With all the feather ruffling and hoo-ha surrounding last year’s i30 N hot hatch release, it’s with considerable relief that its more tempered Hyundai i30 N Line brethren recently slipped relatively quietly onto the radars of buyers and reviewers alike. Less fanfare means less joy, right? Not necessarily.
The i30 N Line, here in base manual form, is surprisingly good. Or at least in this reviewer’s opinion after living with it for a week. It's a cohesive and well-rounded package that’s more richly satisfying than perhaps what its price and on-paper credentials appear to suggest.
Let’s kick the N-shaped elephant from the room at the get-go. The i30 N Line – you get used to the name, we're told – manual before you is $26,490 list (around $30K on-road), while the proper (manual only) i30 N hot hatch starts from a fiver under 40-large (call it $45K-ish in your driveway). That’s a 50 per cent premium – an absolute fortune – so clearly these two hatches target two different buyers shopping at different ends of the Hyundai showroom, or perhaps the same buyer strapped to a budget where thirteen-and-a-half grand is an impossible stretch.
Of course, the N Line isn’t nearly as quick, as focused or as hardcore as a full-fat N, but does that make it only two-thirds as good? Of course not. Different pitch, different package, and in some ways the N Line is nicer and more appealing.
The N Line, which stretches as high as $35K list for the full-fruit Premium dual-clutcher, is essentially the old and now defunct SR tier sprinkled with some N fairy dust. I suspect the sporty makeover is to counter the release of its technical cousin, the Kia Cerato GT, which is dual-clutch only, kicks off at $32K drive-away, and a device that rated well in our recent launch review. Clearly, the base manual i30 N Line, then, is a cut-priced stripper aimed at offering the most price-busting warm hatch in the small-car segment.
What makes the N Line manual so damn seductive is that very little of it seems cut-priced at all.
Take its appearance. It’s a smarter, more upmarket look than the old SR, adopting N-aping front and rear fascias, black bezel headlights, dual exhaust outlets and a very fetching, guard-filling set of 18-inch alloys. The N Line pares back some of the N’s hot hatch stylisms, adds restrained black and frosted silver detailing, and in our car’s tasty new-for-range Stargazing Blue paintwork it has a fetching sport-premium aesthetic that looks more expensive than its circa-$26K sticker price suggests.
The 1.6-litre turbo-four-powered SR was (and is) a great, want-for-little package, and the N Line remake adds nice stuff in the right places, if in not a great many areas. The two equipment tweaks potentially updating the driving experience are the more generously bolstered sports seats and the 225mm Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. Elsewhere, there are smaller, mostly cosmetic changes: Dark Metal finish inserts on the steering wheel and door handles; N-specific gearknob, carpets and seat logos; and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The fetching red seatbelts, stitching and trim insert treatments from the SR are carried over.
Key spec highlights impress for the price, including standard fitment of 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with proprietary sat-nav, smartphone mirroring and wireless charging, leather-appointed seat trim, dual-zone climate control, alloy pedals, et cetera. Climb in, and much like the exterior appearance, the N Line has a vibe and ambience that’s impressively upmarket for its pricepoint.
What do you lose when penny-pinching? Well, for one thing, you can’t yet splurge on the fulsome Premium version’s equipment with a conventional manual gearbox. That version is dual-clutch only. And there are some glaring holes in this base manual’s spec list, the most significant being that it doesn’t fit AEB or Hyundai’s SmartSense suite of active safety goodies – forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assistance, driver-attention alert – offered right throughout the broader i30 range.
(According to Hyundai Australia: “AEB is not currently available for manual transmission i30s built at our Ulsan plant. The situation is not ideal for our market, hence we are in discussions with head office in Korea to see if it can be made available in the future".)
Also exclusively featured on dual-clutch N Line versions are the adaptive cruise control with stop-go functionality, an electric parking brake and, mystifyingly, rear air vents for the second-row passengers. If any of the above looks the deal-breaker, that extra $3K splurge for the base 7DCT begins to look like extra money well spent…
But, jeez, doesn’t the base N Line’s alluring charm gloss over those specification cracks once you’re on the road…
The 1.6-litre’s 150kW and 265Nm aren’t terribly heroic figures, but this is a surprisingly assertive engine with a ton of thick, drivable flexibility throughout its RPM sweep. Peak torque arrives at just 1500rpm, and there’s enough shove in the mid-range to get those grippy Michelins scrabbling for traction. There’s nice, muted yet satisfying rort to the engine as the revs climb towards the six-grand redline, and a lovely synergy harnessing the engine’s energy through the manual gearbox.
All up, the manual (1315kg kerb) is around 30kg lighter than the 7DCT version, and while the jury is out as to which might be quicker – if you actually care – the engaging interplay between engine and driver is a big plus for the enjoyment factor alone. But you do have to row the cogs: despite the 1.6-litre’s flexible nature, it can be caught languishing off boil with too little RPM in the tall gears, where sprightly rolling response demands a deft downshift. Thankfully, this is a sweet-shifting six-speeder, with a crisp and reasonably short throw and assertive gates. You probably couldn’t flat-shift the thing, but for its warm-hatch purpose, it’s quite a co-operative ’box.
Like the powertrain, the rest of the on-the-move package is thoroughly satisfying, demonstrating depth and resolve that are anything but cheap or make-do. Despite sitting in the lower half of the i30 range price-wise, the base N Line manual gets the multi-link rear suspension not offered in the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated or turbo-diesel versions, and its passive single-mode tuning – with homegrown development as Hyundai rightly loves to spruik – is very good and very tough to fault.
It’s a deceptive suspension tune. The bump control is pliant enough and primary ride control polished enough to convince you that its overall state leans heavily towards comfort softness. Yet, the rebound when you carry even excessive pace over speed humps settles quickly and confidently, and there’s a nice, assertive grip on the body control that lends a nice crispness to the handling. It steers crisply, points assertively, and imparts a genuine sense of communication up through the chassis.
It rides so well that you half expect it to fall over its own tyres in the handling department once you stick it into the corner. Yet, it sits flat, tracks a confident trajectory, and responds to the faintest of adjustments to throttle and steering input. The quality Michelins have oodles of mechanical grip, but it’s still the chassis’s task to harness the rubber’s best, and it most certainly does.
No, it’s not as sharp as a proper N, yet not nearly as harsh (and the N’s ride isn’t exactly a bone-shaker in isolation). The N Line just has a thoroughly sorted, impressively well-rounded ride and handling balance that welcomes the daily grind as much as it does an assertive back-road punt.
Ownership-wise, the N Line is covered by Hyundai’s competitive five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. On a pre-paid plan, servicing costs $807 to the three-year/30,000km interval, through to $1385 up-front for five years/50,000km.
In verdict, I’m in two minds about the i30 N Line manual.
One of those is my mind brainwashed by my own preferences and whims. For a 48-year-old family bloke who’s had his fill of hot hatches in the past, gets to drive fast stuff on- and off-street regularly, and is drawn to an excellent all-round daily driving experience that looks great and has all the gear I want, it targets my tastes like a sniper. Would I personally forego the manual and spend the extra three grand for the dual-clutch version to patch the holes in its active safety credentials? Honestly, no.
However, would my reviewer’s mind recommend opting out of SmartSense credentials to anyone even vaguely interested in investing in their surety Absolutely not. Indeed, there are plenty of other choices elsewhere in the i30 range with more comprehensive safety chops that make for sounder recommendations.
At once, the i30 N Line manual isn’t without shortcomings, yet you’ll be very hard-pressed to find a finer and more complete warm-hatch experience fitted with a conventional cog-swapper for this car’s compelling $30K drive-away price.