It’s amazing, to think how far Hyundai’s N division has come in such a short time. From having created arguably one of the best hot hatches currently on sale with the i30 N, to following that up with a ‘fastback’ model so soon after (not to mention the Veloster N, although we won't be getting that one here).
It seems that when there is a will – and seemingly endless resources – there is a way.
Indeed, the South Koreans are no longer the underdogs when it comes to making performance cars. It may be fun for some to think of Hyundai and Kia as slowly evolving and still chasing the European or Japanese offerings, but it’s simply not the case. Go drive the new i30 Fastback N and you will immediately see why.
But first, the name. Hyundai calls it the i30 Fastback N, where really it should be called the Hyundai i30 N Fastback, because that makes a lot more sense. It would be like Volkswagen calling the Golf R Wagon a Golf Wagon R, and that sounds stupid. But let’s forgive them that.
So what exactly is an i30 Fastback N? At $41,990 (a $1500 premium over the hatch), it’s really a modern day interpretation of a sedan. Technically, a fastback is when the rear of the car has a single slope from the roof to the rear. It’s a lot sleeker, and hell, who doesn’t want to buy a car called 'fastback', instead of sedan?
Standing outside, the i30 N Fastback (yes, that’s what I'll call it from now on) is hard to distinguish from the front, but obviously the rear is a totally different car. I do love that noticeably large lip spoiler on the boot, which flows nicely into the rear diffuser and the big strip of reflective lights at the bottom. The fastback doesn’t work quite so well in black, given the black spoiler tends to blend in too much, but other than that, it’s a pretty nice looking thing.
Weirdly enough, despite not being a hatch, the boot is actually about 15 per cent bigger and, although the Fastback carries a 12kg weight penalty over the hatch, it holds that mostly on the rear axle, giving it a better front-to-rear weight distribution of 59.7 percent front, 40.3 percent rear – a small but positive difference from the i30 hatchback’s 61.8:38.2 respectively.
Jump inside and the changes are subtle, but the theme here is the red stitching and highlights all throughout the cabin. Where the hatch has those highlights in blue, the fastback goes red. It’s the little things that add to the character and distinction of the car and overall, it’s a pretty decent interior regardless, with soft-touch materials where you want them and a good use of space all around.
There are some surfaces and materials that can certainly be a bit better in terms of aesthetics, as well as fit and finish, but at about $45,000 on-road for what is a remarkable performance car, it’s hard to really criticise that too much.
For our road test and review, Hyundai brought media to Adelaide where we drove an i30 N Fastback on Australia’s latest and arguably, greatest race track: The Bend.
On the way there, we really got to feel the updated suspension system of the Fastback, which is just a tiny bit softer, making it easier to live with on the day-to-day. We found the i30 able to better adjust to mid-corner bumps but also just feel more settled and controlled on everyday Australian roads.
From a technical standpoint, Hyundai has reduced the roll stiffness across the front axle by about five percent, which it says brings benefits to handling, ride and power-down. The company has also modified the front and rear dampers. The front now feature a rebound spring, and longer, softer bump stops while the rear gets a new camber control arm.
Meanwhile, there is a new software tune for the adaptable suspension, helped along by the front anti-roll bar diameter being reduced by 0.8mm. In our eyes, the changes have definitely calmed down the arguably harsh nature of the hatch’s suspension feel and – on the road at least – it hasn’t compromised handling or dynamics.
As a result of the softer front, the weight transfer to the rear, mid-corner, does have the effect of lift-off oversteer and if you’re into that sort of thing, the back end does love to play.
After many trips up and down a mountain pass, it’s fair to say the main noticeable improvement for the i30 N Fastback is the turn-in. The steering is incredibly sharp and directed now, almost so much that you can call it over-sensitive in full N-mode.
On the racetrack, where we ended up, it makes a lot more sense.
The Fastback carries over the same powertrain as the hatch, that being a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 202 kW at 6000rpm, and a maximum torque of 353Nm from 1450 to 4700rpm with an overboost system that can get that to 378Nm for about 18 seconds.
Like the hatch, it's available only as a six-speed manual (dual-clutch transmission models expected late this year) which limits its 0-100km/h time to a claimed 6.1 seconds (250 km/h electronically limited maximum speed). We suspect it will easily be in the 5 second category with a DCT.
Even so, the manual gearbox is actually a huge highlight of the car. It’s deeply enjoyable to use and, with the rev-matching feature turned on, it definitely suits the track warrior.
Unfortunately, rev-matching or not, the Bend is not a track that suits the i30 N. It’s not that it’s underpowered or feels sluggish (far from it, in fact), but rather that the bespoke Pirelli P Zero N tyres are the biggest weakness of this car on a low-surface-grip track such as the Bend, and we really suffered consistent grip issues that manifested in the form of understeer.
Having done close to 40 laps of the track in half-a-dozen different i30 N Fastbacks, the same issues were consistent across the cars. The limited grip further resulted in the traction control systems (dialled in to N mode) working overtime to keep the car pointing in the right direction, which led to regular braking problems, where the brakes would heat up to a point whereby they would all but stop working when you really needed them (which resulted in numerous off-track excursions), then a few corners later they would be back to near-normal levels.
It was a rather peculiar lack of braking consistency that could easily be solved with better pads, and perhaps most importantly, better tyres like Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2s or the Pirelli Trofeo Rs (if you’re really serious) to take the pressure off the traction and stability systems.
In saying that, we were pushing the i30 N to the limit and often, well-and-truly beyond. However, in doing so, we can tell you that for a car in its price range, it would be pretty darn hard to beat. The steering feel and turn-in is superb and when the tyres and brakes are in their sweet spot (which would last perhaps, two laps at best), the ability to carry incredibly high speed into sweeping corners is rather fascinating.
The car’s electronically-controlled limited-slip differential is on par with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R for dialling out understeer and really helping get the power down via the front wheels.
Having driven the i30 N hatch on a track as well (although not back to back) we did find the Fastback’s slightly revised and softer suspension to be more noticeable on the track than we would’ve liked. There was a bit more weight transfer both side-to-side and front-to-rear and that occasionally resulted in – what we felt – was more steering input than otherwise required.
Regardless of that, Hyundai says the new suspension results in a quicker lap time around the Nurburgring than the old model and indeed, the hatch will also take the softer setup with the MY20 update coming later this year. But, to be honest, I would rather have the originally harder and stiffer suspension for the track and the revised and newer suspension setup for the road.
As with the hatch, there is a near countless number of variations you can change the settings too but for us, N-mode was more than enough.
What I wish Hyundai didn’t do, though, is the fake noise. The South Korean brand uses an active variable exhaust system that lets drivers pick between different exhaust sounds via a special exhaust valve. So far, so good, but where it gets a little lame is the electronic sound generator in the cabin (located at the base of the windscreen). At least the crackle and pop backfire you hear is actually real, and done so by altering the injector timing.
Ultimately, what Hyundai has with the i30 N fastback is a very, very unique offering. You need to spend far more money and step up into an Audi S3 or Mercedes-Benz CLA to get any other performance sedan. There is a very good chance, then, that the fastback will actually outsell the hatch, as a classier and more distinctive choice over what is a rather crowded hot hatch market.