We first tested the Hyundai i30 N on Australian soil over two years ago, back in March 2018. We loved it back then, giving it an initial score of 8.7. However, a lot has changed since.
The Golf GTI has walked away in terms of price, now only offered with a sole 180kW motor, from $47,190 before on-roads. As a refresher, the 2020 Hyundai i30 N is priced from $41,400, also before on-roads.
The Focus ST has stepped up its game, too, now becoming more of a true hot hatch. You'll find an eLSD up front for the first time, arguably quintessential in a modern-day performance car, as well as big power figures from its new 2.3-litre engine stolen from the previous-generation RS model.
While others have moved the bar significantly, what has Hyundai done?
Well, other than introducing one new body type, not all that much. There was a running hardware change to the hatch in 2019 relating to the suspension, in line with the introduction of the Fastback, but that's all.
I'll tell you why that is. Because as a driving tool, it remains absolutely brilliant, even two years on.
Every time I get behind the wheel of an i30 N, I'm pleasantly reminded of the age-old adage – if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Those clever clogs from around the world who helped engineer this car into the wonderful thing that it is got it pretty right.
Sure, I wish some equipment bugbears and cabin materials would improve, but as a buddy to embark on some fun behind the wheel with, it's still the pick of the litter.
I recalled my own settings from my last time with one, so I punched those in before setting off from Hyundai's headquarters in Sydney. Chassis all on regular, the rest dialled up to Sport+. I understand that there are over 190 configurations you can pick from, but I believe that set-up is all you need, in N Custom mode, for the road.
A nice point to mention here is that if you disagree with my set-up configuration, and like the car in normal mode, you can still benefit from the rev-matching feature at a minimum. I'm glad Hyundai made that possible, as it's a piece of technology that you cannot argue against having activated all the time.
I've found that my personal set-up results in a supple ride, performance from the motor, comfortable steering, and hilarious sounds from the exhaust, all culminating to create something that just lifts the spirits of the sometimes drab day-to-day.
Surprisingly, for a genuinely hot car, the ride isn't too busy if set up accordingly as above. In its regular mode, it'll coast over pretty terrible roads without too much fuss. The steering rack does become corrupted if the road breaks apart significantly, but not enough to raise genuine concern.
On anything Sport and above, it becomes too gnarly for poor sections of road. Some may like it, but I find the softer setting results in more sure-footedness, especially when the road surface inevitably turns crappy, like it was always going to do.
The feel, or whatever you wish to name the sensation you get from modern-day electronic steering racks, is excellent.
Packaging that up with the breadth of ability from the dampers, as well as their inherent firmness in regular mode, creates a front end that's easy to place and easy to gauge. Right out of the gate, I was enjoying myself too much, and steering onto a motorway on-ramp with more aggression than needed to be applied.
A slight lift of the throttle with cold tyres surprised me, but didn't completely frighten the daylights out of me. This car is exciting and gets under your skin. It encourages you to drive it with some angst.
At this point I took the chance to chill out a little, as I was getting slightly carried away. We're only 15 minutes in and I'd turned all gullible again, like 15-year-old Justin would've in high school.
There's a lot of performance available from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces 202kW of power and 353Nm of torque, with the latter figure rising to 378Nm during brief moments of over-boost. The only transmission offered for now is a six-speed manual, with a dual-clutch eight-speed auto expected to arrive in 2021.
As I mentioned before, there are shortfalls to everything else wonderful about this car, however. Some seem right, palatable, or even acceptable, and others are poor omissions that I'd happily pay more for if the opportunity presented itself.
Take, for example, the sound-deadening material used, or lack thereof. No matter how fair you want to be, it's too noisy inside. One could blame the Hyundai-specific Pirellis for growling too much, but then other cars also have sporty tyres and do not drown you in sonorous tyre rumble.
The stereo has to be deep past the quarter-way mark even just to hear the thing. Conversations with a passenger, depending on the coarseness of bitumen you're on, can sometimes appear aggressive due to the volume needed to land your point.
In saying that, if an improvement in sound-suppression materials resulted in a substantial price increase, I'd keep the cabin noisy. Basically, it could be better, but I can live with it as it is.
Most of my genuine gripes, then, centre around other areas of cabin ambiance, in fact.
The presentation remains boring. There are at least five variations of black plastic material used throughout the cabin, with most of them differing only because of the depth of their grain. This doesn't set the sporty mood too well.
Then you start the car with a key. I've begun to sincerely pray at the altar of Namyang, in a hope that they too see the error of their ways, and choose to make keyless entry standard for the facelifted version. One clings on to hope.
Then there are the seats. They're cloth, equally as boring as the cabin itself, and offer rather basic levels of support. If the improved seats and lashings of vinyl, Alcantara, or even faux carbon-fibre trim made their way into the cabin for a cost increase, I'd pay it.
It's just one of those areas that genuinely spoils the magic they've created here. I say that wholeheartedly knowing I'd also accept to pay more for it if those areas vastly improved as a consequence. I'm a rational person, things cost money, and I can accept that. It's also an area that is in dire need of improvement, unlike the loudness of the cabin, which becomes somewhat livable.
In fairness, however, there are two sides to every coin.
At present, somewhat of a balance has been met – of important things excellent, and superfluous things poor – which enables that magical sub-$45K starting price.
Supporting this sentiment are some of the must-haves that feature as standard. Be it Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights (low beam only), low-speed AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane-keeping assist, to name a few.
You also get a cool removable strut brace in the cargo area. Consider it a pleasant reminder of your car's sporty credentials every time you go to load a week's worth of groceries. In order to use all of its fairly decent boot space, 381L to be exact, you would need to pull this out and set it aside somewhere safe at home.
Where this car does excel beyond expectations is in the area of controls, however. The fancy gearknob is a nice touch, complete with blue racing stripe for good measure. The steering wheel is also great, too.
It's thin, nice in your hands, and chock-full of buttons that are at least legible. Two buttons stand out, however, which are the two aptly blue-coloured ones in the lower section that control the drive modes. I'm glad they've been located there, where they logically should be. It makes changing between modes on the fly simple. They also look cool, too, if that's worth something.
Sparking the car up in N mode is somewhat juvenile, but appeasing to your inner-child. It unlocks the hilarious exhaust note that cannot help but jog your mind of youthful memories. Back when loud, obnoxious cars were a rite of passage for a budding car enthusiast.
First things first – it isn't a pleasant sound per se. If you want to show your future kids textbook examples of good car sounds, when plain internal-combustion cars become scarce, you most certainly won't start here. That's Audi V10, Toyota 2JZ, Ferrari V12 stuff. Engines that produce some form of harmony.
The i30 N makes a guttural, flappy sort of tune that's monotone and gutsy. It's not appeasing to the ears, but that doesn't mean it's not good, or fun, I should say. If you grew up watching all forms of motorsport, in particular rally, you'll instantly file the i30 N's melody under 'four-cylinder turbo with unrestricted exhaust' category.
It's that sound. Good or bad, love it or hate it. Throw in some equally rally-esque crackles and bangs, and the result is something that's actually quite selfishly entertaining.
Despite maybe indulging myself too much with the throttle pedal, I managed to achieve 10.0L/100km according to the trip computer, which is against an official claim of 8.0L/100km. Not bad considering the absolute racket I made over the whole week.
Those in your vicinity will scoff and frown at these sounds, but you'll be having a good time. It's made the best with what it has, and the result brings a smile to your face. Plus, its sound is much more entertaining than the 'sounds by Dyson' exhaust note we hear all too often in this segment – usually on white cars with a red R badge on the back.
Speaking of the Civic Type R, which is as track-focused as they come, I had the chance to bash an i30 N around our CarAdvice motorkhana course recently as part of a dual-test against the new Focus ST, which also comes with a manual transmission.
I won't completely ruin the surprise, so please check the comparison afterwards if you're interested. The results of that test do align to the commentary here, however.
On-track, it was more fun than the Focus. It felt better equipped to tackle some light motorsport, continuing to fill each driver with more and more confidence, session after session.
I also found it more fun on the road, too.
As part of that test, myself and fellow colleague Jez Spinks completed a road loop through some nice, twisty sections of New South Wales. We found them hard to split overall, but both settled on the fact that on the perfect road, the i30 N shone more than the all-new, higher-power Focus ST.
Some praise that is.
I certainly hope that the facelift doesn't change the mechanical package too much, which is due early in 2021. I'm sure the boffins who created it are well equipped to make it better, so bring it on. But I'd hedge my bets and say that any chassis changes will be so subtle, and so deep, that it'll take a while to notice them. As in, they won't mess too much with the current winning formula that's seen it rise to become one of the best in its class.
What they should be spending their time on, however, is fixing the sea of mediocrity that is the cabin.
Make a pair of Recaro CS seats optional. Make keyless entry standard. Put some vinyl and blue stitching on the dashboard and door trim areas. I cannot believe I'm even saying this, but grace the lower centre console with that hydro-printed faux-carbon twill-looking stuff.
Channel your efforts there, please. The rest of the car is good enough to at least last a few more years.