The Hyundai i30 Fastback N is a striking proposition. While the hatch lines up squarely against a raft of familiar hot hatch luminaries such as the Golf GTI and Megane RS, its longer and slinkier sibling is harder to pigeonhole.
We’ve already pitched it against a fellow outsider in the form of Skoda’s criminally under-appreciated Octavia RS. But there’s another car that has proportions somewhere between a sedan and hatch, the hardcore Honda Civic Type R.
We've extensively covered this car in comparison tests against every comparable hot hatch we could find, but honestly there can never be enough can there?
It might look vastly more outlandish than the understated Hyundai, but that’s sort of the point. Neither of these cars appeal to ‘conventional’ hot hatch buyers on account of their looks. What about below the skin? Let’s see.
Pricing and specs
The Hyundai is a real performance bargain, which should surprise nobody given the company is still trying to win loyalty. The Fastback’s $41,990 (before on-road costs) pricepoint is $1500 more than the ‘regular’ hatch version. Our Performance Blue car came with $3000 of options, taking it to $44,990.
The Honda’s list price is $51,990, plus another $575 for the Championship White paint on our test car, taking it to $52,565 – a difference of $7575 over the Hyundai. Keep in mind the Type R is a bigger and faster offering, as we’ll detail a little further down.
Both cars get standard features such as LED headlights and DRLs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, DAB+, climate control, reversing camera, rear sensors, autonomous emergency city braking and lane-keep assist.
The Honda adds adaptive cruise control, has more speakers, rain-sensing wipers adaptive cruise control, proximity key fob, and LaneWatch blind-spot monitor.
But only the Hyundai comes standard with sat-nav and SUNA, and it also has a larger touchscreen. Plus, our i30 Fastback test car’s $3000 Luxury pack adds heated, leather/suede memory seats, rain-sensing wipers, a proximity key, front sensors, a wireless phone charger, auto-dimming rear mirrors, a heated steering wheel and puddle lights.
Verdict: The Hyundai is both cheaper and, once optioned, better equipped. Kudos to Honda for offering more driver-assist tech, however.
Honda Civic Type R
Hyundai i30 N
Pirelli P-Zero HN
Auto-folding side mirrors
Proximity key fob
You drop right down into the Type R’s sculpted bucket seats trimmed in bright red. They’re absolutely brilliant, with ample padding, excellent support, and both height and reach adjustment.
Offsetting those red seats are the equally bright seatbelts, stitching in the door fabric, leather steering wheel trim, Honda badge and plastic piping surrounding the dash pieces.
The silver globe-top gear shifter, driving-mode rocker switch, build plate (ours was unit 16932) and drilled aluminium pedal caps leave you in no doubt this isn’t your regular Civic.
The driving position is perfect: low, gearstick mounted nearby, pedals ideally spaced, wheel highly adjustable, and through-line visibility past the A-pillars no issue.
The digital instruments contain a G-reader, turbo pressure gauge, and stopwatch, while the speedo and tacho design changes with your driving mode.
The centre screen is only 7.0 inches and the software isn’t the most sophisticated, and there’s no navigation so you’ll need to rely on phone mirroring via a charging cable. There’s also no volume adjustment dial, just touch buttons. And the rear camera is grainy.
Cabin storage is above average, with the suede-covered centre console big enough for a handbag or a few drink bottles, and a hidden cubby situated underneath the transmission tunnel, behind the fascia.
Back seat space is sufficient for two 185cm adults, though interestingly there’s no middle seat. The hard front seat shells aren’t great on the knees, but they do look rather wonderful. The boot is an enormous 414L.
The options package really adds a lot to the i30 N’s cabin: the leather and suede seats aren’t as supportive as the Honda’s but they’re more padded, and they’re heated with electric adjustment and two memory presets.
Other stuff like the proximity key fob, Qi smartphone charger, front sensors and auto-dimming rear mirror are all worthwhile features and well worth the outlay.
Some people have criticised the i30N’s cabin for being a little dour and austere, and it’s true there’s no shortage of mono-coloured plastics that are hard to the touch. It’s certainly scarcely different from a base i30 that costs half as much.
However, the ergonomics are just as great as the Honda’s, and the absence of a massive rear wing makes it easier to see behind.
The steering wheel is fat and a little squishy, with an unsurprising hint of BMW about it. The fact you can change driving modes and turn off the rev-matcher via paddles on each spoke is also a stroke of ergonomic mastery.
The back seats are quite a bit pokier than the Honda’s, and that’s before you fork out extra for a sunroof. Boot space is a massive 436L (55L bigger than the hatch), though there’s a (removable) rigid body structure brace hard against the back seats.
The Hyundai also has a better infotainment system: sat-nav with SUNA, a larger screen, real hard buttons, and a great N screen with performance timer, power/torque/turbo gauges, a G-meter, and various nifty graphics depicting each driving mode, including one that’s fully customisable rather than relying on presets.
Verdict: The Honda's cabin is as 'loud' as its exterior, while the Hyundai's is a little bland but has better tech. Neither match the sophistication of a Golf GTI. Honda gets the edge.
These cars were created with a shared philosophy. Both are front-wheel drive, have 2.0-litre turbocharged engines, and exclusively court driving enthusiasts by only coming with a six-speed manual gearbox. Don’t fancy three pedals? Take a hike!
The Honda offers more impressive top-line outputs. Its engine makes 228kW of power at 6500rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2500 and 4500rpm – something no naturally aspirated VTEC engine could have ever achieved – as you head towards the 7000rpm redline.
By contrast, Hyundai’s twin-scroll turbocharged engine offers 202kW (at 6000rpm) and 353Nm. However, that torque peak is available from 1450rpm, meaning at low engine speeds it actually offers more pulling power than the peakier Honda. Intriguingly, once you’re at the i30 N's torque peak, you get another 25Nm of temporary overboost for a secondary rush.
Nevertheless, the Hyundai’s 0–100km/h time, a sharpish 6.1 seconds, is not enough to topple the 5.8sec Honda. Much of that comes down to the respective weights. Despite being the smaller car, the Hyundai is a bit of a porker at 1520kg (kerb) against the positively exiguous (1393kg) Honda.
The Hyundai’s drivetrain offers instantaneous response thanks to that torque band, and the exhaust outlets house maniacal crackles and pops when you lift off throttle and enter overrun. It looks duller but sounds far angrier than the Honda.
The manual gearshift has a nice pattern and a weighty feel, with an ideal clutch take-up point. It’s also well geared, not too short in first and second, though the fact you bounce off the rev limiter at 98km/h and need to grab third dulls the sprint fun. The nifty rev-matching system is controlled by a very handy button on the steering wheel.
The i30 generally puts its power down without much fuss, with torque-steer absent and axle tramp only attainable if the road surface is very slippery. There’s also an ingenious acceleration timer in the centre display that engages at take-off and stops automatically once you pass 100km/h.
To give you an idea of how easy the Hyundai is to drive hard in launch control, my very first take-off in the car, on a slightly damp road, without a practice run to best judge the clutch, yielded a 6.5-second sprint just four-tenths off the claim.
Yet, throw it into its Comfort setting for the commute home through the ’burbs and it’s dialled way back.
The Honda’s engine feels punchier. For a small turbo it craves high revs, clearly a nod to Honda’s atmo roots, and moreover its triple exhausts emit a distinctive whoosh once you head north of 4500rpm, rather than crackling unburnt fuel drops like the i30.
The cold steel gear knob is delightful, and in classic Honda style the shift pattern is beautifully mechanical, and the clutch perfectly weighted with a bite point right where you want it. Our car had a slightly notchy throw from third to fourth, which we’ve not experienced in other Type Rs, meaning it’d probably had a very hard, short life to date in the hands of heartless journos.
On a slightly greasy road, the engine is actually sufficiently geared to give you wheel-spin not just when you dump the clutch and take off in first, but also when you grab second. Taking off in anger requires more careful judgement than in the Hyundai, but the drama is what makes it rewarding.
The shorter initial gearing means you need an extra upshift on your way out to 100km/h, but your head is more firmly stuck to the seat's one-piece backrest.
However, flick the rocker switch controlling your driving mode to Comfort, and everything is dialled back to the point where it feels like a base Civic. Jekyll-Hyde.
Verdict: The i30 N's exhaust crackles on overrun or upon downshifts sound awesome, but the Honda pins your head to the seat to a greater and more sustained degree.
Much has been made of Hyundai’s decision to recruit former BMW M Division chief Albert Biermann to lead its research and development, based largely at Germany’s Nürburgring.
The impact isn’t simply repetitional, because the N handles brilliantly thanks to good stuff like Pirelli P-Zero rubber, extensive chassis bracing, a two-mode electronically controlled mechanical LSD shuffling power across the front axle, three-mode electric-assisted steering, and large ventilated discs at both ends.
The most striking thing about the i30 N is how adjustable it is. You have four progressively aggressive preset driving modes and one that’s entirely configurable like a BMW’s (how coincidental) that adjust your ride control, steering weight, the ESC intervention point, e-LSD dynamics, active exhaust sound, rev-matching, and throttle mapping.
The Hyundai feels relatively weighty and planted, with hefty steering that once again reminds one of a BMW's. The ride quality is absolutely great all things considered, since the car recovers/settles on rebound instantly, and despite its slim-sidewall tyres it glides over ruts and potholes far better than I'd expected it to. It’s thus a composed daily driver.
The LSD reduces understeer unless you seriously overcook it, and the effortless way the i30 carves corners is notable, though it’s never quite as twitchy, engaging or challenging as some other classic hot hatches out there.
By contrast, everything in the Honda, at least from a dynamic driving perspective, is turned up to 11.
Its Continental tyres are sticky but convey more road noise. Its helical LSD says goodbye to any FWD gremlins despite the power hike over the Hyundai, allowing you to rip into corners with serious pace, confidence and even more gusto.
The steering is a little less resistant and more direct from centre, requiring more constant corrections and inputs. The car is also prone to lift-off oversteer and moments where you find yourself getting a smidgen squirrelly, occasionally even seeing the ESC intervene.
The difference between the Honda’s adaptive damper modes is marked, with the control going into overdrive to make the ride super stiff. It’s all dialled right back in Comfort mode, though, becoming a vaguely convincing daily – something its looks wouldn’t suggest. It also has a tighter turning circle than the shorter Hyundai.
That design is ludicrous, but such things are part of Honda’s brand DNA. The bodykit is advertised as adding go (downforce) as well as show, with Honda citing the “track-tested aero kit featuring front and side splitters, a rear diffuser, vortex generators and rear wing spoiler”.
Verdict: What a few hot sequences in the Type R made clear is that it’s a car that demands respect. One that can snap and bite you if you’re not careful, which requires constant inputs and engagement, but which has a higher ceiling. It’s everything a hot Honda should be.
Both come with five-year warranties sans distance limits, and available roadside assist.
The Honda must be serviced every 10,000km (or when the engine oil light comes on) and every visit out to 100,000km is capped at $323.
The Hyundai’s intervals are either 12 months or 10,000km, with the first three visits capped at $299 and the fourth at $399.
Both brands also offer some tasty accessories.
There’s a really strong argument for the Hyundai i30 Fastback N. It’s better value for money for starters, has better infotainment, a cracklier exhaust, an understated but handsome design, and as the new kid on the block is sure to interest all of your car-mad mates.
However, the Honda Civic Type R demands more of you, in a good way. It feels 10 per cent more hard-edged, of making your heart beat that much quicker.
Yet, it’s a perfectly liveable daily driver provided you like sticking out everywhere you go. It’s a specific car for a specific niche, but it delivers.
Honda Civic Type R
Hyundai i30 N
Pirelli P-Zero HN
1441kg – 1520kg
Ventilated front, solid rear
Ventilated front and rear
350mm front, 305mm rear
345mm front, 314mm rear