The first high-per­former to come out from Hyundai’s Namyang R&D cen­tre is a Korean-Ger­man pocket rocket par ex­cel­lence.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

UUP till now, Hyundai seemed to be con­tent making af­ford­able cars for prac­ti­cal peo­ple. Well, that is about to change – fast.

Since 2012, Hyundai has been ac­quir­ing the tal­ents of some top Ger­man en­gi­neers and ex­ec­u­tives in its ef­fort to sur­pass the Ja­panese and per­haps even the Euro­peans.

Pro­vid­ing solid proof that the Korean au­tomaker has stepped up its game is the Hyundai N pro­gramme, whose first prod­uct to hit the mar­ket is the i30 N.

This new model is not merely a badg­ing ex­er­cise, with just the engine turbo boost of the reg­u­lar i30 hatch­back turned up.

Hyundai says that N stands for Namyang, where their R&D cen­tre is lo­cated, but more be­fit­tingly, N also means Nur­bur­gring, where Hyundai has a depart­ment for test­ing and de­vel­op­ing their cars. I have come to the in­fa­mous Nur­bur­gring to drive the i30 N, a hot hatch which has been gar­ner­ing ac­co­lades in Europe, where it has been on sale since the be­gin­ning of 2018. I am the first Singapore journo to sam­ple the i30 N be­fore its lo­cal launch.

Of all its com­peti­tors, the clos­est in con­cept is the iconic Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI, but the Hyundai seems to be more ready, out of the box, for a track day than the VW.

In stan­dard form, the i30 N has a 250hp 2-litre 4-pot turbo mo­tor, which pro­duces a more aggressive 275hp with the op­tional Per­for­mance Pack­age.

The ad­di­tional ag­gres­sion doesn’t stop there – said pack­age also in­cludes a gen­uine e-dif­fer­en­tial for true torque vec­tor­ing, 19-inch Pirelli P Zero Tro­feo tyres to im­prove both grip and agility, a tuned ex­haust sys­tem and fiercer­look­ing front and rear spoil­ers.

Nur­bur­gring is nick­named The Green Hell for good rea­son. It is a de­mand­ing and chal­leng­ing 20.8km stretch of coun­try road in the forested Eifel moun­tain range that has been con­verted into a race­track. The sur­face is un­even and has a 300m el­e­va­tion change, 73 cor­ners, and a long straight that will let re­ally fast cars reach over 400km/h. Not only do you have to re­mem­ber all the cor­ners, you also need to re­mem­ber all the bad bumps as well.

Iron­i­cally, one of the rea­sons


for en­joy­ing the i30 N on the Nur­bur­gring is its power, or to be pre­cise, just enough power.

Unlike a su­per­car with 600hp, which is more than enough to sling it to cor­ners fright­en­ingly quickly, a hatch­back with 250 or 275hp could be wrung out com­pletely by the driver with­out fear.

In the case of the Hyundai hot hatch, its chas­sis has good bal­ance, along with enough sus­pen­sion travel and up­rated damp­ing to soak up the worst com­pres­sions with­out hit­ting the bump stops, so that fast progress from point to point is also fluid and calm.

The car’s han­dling is be­nign, with a will­ing­ness to turn in, mild un­der­steer in mid­turns, and well-con­trolled ex­its from cor­ners even when gun­ning hard. The car does not mind be­ing chucked into cor­ners, al­ways fighting off un­der­steer rather well and oc­ca­sion­ally ex­hibit­ing a bit of lift-off over­steer.

Dur­ing man­u­fac­ture, the five­door body has been spe­cially strength­ened with ex­tra welds and re­in­forced with high-ten­sile steel un­der­neath and around the front strut mounts.

While pi­lot­ing the i30 N on a full lap of the Nur­bur­gring is a petrol­head’s dream come true, driv­ing it on the coun­try lanes sur­round­ing the ’Ring af­ter the track ses­sion re­veals a clearer pic­ture of how the Hyundai will be­have in the real world.

It is not that the Nur­bur­gring is ir­rel­e­vant, but rather, a pocket rocket honed to han­dle and ride well on the Nur­bur­gring will usu­ally do ex­ceed­ingly well on your favourite stretch of road any­where else.

At this point in time, only a man­ual 6-speed gearbox with rev-match­ing func­tion is avail­able. There is no ru­mour or men­tion of a dual-clutch trans­mis­sion for the i30 N as yet. The man­ual 6-speeder is pleas­ingly slick in its op­er­a­tion, with a short throw and a slightly notchy feel to it. The car comes with launch con­trol, but in a man­ual ve­hi­cle, one vari­able makes a stand­ing-start launch a hi­tor-miss af­fair – the hu­man be­ing be­hind the wheel.

While there is trac­tion con­trol once the clutch is en­gaged and the engine revs per minute is main­tained by the soft­ware at around 4000rpm, the

rate of clutch en­gage­ment needs to be just right for the trac­tion con­trol not to cut power or brake too much.

Get it right and ze­roto-100km/h takes just 6.1 sec­onds (6.4 sec­onds with­out the Per­for­mance Pack­age).

Sur­pris­ingly, there is lit­tle torque-steer, thanks to the op­ti­mised geometry and soft­ware con­trol­ling the elec­tri­cally as­sisted steer­ing.

For the brakes, Hyundai did not go the Brembo route, but took a set from a large, heavy Hyundai like the Santa Fe SUV, mod­i­fied them and added a pre-fill func­tion to work in the 1.4-tonne i30 N. The rear discs are big at 300mm and the front discs are big­ger still at 330mm (314mm and 345mm re­spec­tively if car is spec­i­fied

with the Per­for­mance Pack­age).

The adap­tive sus­pen­sion comes from Hyundai’s Ge­n­e­sis model range, but it has been care­fully tuned for this ap­pli­ca­tion with sporty spring-and-damper set­tings.

As you have no­ticed, most of the hard­ware is cherry-picked from Hyundai’s vast parts cat­a­logue, with a small num­ber of com­po­nents re­designed for dura­bil­ity and ro­bust­ness.

The magic lies in how these dif­fer­ent parts are pack­aged and finely tuned by the dream team, con­sist­ing of ex-AMG and ex-BMW M en­gi­neers, to cre­ate a per­for­mance car greater than the sum of its modest parts. And this is ex­actly how the i30 N feels on the road.

The car’s Nor­mal drive mode pro­vides the best com­fort, but no­body would buy one of these just to drive “Nor­mally”. The Sport drive mode proves to be the best all-rounder, with a good com­pro­mise be­tween com­fort, con­trol and out­right han­dling.

To get the car into the sporti­est mode called N, press the check­ered-flag but­ton on the right side of the steer­ing wheel boss, across from the left-side but­ton that switches be­tween the other drive modes.

As long as the road is fairly smooth, you can en­joy the added sense of con­trol and sharp­ened han­dling of the i30 N in N mode. How­ever, the ride be­comes too stiff for bumpy coun­try roads like the ones I drove on near the Nur­bur­gring. Though Sport mode suits these roads better, only the N mode has the louder, more en­ter­tain­ing sound­track. Thank­fully, Hyundai pro­vides a so­lu­tion – press the N but­ton a sec­ond time and the sys­tem goes into a cus­tom setting which lets the driver choose how to set up the car ex­actly the way he wants it.

For­tu­nately, the stan­dard


i30 N squeezes un­der the 160g CO2 mark by a sin­gle gram, which will park it in the neu­tral band (no re­bate or sur­charge ap­pli­ca­ble) of the VES.

Un­for­tu­nately, the higher tune of the i30 N Per­for­mance Pack­age will put it into the C1 band of VES and in­cur a penalty of $10,000.

For that rea­son, the first batch of i30 N hot hatches ar­riv­ing in Singapore will be the stan­dard 250hp ver­sion with 18-inch Miche­lin Su­per Sport tyres, but the agent is bring­ing in the look-faster parts as N Line ac­ces­sories.

The go-faster bits such as the engine power up­grade and the e-dif­fer­en­tial can­not be retro­fit­ted, but Ko­moco is look­ing into how they can im­port the higher-power ver­sion. Wav­ing a cheque to place a de­posit on the i30 N Per­for­mance Pack­age may con­vince them.

Dyed-in-the-wool driv­ing en­thu­si­asts like my­self didn’t get ex­cited in the past when­ever a Korean au­tomaker in­tro­duced a so-called sporty model. But this in­tro­duc­tion of the i30 N was dif­fer­ent.

In­stead of Korean ex­ec­u­tives, there was an en­tire con­tin­gent of Ger­man en­gi­neers at the Nur­bur­gring event to ex­plain the N per­for­mance phi­los­o­phy and the newly minted N cars. They even asked us journos what we thought.

In­deed, things are chang­ing fast at Hyundai.

In my opin­ion, the i30 N with Per­for­mance Pack­age is more fo­cussed than the VW Golf GTI. I never thought I would ever say that of a Hyundai.


The hot Hyundai is will­ing to turn in, con­trols its cor­ner-ex­its well, fights off un­der­steer and some­times ex­hibits a bit of lift-off over­steer.

Equipped with the es­sen­tials of a prac­ti­cal hot-hatch, but i30 N in­te­rior is less in­ter­est­ing than the ex­te­rior and the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Per­for­mance Pack­age for i30 N in­cludes a grip­pier set of 19-inch Pirelli tyres with a mod­el­spe­cific com­pound, big­ger brake discs, and an elec­tronic LSD.

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