CAPE TOWN – The number 14. A quick Google search reveals the figure symbolises exploration into unknown territory and that it isn’t averse to trying something at least once. Other sources list it as the number of forgetfulness. For Hyundai, however, 14 pertains to the nth letter of the alphabet which represents its performance arm – N. And its opening gambit, the i30 N.

Released in 2017, the Korean marque’s first attempt at a proper performance car was met with great anticipation, both globally and locally. But it was only in 2019 that Hyundai Automotive South Africa confirmed the hot hatch was destined for our shores. And it has now finally launched in South Africa (check out local pricing here).

Sporting the full-fat Performance pack (a milder, 183 kW variant is available overseas), the model offered here boasts 202 kW and 353 N.m of torque (that latter increasing to 378 N.m for up to 18 seconds when the overboost function is activated) from its 2,0-litre turbo-four. Was the hype warranted or is it merely fleeting? At the local launch, held at a private race track in the Cape winelands, we had the chance to sample the hot hatch, which of course also took part in Performance Shootout 2020, a second time.

What does ‘N’ stand for?

In case you were wondering, the letter adorning the i30 N stands for both "Namyang", Hyundai's global R&D centre, and (yes, you've guessed it) "Nürburgring". The hot hatch completed 10 000 km of testing at the 170-corner racetrack before its reveal. Fitting, as the head of Hyundai’s high-performance N division Albert Biermann has previously stated the i30 N was developed not for outright speed (with the former BMW M boss claiming the latter is “boring”) but to be a fun-to-drive, dynamic hatchback that excels in the bends. Hyundai itself describes the i30 N as a “corner rascal” (one of its three traits, which includes track capability and everyday sportscar). So how does it fare in the twists and turns? We’ll get to that soon.

N Mode

The i30 N features five drive modes: eco, normal, sport and N which, as an additional setting, can be customised to suit the driver’s preferences. Engaging N mode (by pressing that steering wheel-mounted button on the right marked with a racing flag) adjusts engine response, steering feel and chassis for optimal track use. Each downshift, with the now active rev-matching tech, results in grin-inducing pops from the active exhaust system.

Track tyke

Ensuring the front-wheel-drive performance hatch is as capable as possible around a track, it sports a firmer chassis plus additional stability bars. The hotter version gains 19-inch wheels, wrapped in bespoke Pirelli P Zero rubber, and an electronic limited slip differential.

This setup, together with the i30 N’s well-weighted steering, inspires confidence when pushing on. The seating position is pleasingly low and the sports seats keep you firmly in place. Body roll is nearly absent thanks to the increased torsional rigidity, culminating in a point-and-shoot affair. Throttle response is immediate and the six-speed manual ‘box is slick in its workings.

Depress the brakes (the front items each measure 345 mm), gear down and turn in. A small amount of tyre squeal permeates the cabin. This is oodles of fun. The car’s thermometer reading 39 °C, I thought it best to stay in the air-con-cooled cabin and again take the N-badged hatch round the track. A live feed of performance information, such as lap and acceleration times, Gs and the amount of power and torque used are displayed on the eight-inch touchscreen.

One for the road

Switch to normal driving mode and the i30 N relaxes. The steering is light and exhaust note subdued. Generously equipped, the midsize hot hatch is as at home on everyday roads as it is on the track, with smartphone mirroring and wireless charging, heated seats, keyless entry and park distance control, the latter replete with rear view camera, some of the convenience items. A sunroof is standard. Safety equipment includes front, side and knee airbags, ESC and Isofix child-seat anchors.

Summary

Hyundai pits the i30 N against some well-established rivals, one of which is, of course, the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Of its competition, only two are equipped with manual ‘boxes: the Renault Mégane RS280 Cup and Honda Civic Type R. An eight-speed dual-clutch version of the i30 N is, however, on the cards, and it'll be mighty interesting to see how it stacks up against models of a similar configuration. For now, at least, Hyundai opening gambit to the performance hatch segment is a commendable one. It’s aspirational and certainly not forgettable.



FAST FACTS

Model: Hyundai i30 N
Price: R679 900
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Power: 202 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque: 353 N.m @ 1 450-4 700 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,1 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,5 L/100 km
CO2: 163 g/km
Transmission: six-speed manual
Service Plan: 5-year/75 000 km