Despite being one of the first to see the Hyundai i30 Fastback N at its global reveal in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 2017, it’s now two years on and I’m only just climbing into the driver’s seat for the first time.
Back then, they presented the standard (non N) version only, and Hyundai Australia was yet to decide if it was going to take the model at all. And, as we now know, it was a ‘no’ for that version, but a tick for the go-fast N variant.
No question, its coupe-like design is a bit of a polariser, even for many ‘N’ fans and enthusiasts alike, at least at first glance. It seems like it’s going to take people more time to come around to its CLA-style rear-end styling treatment.
It might even be an age thing, if my own opinion counts for anything around here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge fan of the ‘hot hatch’ as a whole, but the i30 N isn’t my top pick in the segment. Much of which has to do with its less-than-aggressive rear end treatment compared with, let’s say, the Megane RS, for instance.
There’s a certain level of maturity to this five-door coupe design, which may well resonate with those buyers who have already achieved their half-century innings in life. For those in that particular age bracket, it’s less likely to be construed a midlife-crisis purchase by your neighbours.
Truth is, I’d buy this over the hatch, based solely on the five-door coupe styling and the extra utility value it offers, but that’s just me. But even then, it’s still a close call that might swing either way when it comes time to hand over the cash.
Other positives exclusive to the Fastback include a significant gain in boot space (55L) thanks to its slightly longer length and liftback body. For some, that alone might be worth the $1500 bump in price to $41,990 plus on-roads, but for others it may well be the increased performance and improved ride comfort that will get them over the line.
But, unlike the hatch, rear vision isn’t great due to the steeply raked back window that isn’t all that wide either. Here, you’ll need to rely on the rear-view camera more than you might like.
Mind you, there’s no additional grunt to be found under the bonnet. The Fastback gets the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot producing identical outputs – 202kW at 6000rpm and 353Nm at 1450–4700rpm. And, just like the hatch, there’s an overboost function that kicks into action on full throttle between 1750–4200rpm for 18 seconds per gear ratio – a significant mid-range bump by any standards.
The extra performance is entirely the result of its slipperier body, which brings a 7.0 per cent reduction in aerodynamic drag compared with the hatchback. That explains Hyundai’s own 0–100km/h claim of 6.1 seconds versus 6.2 seconds for the hatch. Not bad for a heavier vehicle with more cargo space and exactly the same engine specs.
We liked that engine from the very first time we drove the full-blown ‘N’ car at the international launch in Italy a couple of years back. You definitely knew you were in something a little bit potent. Nothing has changed in that department. From the instant you tap the start button, you’re momentarily rewarded with an Akrapovich-like exhaust note that unequivocally leaves a smile on your face, while putting an exciting spin on a daily driver at the same time.
Have cause to put the boot in and there’s some decent shove as the torque builds in the mid-range. It’s a quick car in the sense that it allows the lucky driver to exploit everything it’s got, but with zero intimidation factor – and surely that’s the point of a car like this. Affordable, tougher-than-normal stance, and exciting from a performance perspective.
Much fun can be had from leaning on the throttle early in the corner exits, which is due to the electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential helping to get the power down evenly.
What’s more, it's equally at home on the track with solid engineering and a general robustness thanks to the highly regarded ‘N’ boss Albert Biermann (formerly the main man at BMW’s M division). That is a big reason why non-competitive track use is also covered under the standard Hyundai five-year unlimited-kay warranty.
It sounds good, too, with lots of snap, crackle and pops, but only if you’ve selected ‘N’ mode via the chequered flag button on the steering wheel, which also simply adjusts the adaptive dampers to a firmer setting as well as sharpening up throttle response. Otherwise, things are pretty tame in ‘Normal’ – ideally left for the peak-hour crawl.
But once you get some clean road ahead, it feels great to take it up a few notches through some challenging bends. Chassis balance and roll reduction are excellent thanks to the latest suspension tuning, which includes an extended bump-stop that delivers more grip to the front tyres, while out back there’s a rear camber control arm that adds lateral stiffness and more grip.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself always pushing a little deeper into each corner given the sheer confidence this car gives the driver. It just feels at home when driven with a bucketload of enthusiasm.
No surprise really – apart from the high volume of ultra-high-strength steel used in the Fastback N, there’s also an N-specific rear stiffening bar between the rear damper top mounts, behind the rear seats, increasing body rigidity by six per cent. It’s also removable if you need the space.
We like the level of steering feedback, too, for its natural feel from the N’s rack-mounted, motor-driven power steering system, which is unusual for this segment. It’s another feature of this car that works in concert with the rest of the car’s chassis.
Technically, it’s a slightly softer setting at both ends, including a new front rebound spring that not only gives the car good poise – even when dealing with mid-corner bumps at speed – but also ride comfort has improved dramatically over the previously tuned hatch, with a genuinely good ride/handling balance achieved.
In fact, it really doesn’t matter how bad the roads are (within reason), the Fastback can be hammered into corners, and more often than not you’re able to keep the power down and the car will generally remain nice and planted. The level of grip available is a big plus here and very satisfying.
But those who prefer the hatch body needn’t worry either, because it too will benefit from the more polished chassis tune this year. And, it’s worth noting that although it’s a global suspension tune, Hyundai Australia provided some useful input into the mix in terms of better dealing with our less than perfect road conditions.
It’s just another reason why this reviewer would choose the Fastback over its hatch sibling, although we’re still not sure how these changes will translate on the racetrack, if that matters at all.
Equally important to the daily drive is cabin comfort, and again that’s well accounted for with Alcantara seat inserts (front and rear), which are both evenly bolstered and soft to the touch. Longer stints behind the wheel are no issue.
‘N’ cars are premium-priced within Hyundai’s range, so you get all the cool kit and safety features. That includes the centrepiece 8.0-inch touchscreen, which provides an interface for both infotainment, including media, and performance data such as power and torque output, as well as built-in lap timer, g-force and acceleration timer functions.
Other goodies include Apple CarPlay – seriously, do you need anything else? But there’s also wireless charging (if you opt for the Luxury Pack), factory GPS, auto-on headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, and DAB+ digital radio among many other features.
It’s all there, as well as the same full suite of active safety kit such as lane-keeping assist, forward-collision avoidance assist (AEB), and driver-attention warning.
Given the significant improvement in ride comfort, the i30 Fastback N is more than ever the complete performance package for the buyer that wants something a little different to the standard hot-hatch formula. In that regard, the Fastback delivers in spades.