Hot hatches that are not hatches? Well, not quite – let's call a spade a spade here. The Hyundai i30 Fastback N and Skoda Octavia RS Sedan are, despite their official names, both hatchbacks.
More obviously, though, both comfortably fit the definition of ‘hot’ more readily.
If the form factor of a traditional hatch doesn’t take your fancy, perhaps one of these altered-silhouette five-doors could be a better match to your needs. You’ll still get plenty of performance, a fair dose of day-to-day usefulness, and a healthy side order of cargo practicality.
At a glance, Hyundai’s newest performance variant is the more brash of the pair, but while the Skoda may be the less overt of the two, beneath the surface there’s a genuine struggle for supremacy between them.
Price and specs
Hyundai’s high-performance N cars come in just a single spec Down Under, though there are two body styles available, including the regular five-door hatch starting from $40,490 plus on-road costs or the i30 Fastback N from $41,990.
Despite a similar buy-in price, there are some significant differences under the bonnet, which you can read all about below in 'Drivetrain', and inside there are significant differences as well.
There are similarities, too. Both cars ship with fabric seat trim covering sports seats, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights, rear park sensors, rear camera, autonomous emergency braking, seven airbags and driver-attention monitoring.
Opting for the Fastback N nets you standard features like digital radio, extendable thigh support for the driver’s seat, six-speaker audio, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The options list allows the addition of a powered driver’s seat with memory, leather and suede trim, keyless entry and start, heated seats and steering wheel, wireless mobile charger, and privacy glass as part of the Luxury package, with a panoramic roof available on top.
Alternatively, the Octavia heads down a different path with rear air vents (missing in the i30), 18-inch alloys, standard auto wipers, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter (Hyundai has regular cruise but no limiter), privacy glass, and eight-speaker audio.
Options in the RS are limited (but for a step up in spec, the RS245 has a more comprehensive suite of features); however, à la carte options including 19-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, or a digital instrument cluster (shown here, $700) are available.
Hyundai’s i30 range has attracted plenty of attention, across three generations, for lifting the presentation of Hyundai models out of the brand’s cheap and cheerful past. In this company, however, the i30 Fastback feels more mainstream than the Octavia RS.
While both cars are dominated by a black-on-black sporting aesthetic, the Skoda applies chrome sparingly though tastefully across the dash vents and door handles, avoids dull satin-black plastics, and comes with plenty of squishable soft-touch plastics, if that’s your thing.
Conversely, the i30 Fastback deploys a slightly more curvaceous dash design; however, execution falls short of the Octavia’s. There are more hard, dull plastics, a less resolved infotainment integration, no brightwork, and a downright cheap and flimsy feel to the interior door handles.
Sporting flair in the Octavia comes from tombstone-style sports seats with red highlight panels, and a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel with contrasting red stitching. In the i30 Fastback N Hyundai fits a round wheel (aesthetics aside it makes way more sense), offers adjustable headrests on its sports seats, but avoids loud contrasting panels.
Interestingly, whereas the hatch uses the N division’s baby blue for contrast stitching highlights and the steering wheel drive-mode buttons, the Fastback deploys red stitching and anonymous black buttons for an overall effect that’s far less striking.
Ultimately, the Octavia takes the gong for ease of access, too. It’s a more conventional design with a higher roof, which means more generous accommodation – particularly in the rear seat, where the larger door apertures ease the burden of getting in and out.
Once seated, there’s visibly more space in just about every direction, too. Head room is the obvious winner, but the Octavia is wider and sits on a longer wheelbase, too, to the benefit of rear passenger space.
That’s not to say the i30 Fastback is limited, but it’s clear that pursuit of a sleeker profile has impacted passenger space ever so slightly. Taller adults won’t find an abundance of head room, there’s a measure less knee room, smaller side windows, and a rising sill line that requires stepping over for access.
As you reach the boot, the Fastback’s form-over-function design stands out again. The boot is certainly deep, but has a shorter overall length and a much higher load lip.
Skoda also goes to town with little utility touches like bag hooks and seat-fold levers in the boot, along with a larger, lower hatchback opening.
With 568L of capacity to the rear seats in the Octavia compared to 436L in the Fastback, outright capacity also reigns, plus there’s no obstruction from a strut brace, unlike the i30, though it can be removed if required.
Alright, you’ve read about the practical ‘hatch’ stuff. Now for the ‘hot’ part.
Under the bonnet of each you’ll find a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, but there are some important detail differences when it comes to outputs.
In the Octavia you’ll have access to 180kW of power from 5000 to 6700rpm and 370Nm of torque between 1600 and 4300rpm. The i30, which comes standard with a high-output Performance package, optional overseas, provides a bolder 202kW at 6000rpm and a regular 353Nm from 1450 to 4700rpm or a more prodigious 378Nm full-throttle overboost from 1750 to 4200rpm in 18-second stints.
Perhaps more significantly, though, the i30 N comes equipped only with a six-speed manual, and while earlier versions of the Octavia RS offered a manual option, a recent running change means the RS range is now only paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
In order to get power to their front wheels effectively, both employ a locking front differential and both feature adjustable drive modes to tweak the settings of throttle, steering, and diff-locking aggression. Hyundai also adds control for its bi-modal exhaust, while Skoda relies on interior augmentation instead.
Performance claims see Hyundai tout a 6.1-second 0–100km/h sprint, while Skoda offers a slightly less boastful 6.6-second dash to 100.
Figures only tell part of the story, though. You might already pick where this is headed based on outputs and acceleration figures, but there’s a fair difference in attitude between the two.
From the moment you fire the i30 Fastback N up, there’s a more purposeful snarl from the exhaust. A deep bass note emanating from the rear of the vehicle suggests there’s something fairly serious up front.
It’s entirely possible to drive the i30 N in a sedate manner, but all the while its playful side bubbles away. Even set to ‘normal’ mode with exhaust quiet, dampers soft, and throttle dulled, it’s pretty clear that package is an altogether more sporting one.
On the other hand, the Octavia RS feels more calm with its settings dialled into their sedate mode. There’s a more rounded and progressive throttle, a less vocal exhaust, and a sense of calm to the entire package that belies its sporting intent.
The biggest difference between the two can be found to the driver’s left, with the Hyundai equipped with a traditional six-speed manual, while the Skoda features a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Neither comes with an alternative option. The manual Octavia RS has been discontinued and Hyundai should have an automatic i30 N coming, but is still to confirm details and timing for such a model.
The result is a more ‘pure’ enthusiast feel to the i30. The gearshift action may not be the most precise, nor the clutch the most feelsome (the Honda Civic Type R takes that honour for the hot-hatch class); however, the package works with a balance of driving appeal and ease of use.
The Octavia doubles up on user-friendliness by omitting a clutch pedal altogether. Peak-hour commuting is simpler, the auto works without fuss or hesitation, and a sports mode plus steering-mounted shift paddles allow for more aggressive control options.
It’s not unreasonable to base your decision between these two on transmission availability. Frankly, the lack of choice in an enthusiast-led (but also widely consumed) segment is a little baffling.
Ride and handling
Engines tell one side of the story, but no hot hatch can wear the title without a suitably sporting chassis to match.
In this instance, both cars feature specific spring and damper tunes compared to their more pedestrian range-mates, along with more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension in place of torsion beam rears.
The Fastback also differs somewhat from the N hatch with a slightly softer ride designed to complement its more premium positioning.
Driven back-to-back, the Octavia feels the firmer of this pair over chattering road surfaces with dampers set to their normal setting. Initial bump suppression is sterner (and I’m talking about a very slim margin here), while the Fastback has a gentler first strike, but also a hint less recovery composure.
Thumb the mode controller on either and the dampers become more firmly tied down, transferring more of what’s happening at a road level into the cabin. It’s here the i30 Fastback becomes the more aggressive of the two, with a more subtle difference across settings in the RS.
There’s a little more weight to the Octavia’s steering across modes, but while the i30 requires less effort, it also has more lively feedback inspiring a greater sense of confidence and connection with the road.
Even with mechanical-locking differentials in both cars, it seems Skoda has been a little more conservative with its lock actuation allowing a single front wheel to spin more readily before clamping drive across both wheels.
Faster responses from the i30 N’s tricky front differential result in less slip and more acceleration under most circumstances. While it can carry plenty of speed into a corner, the sheer rush of acceleration encourages slow in, fast out cornering.
In terms of personality, there’s a distinct difference between the two. From behind the wheel, the Octavia feels more sensible and conservative – a family-friendly hatch that’s had the heat turned up.
On the other hand, the i30 Fastback N takes a more always-on approach. It’s ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, lively and aggressive all the time, and makes no attempt to come across as anything other than an enthusiast's choice.
Service and warranty
With five-year warranties now par for the course amongst mainstream brands, both five-year, unlimited-kilometre terms for the Octavia RS and i30 Fastback N are evenly matched, not only against each other, but also most segment competitors (Renault Megane RS being the outlier at three years).
Both brands offer capped-price service programs. The Octavia requires servicing at 12-month/15,000km intervals costing $2316 for the first five visits post-paid. The Fastback comes to a cheaper $1595 for its first five visits, but runs shorter (in distance terms) 12-month/10,000km intervals.
Pre-paid servicing programs are also available, the Octavia at $860 for three visits or $1700 for five, while the Fastback comes to $897 for a three-service package and $1595 for five years, with longer distance coverage programs also available for high-kilometre usage.
Since we're running the numbers, it's also worth touching on fuel consumption: the i30 carries an official 8.0L/100km consumption rating, while the Octavia wears a far more frugal 6.5L/100km figure. On test, driven back-to-back including some fairly spirited running, the Hyundai returned 8.5L/100km compared to 7.8L/100km from the Octavia.
Neither the i30 Fastback N nor the Octavia RS is a loser in this comparison. Both offer their own take on sporty styling, and both impart performance-themed touches on otherwise mainstream packages.
There can only be one winner, though.
The Octavia RS is an incredibly well-rounded package. It melds together useful interior touches and high-quality finishes. It wears its practicality on its sleeve. It offers user-friendly, family-friendly approachability.
The Octavia really does go on a bit of a box-ticking spree when it comes to assessment criteria, and it excels as a balanced all-rounder with a sporting bent. Calm enough to allow five days a week of work commuting, with enough energy in reserve for spirited weekend runs.
The Hyundai i30 Fastback N gets the gong on this occasion, though. It may be a little more dour on the inside, but it only takes a quick whip around the block to see that Hyundai has gone the extra mile to ensure its first-generation hot hatch leaves a properly scorching impression.
There’s a clear, unbridled and unfiltered eagerness to the way the i30 Fastback N gets its power down and embraces the art of cornering – all set to a wild and raucous soundtrack to amplify the enthusiast-appeasing experience.
It is precisely what a not-hatch hot hatch should be.