I’ve effectively pulled the pin and stood right in the blast zone.
The sheer level of enthusiasm Tony Crawford has for topics of his interest is matched only by the volume with which he projects his opinion, and few cars have lit such a fire under Tony in recent times as much as the 2018 Hyundai i30 N did last year after its international launch. Of course, the louder and more defiant Tony becomes, the more ambivalent and sceptical the response is from his CarAdvice peers. Not because he’s necessarily wrong (sometimes), but because it’s fun.
“I TOLD YOU, DIDN’T I,” explode the sonic shockwaves across the CA Sydney office, shaking the glass.
“Things were thrown around, Anthony threatened violence,” recalled Alborz Fallah at the resistance to Tony’s initial stance on the i30 N, during his own introduction to the Korean hot hatch at a ‘sneak preview’ in a right-hooker around a go-kart track last November. By review’s conclusion, Alborz’s praises were heaped almost as lofty as Tony’s.
They’re right. It’s bloody brilliant. Consider me a believer.
We’ve covered off the i30 N background, its context in hot hatch-dom and its bold aspirations in segment exhaustively thus far. No need to rehash here. But the purpose of this review in the overall plot is to sample the Aussie version, within a context of localised tuning, spec and pricing, in an environ where Aussie buyers might and should use it.
Off the bat, let’s address the negative feedback, albeit clouded in speculation, from Tony’s and Alborz’s initial i30 N forays. “It’ll need sharp pricing,” we asked. Tipping in at $39,990 list, and considering we only get the high-spec Performance package undiluted in go-fast equipment, is needlepoint. “No auto option (yet),” we said. An eight-speed dual-clutch arrives next year. “The (road-spec) Pirellis are finicky on some surfaces,” we mused. Hyundai will offer track-friendly R-spec goodness as an option, and it’s intimated that a lower-spec version is not too far off, perhaps late next year. There’s not much bad news to tell.
Still, the more the Aussie i30 N reveals itself, the more questions raised. We asked you, via Facebook, what you wanted to know prior to local launch and release, and the avalanche of correspondence with questions we’ve specifically and individually answered in our associated video piece you’ll find here.
It’s early days, but what’s becoming increasingly clear is no matter how reviewers rate the i30 N experience or how much Q&A is involved in dissimilating this hot hatch’s virtues, the biggest hurdle this Korean born, German (ex-Audi) designed, German (ex-BMW) engineered, Nürburgring (Germany) honed, Czech Republic-built and Australian-refined hatchback has is that it’s just a cut-priced Korean wannabe.
Yes, at circa-$40K you’ve tipped into the low end of the serious hot-hatch segment. Its 202kW and 353Nm (378Nm on overboost) placates the inner horsepower junkie, but this is handsome coin for a ‘Korean’ hatchback. Then you stack up the features list and regardless of how well individual features are executed, it’s quite the value jaw-dropper.
Continuously adaptive suspension, electro-mechanical LSD, active exhaust (with electronic sound generation and N-mode backfire on downshifts), rev-matching, launch control, electronic shift lights, underbody reinforcement and rear (removable) stiffness bar, bespoke rack-mounted and variable electronic power steering, specifically developed tyres, on-board race-style telemetry and five selectable drive modes, including an N Custom mode where seven different systems can be individually configured into a possible 1944 different tailor-made combinations… Name anything with such go-fast gear for a tenner under forty large.
Hyundai went as far as stamping panels with larger wheel arches to fit the 19-incher, though stopped short of Brembo and Recaro kits because “we simply had to cap costs,” says Hyundai.
And yet the i30 N is no stripper. Full LED lighting, electric seats, rear camera and sensors, cruise, 8.0-inch sat-nav equipped infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, DAB+, dual-zone climate control, the full SmartSense suite including AEB and lane keep assistance, tyre pressure monitoring… And that’s before you have to fork out three grand for the optional and properly nice Luxury gear.
Then there’s ownership. Not only does Hyundai’s solid five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty apply, but the car is covered for conditional (untimed, non-competitive) track use, even if you fit track-oriented rubber which, together with some choice brake upgrades, will be offered as dealer fitment if the owner chooses.
Hyundai Australia’s gameplan to “leave little doubt” as to the i30 N’s prowess in the minds of local media involved two days of testing. First, a 400km loop across Australia’s finest driving roads in the Victorian alpine region, three-quarters of which were so relentlessly twisty that a number of scribes got carsick, not as passengers but from behind the wheel. Added to this was a full day at Winton Raceway, complete with a test car fitted with the aforementioned Pirelli Trofeo R track rubber and improved stopping mods. A regime attack in full knowledge that this wasn’t the ‘global tune’ car Tony had last year, but a different Aussie tune for the local release.
What’s different? The global chassis tune is stiffer, the localised tune – arrived at after testing 11 different front and nine different rear damper set-ups and recalibrating the electronic control system – achieves, Hyundai says, a slightly more supple ride, more body roll and slower big-bump recovery. A pliancy, then, to contend with potholes, speed humps and patchy surfaces if, Hyundai claims, a tune with subtle differences you only detect in back-to-back comparison with a car featuring the global tune.
Around town, in Normal drive mode, the N is sweet, polite and easy to use, with an evenly measured clutch pedal, a positive if leisurely nature to the gearbox, and connected if unremarkable steering. It could be a lower-spec SR save for the Smurf Blue paintwork gazing out across the bonnet or the superbly form-fitting, Luxury-spec suede and leather-trimmed buckets.
Two aspects immediately impress: how linear and lag-free that 202kW engine is in character, and just how quiet progress is at a cruise. The i30 N feels utterly ‘daily driver’ friendly from the get-go. The ride quality errs a little on the firm side at low speed, but hitting a handful of speed humps reveals a polished, dare I say 'Euro' quality to the dampers’ bump and rebound control.
Urban turns fast, flowing country roads, lumpy and coarse chip, and there’s ample cosy isolation from the environment, minimum wind noise and a noticeable if muted thrum from those bespoke-spec Pirelli P Zeros that are of a segment-middling 235mm 35-series size. In Normal, the engine/suspension/steering calibrations are nicely rounded rather than flaccid – you push on and there’s ample engagement and general sense of connection.
However, the temptation to toggle through (Eco, Normal and Sport) to Sport on the pale blue Drive Mode button, left side of the steering wheel, comes soon enough, which amps up the calibration of engine, rev-matching (which has a separate one-touch ‘off’ button), E-LSD, exhaust, suspension and steering systems but leaves ESP in ‘normal’ mode. The effect on sharpening throttle response and heightening the soundtrack – via the exhaust’s variable flaps and an Electronic Sound Generator at the base of the windscreen – is conspicuous, the change in other systems is much more subtle.
There’s no nasty spikiness to Sport, no light switch change in character, just an extra sheen of purposefulness without robbing all-round flexibility that’s happy be it around town or once the narrow alpine roads bring pummelling progress with a relentless series of corners.
It takes only a handful of second- and third-gear turns to begin marvelling at the accuracy, the point and sheer grip of the i30 N. And it takes many more corners, together with deeper and deeper commitment and some mental calibration from the driver, to arrive at the point of understeer. While these Pirellis – and indeed the chassis works them for all their worth – mightn’t impress so much on a dusty go-kart track in Alborz’s hands, across dry B-road hotmix, lumpy or not, the lofty level of road-holding is remarkable.
The same can be said for the amount of corner-exit drive afforded by the E-LSD, where you feel the torque nibble across the front axle if demonstrating little in way of actual torque steer. It truly rockets out of curves, the (overboosted) 378Nm dragging one and a half tonnes of Hyundai out of the mid corner and hurling it toward the next corner to bristle the arm hairs. We haven’t activated N Mode (effectively Sport+) and you already sense, by seat of the pants, the i30 N left the orbit of any hot-hatch rival around the $40K-something mark and is heading for the hot-pace stratosphere.
It’s claimed that relocating the electric power steering from the column, à la i30, to the steering rack improves the feel for the road, something difficult to qualify from behind the wheel though, in isolation, the i30 N steering is excellent: no leaden weight, nothing conspicuously artificial, just friendly accuracy and precision. It has three settings (Normal, Sport, Sport+) – there are shades of difference between them and none are laborious to use or unconvincing in feel.
Kudos, too, to the default ESP calibration, which rarely chimes in even once the red mist descends like a fog. But what really shines brightly is the damper control – or, more accurately, the continuously variable calibration of all three suspension modes – once you're carrying big speed across less-than-perfect surfaces. The ride and handling blend is rarely short of brilliant.
Few sporting cars at any price have a Sport+ or Race mode that’s certifiably on-road useable, let alone street friendly. But the i30 N is one of them. It lifts the purpose of every system bar the E-LSD (which remains in Sport tune) and, combined, it lights serious fire under proceedings without overstepping levels of poise and cooperation demanded for spirited back road use. With in-dash shift-lights tempting you ever closer to the rev-limiter, the rev-matching set to its most rapid-fire state, and the exhaust cracking like a snare drum at every slight throttle lift, the ‘atmosphere’ the i30 N creates suggests it’ll run with harder-core hot hatches asking far more money. And it has all the on-road pace to back up the fanfare.
The i30 N doesn’t have a bad mode. And while N Custom allows 1944 different combinations of settings, it’s perhaps only handy in isolating what you don’t like in arriving at one or two combinations that you do. In the heat of battle, I had my co-driver change different powertrain and chassis settings for me as a means of comparison, but frankly the Normal, Sport and N Mode bundles are so well sorted and useable, I wonder why you’d even bother with N Custom.
Playful? Not really. Its tail end is quite benign, with lots of grip and little lateral movement. It works the front a little harder than the rear, but with so much grip and corner exit urgency, any tendency to get a little ‘loose’ would merely dampen proceedings. Or, perhaps, emerge once you grab its scruff on-track.
It’s common for rocketships on-road to start to feel a little underpowered, under-chassised and under-gripped once you put them on a racetrack. This is true for the i30 N. It’s consummately capable when flung around a circuit on an absolute mission, though the combination of the holistic dynamic character and the road-going Pirellis seems a bit more laser-focused at the on-street task than it does taken off it.
It does become more playful, more animated and more responsive to steering by throttle on-track, but those Pirellis don’t quite have the bite to go chasing down 911s at your next club day. You don’t have to be too tidy with the i30 N – it’s very controllable and very forgiving – but you do have to be circumspect and neat when pedalling a properly fast lap time.
Brakes? Throughout two days of absolute flogging they remained powerful, dependable and reliable, though they did get a little whiffy on the nose after pounding out a 10-consecutive-lap marathon. In short, the brakes certainly outlasted the road-going Pirellis in the friendship department.
The grippy track-spec Trofeo R tyres make a big difference: almost three seconds of a lap in the hands of my old mate and Hyundai test driver Brendan Reeves, who clocked an unofficial best of 1:39.9 in the modded i30 N “with traffic”. And while I’m sure your cousin’s Skyline might make a mockery of such a lap of Winton, remember, this is a $40K showroom prospect with full factory warranty even on the track-friendly rubber.
And that’s really the crux of what makes the i30 N such a compelling prospect. It punches far higher than its price tag suggests. And it should out-punch anything out there for similar money. The gut feel, too, is that to measure the i30 N on sheer pace or the sum of its parts is underselling a device that impresses highly with how well-sorted it is – at how well its parts come together regardless of pace.
Will the i30 N change the hot-hatch game? Will it force more powerful Golf GTIs from Volkswagen, or more affordable Civic Type Rs from Honda? We won’t get a more accurate gauge until we test the newcomer with the usual and unusual suspects, of course. But until then, our advice is not to lay down your hard-earned for any hot hatch out there without giving Hyundai’s impressive new halo car a really close look.