My colleagues were raving about Korea's first fully fledged hot hatch, so a recent break from work seemed the perfect chance to discover what all the fuss was about.
The Hyundai i30 N hot hatch has had car lovers and industry followers excitedly talking since it hit Australian dealer lots in March of last year.
We all know the pedigree. That it was 'honed' at the Nürburgring, project-led by ex-BMW M maestro Albert Biermann. That Korea’s auto behemoth had invested heavily in order to topple icons like the Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type-R and Renault Megane RS.
I’d read and watched with interest as colleagues Alborz, Tony, Curt, Jez, Kez and others raved about it, and said it was everything we’d hoped. In this era when hot hatches have arguably never – ever – been better, the consensus was clear. This thing holds its own, in any circles, with no caveats or qualifiers needed.
But in a quirk of logistics, I’d spent no more than a few minutes at the wheel, engulfed in projects of my own. So, shamelessly enough, when heading towards a much-needed period of leave, I buzzed Hyundai Australia and asked if maybe I could pinch one.
It’s a looker, this N, isn’t it? The Performance Blue paint is so distinctive, for one thing. It offsets the tasteful red highlights and very fine 19-inch wheels wrapped in primo Pirelli P-Zero rubber. The angry headlights, pronounced body sculpting, menacing twin pipes and subtle roof spoiler all do their parts, too.
The ubiquitous Golf GTI is understated and the Civic Type-R as subtle as a brick through a window, but the Hyundai strikes the right balance between the two.
Some people have criticised the interior a bit, and said it’s not differentiated enough from the ‘regular’ i30's. And sure, it’s a bit sombre in parts. But the quality is good, there’s plenty of wheel and seat adjustment, the touchscreen is mounted high and has good software, the buckets are comfy and supportive, and the alloy pedals and gearknob are bespoke.
More importantly, it’s a $39,990 (before on-road costs) proposition, meaning it isn’t particularly expensive. I’d happily live with it. You can option the Luxury Pack that gives you leather/suede seats, and a bunch of other bits like button start and a wireless phone charger if you want, too.
Even the base car is well specified, with LED headlights and running lights, dual-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch sat-nav system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, one-touch windows all round, a rear-view camera and tyre pressure monitoring. Plus, autonomous emergency braking, driver-attention alert, forward-collision warning and lane-keep assist.
I also like the blue buttons below the steering wheel spokes to control your driving modes, and the software on the centre screen that lets you look at the turbo/power/torque output graphs, monitor g-forces in cornering, and track your lap times.
The i30 N’s mechanical pedigree stacks up on paper. The front wheels are tamed by an electromechanical LSD, the tyres are proper sporty hoops, the 2.0-litre turbo engine makes 202kW/353Nm (378Nm on whooshing overboost) and the six-speed manual gearbox has close ratios, a short throw and auto rev-matching (amateurs).
A Golf GTI makes 180kW/370Nm (updated), while a Subaru WRX has 197kW/350Nm… However, both of those options (as well as the Renault) come with automatic options, whereas Hyundai’s double-clutch paddle-shifter unit isn’t here yet. I don’t care about that, but statistics show that most Aussies prefer cars with two pedals.
Getting off the line is as dramatic as you want it to be, meaning axle tramp and torque steer are minimised as much as possible. I was able to replicate the factory’s 0–100km/h claim of 6.1 seconds using the onboard acceleration tracker (our V-Box was briefly AWOL).
One gripe, though, is the fact that you bounce off the rev limiter in second gear at... 98km/h! I don't want to bloody upshift to third until 100km/h, Hyundai...
The Hyundai’s dynamic pedigree comes to fruition in twisty stuff as well. You can carry hair-raising cornering speeds, and the 345mm front and 314mm rear ventilated discs haul you in rapidly. They also didn’t overheat or stink after heavy use on a 38-degree day.
Hyundai claims a minimum vehicle weight of 1429kg, which isn’t exactly featherweight, and if there’s one dynamic criticism of the i30 N it’s that it’s almost clinical at times. It sticks to the road as if with glue, but if you like your hot hatches to be a little twitchy and manic and tricky, it might alienate you with its sheer competency.
Now, I’m a Melburnian, but as we know Xmas is all about jotting from one commitment to the next. So, my 1000km or so comprised as many kays navigating the tram-packed roads of South Yarra and St Kilda as it did the rolling hills and snaking blacktop of regional Gippsland.
This is an ideal test really, because track time is a novelty (though Hyundai very commendably covers non-competition track time with its five-year warranty), and any respectable hot hatches should play both Jekyll and Hyde. Which the N does, and does very well indeed. Sometimes you might want to take your nan to the shops, after all.
The Comfort mode softens the electronically actuated active dampers to the point where the ride becomes respectable, dulls the initial throttle response a bit, lightens the steering, makes the ESC cut in earlier and chills out the exhaust.
But the Sport and N modes… That’s another matter. They up the throttle response, cause the active exhaust system to pop and snarl and crackle on the overrun like an A45 AMG, sharpen up the front LSD, add steering weight, and stiffen the ride to maximise the speeds you carry through corners, and your ‘feel’ of the road.
Some cars with such modes do not show enough differentiation, but the i30N becomes a different car depending on which button you push, and that’s reason enough to recommend one.
All told, I walked away from my stint with the i30 N holding very few criticisms. Extroverts might opt for the Civic Type-R’s untethered styling, traditionalists may err towards Renault’s pedigree, rally heads may still consider a WRX the go, and those after a little more of a premium feel may still call the Golf GTI king. And indeed, those are all brilliant cars as well. This hot hatch class is bursting at the seams.
I’d have the i30 N, though, because I love the fact that Hyundai has left no stone unturned in crafting a hot hatch to match them all. It’s not a cynical attempt at brand building that lacks engineering chops. Instead, it’s blindingly obvious that this car was made with love and passion, and that it holds its own with no caveats needed.
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