Like the look of the Hyundai i30 N, but can't get the prospect of a manual hot-hatch through your other half? Hyundai has the perfect compromise. Paul Maric goes for a spin.
It's an age-old problem – you want a car that looks quick and aggressive, but it's impossible to make it happen at home for political reasons.
Well, that's part of the reason Hyundai wanted to increase the appeal of its i30 SR model. Sure, the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet was potent enough to land it in the category of 'warm hatch', but it never really looked aggressive enough to be called one.
So, the company set out to create a styling package that would align it more with its fully fledged hot hatch, the i30 N, by giving it similar styling cues and giving buyers the option of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (as opposed to the manual-only i30 N).
From the outside you'll notice the revised front end with exposed air dams, the cascading grille and the sharp edges around the headlights. It continues around the side with a new set of alloy wheels and a beefed-up rear end. Also, it's worth pointing out the impressive rubber upgrade. The car now wears some respectable Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S treads that help redefine the way it handles – more on these later.
As background, the N-Line concept will expand beyond just the i30 with the Tucson set to get N-Line treatment in the coming months. It's part of a range-wide enhancement for Hyundai that groups its warmer products to add a point of differentiation from the 'whitegoods' models.
While the i30's interior was never a letdown, the N-Line enhancements come in the form of badges (many of them) and a new gear lever (for the automatic model). Outside of that, the i30 remains virtually the same visually and in terms of features.
The Hyundai i30 range now kicks off from $19,990 (plus on-road costs) for the i30 Go and ends at $39,990 for the i30 N. The i30 N-Line can be had in two trim levels, the i30 N-Line from $26,490 or the N-Line Premium from $34,990.
The big price difference comes down to a couple of things. Firstly, the i30 N-Line starting price is for the six-speed manual, which misses out on autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and other driver technology such as radar cruise control.
Stepping up to the automatic i30 N-Line requires the addition of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and includes the safety features the manual misses out on, which adds $3000 to the cost. The automatic-only N-Line Premium then costs an additional $5500 on top of that.
That creates a small issue for Hyundai because the Kia Cerato GT hatch and sedan are both priced from $32,990 before on-road costs. But, they both launched with drive-away pricing of $31,990 and include a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard, along with more features over the base i30 N-Line.
Anyway, put the Cerato GT to one side, because if you have your heart set on the i30 N-Line, there's no way I'll be able to convince you otherwise.
Fit and finish both inside and outside are excellent. It's hard to comprehend how a car company like Hyundai can manufacture a warm hatch like the i30 (or any i30 for that matter) with an interior that's as solid as a drum and feels far more premium than its price tag would suggest. All of the cabin's components feel premium, and even in the entry-level N-Line trim, you are getting stacks of standard equipment.
The leather seats are very comfortable with adequate bottom and bolster support, but lack the electric position adjustment of the N-Line Premium model. You do get keyless entry and pushbutton start, though, along with an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system with inbuilt satellite navigation and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
While the infotainment system is easy to use and very quick to transition between screens, it's let down by a lack of voice recognition, which you can only use when the system is paired to your smartphone with a cable.
Around the new gear lever you'll find a stack of blank buttons. These are the features you miss out on over the more expensive N-Line Premium variant. There is one button, though, and it's the drive mode selector, but more on this later.
Ahead of the driver you'll find analogue gauges and a central LCD display that shows the digital speedometer, drive mode information and the trip computer. It's a handy screen that can be scrolled using a switch on the steering wheel.
Leg and toe room in the second row are fairly tight if the driver or front passenger pushes their seat most of the way backwards. It's offset by adequate head and shoulder room, along with a folding centre armrest with cup holders and two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats.
Cargo capacity is good for this segment at 395L, which expands to 1301L with the second row folded. Beneath the cargo floor is a space-saver spare tyre.
Kick the engine over and you'll catch a starter motor sound reminiscent of a Hyundai Getz – the strange things your mind remembers. Once it settles, the N-Line idles quietly and doesn't have the raucous anticipation of the full-fruit i30 N.
Once the car is moving, you'll love how direct the steering is and how well the car handles through corners. The Australian ride and handling tune has focussed on making the most of the i30 N-Line's independent rear suspension, which offers greater suspension freedom without the negative kick you can get across the car with a torsion beam.
In and around town, the ride is on the firmer side of comfortable. That has been tuned into the chassis to allow it to make the most of the sticky new Michelin rubber.
When you do find a set of bends, the i30 N-Line really impresses with razor-sharp handling and hot-hatch-like mechanical grip levels. This new Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyre has given the i30 aggressive cornering ability without taking away from ride comfort and cabin noise.
The standard 18-inch alloy wheels and 225mm-wide rubber with 40-profile sidewalls cope well with mid-corner bumps and the types of road surfaces that would normally unsettle a car as it's cruising along.
In-gear acceleration is excellent thanks to the punchy 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque.
While it's great in gear, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox can be a bit fussy at low speeds. It's either on or off, and doesn't allow the full slipping motion of a conventional torque converter automatic.
With the drive mode dialled into Sport, the steering becomes heavier and the gear changes a little less lazy. The steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are the best bet for extracting the most from the package.
After a spirited drive, we found the brake pedal feel to be a little wooden and firmer than we'd like. It results in you not having full confidence in the braking package and requires extra stopping effort for the same return in braking distance.
We are big fans of the light rasp that's injected into the cabin and out of the exhaust. It's not i30 N loud, but there's enough noise to be heard if you decide to begin assaulting the throttle.
Running a car like the i30 N-Line is quite affordable thanks to reasonable fuel consumption – 7.1 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle – and capped-price servicing. Servicing occurs every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first) and costs $1385 over a five-year period, which is also the length of the warranty.
The Hyundai i30 continues going from strength to strength with a model to suit all budgets. The latest warm-hatch creation delivers a competent package with a premium interior at a reasonable price.
It's somewhat let down by the dual-clutch automatic transmission, and further let down by a lack of basic safety technology if you opt for the six-speed manual.
It's at this point you really need to consider the automatic-only Kia Cerato GT as a viable alternative and happily net the cheaper drive-away asking price, plus the additional two years of manufacturer's warranty at the same time.