­league front-driv­ers. Hyundai didn’t go that far, but it did re-en­gi­neer it­self a tighter, lighter front sus­pen­sion vs the base car. The Civic has a he­li­cal diff, the Hyundai an elec­tri­cally con­trolled job.

So what we’re say­ing here is, both sets of en­gi­neers bust a gut to get the power to the road with­out the com­mo­tion of a spin­ning in­side tire or the rim-yank of torque steer.

The Honda is more suc­cess­ful. On the wet roads of our test, it ekes out a load of un­likely trac­tion, so full credit to its tyres, diffs and damper set­tings. In the dry, it’s amaz­ing. And when the road­way is lumpy, the first time your right foot goes ad­ven­tur­ing it’s ap­par­ent the Honda has the torque-steer busi­ness bet­ter sorted.

The i30’s wheel yanks and frets in your hands and the nose darts around as its tires sniff the hol­lows and lick the lumps. Let’s not get out of hand, mind. Ver­sus an As­tra VXR or Fo­cus last-gen FWD Fo­cus RS (both of which sported Honda-like dou­ble-pivot struts), the Hyundai is a model of deco­rum. But the Type R is by some way bet­ter again, and has more feel, too.

The Honda has a bor­der­line in­sa­tiable glut­tony for cor­ners, as well as the straights be­tween them. You bear down on a bend with the mas­sive brakes clenched, pitch it in, mash the throt­tle im­prob­a­bly early, and off it cat­a­pults. The drama lies in the combo of ex­tra­or­di­nary pre­ci­sion with sky-high g-loads. The fe­roc­ity is eye-widen­ing.

Both these cars steer quickly (but not too quickly) and roll lit­tle. Both are fun­da­men­tally well bal­anced. But the Hyundai, as it clings slightly less hard, is a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion. It’s a dance for two. Driver leads and car fol­lows, then car leads and driver fol­lows. Lift off and it’ll over­steer (even in the ESP’s on-but-loose mode). Get on the throt­tle too soon and it’ll wash the front tires out. It doesn’t just give you more op­tions than the Honda, it feeds you more com­mu­ni­ca­tion. On the track, it’s pre­pared to trade lap times for fun. So it goes on the road.

In the set-up of its elec­tron­ics, the i30N goes be­yond in­ter­ac­tiv­ity into par­ody. On its steer­ing wheel are two blue but­tons. The left one cy­cles through modes af­fect­ing eight pa­ram­e­ters: throt­tle map, ex­haust flaps and sound en­hance­ment, down­shift rev-match­ing,

‘These two hot hatches are fab­u­lous ma­chines for pure driv­ing’

dampers, diff, steer­ing weight, ESP. The right one, the one with the check­ered flag icon, calls up the N mode. That cranks all those sys­tems one louder.

Fi­nally you can con­fig­ure, via the main screen, all those eight pa­ram­e­ters through up to four stages to form a Cus­tom mode. Well, you can, but trust me af­ter a while you won’t, be­cause pick­ing your ideal from those com­bi­na­tions will do your head in. My maths days are long gone, but I ten­ta­tively cal­cu­late you have 1944 pos­si­ble op­tions. If you de­vote your­self to the task you might even­tu­ally find one set-up that feels dead right, but then the road or your mood will soon change and you’ll have to start again. By which time you’ll have for­got­ten to look through the wind­screen and crashed.

The Honda has Com­fort, Nor­mal, Sport and R+. Some­times you might feel de­prived of a way to com­bine live­lier ESP with gen­tler dampers. But as an es­cape route from the Hyundai’s tyranny of choice, the sim­plic­ity is just fine, thanks.

Any­way the Honda pro­vides its own driver dis­trac­tions. On the steer­ing wheel are menu but­tons to con­trol its en­ter­tain­ment and driver info. It’s a howl­ing lash-up of coun­ter­in­tu­itive er­gonomic in­con­sis­ten­cies. Its main touch­screen isn’t a whole lot bet­ter, and it runs hor­rid graph­ics. For­tu­nately you can just mir­ror your Ap­ple or An­droid de­vice.

That, though, won’t cover up the rest of the cabin’s vis­ual clut­ter, or its mish­mash of ma­te­ri­als and sub­tlety-free rude red­ness. But then, the Hyundai goes the other way. As with its out­side, the ba­sic hatch is never buried. Maybe that’s what Hyundai wanted. This is the first N car, and it has to give you a men­tal track­back to the rest of the range, giv­ing the whole Hyundai brand a lift.

These two are also fab­u­lous ma­chines for pure driv­ing. The Type R op­er­ates in a plane where you didn’t think front-wheel-drive hatches could as­cend. It’s fo­cused to a pixel-sharp phi­los­o­phy: get there quicker. The i30N isn’t such a mad in­tru­sion into your vis­ual field, and its power and lap times re­flect that. But for sim­ple rum­bus­tious hot-hatch fun, it has enough, maybe even more, go­ing for it. Sure, the R is the Strat, but the N, the Tele here, is mu­sic we love to hear too.

Two very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to do­ing things

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