The i30 N is Hyundai’s first bespoke midsize hot hatch. But there’s pedigree aplenty in this hotly contested segment…

During a dinner conversation in South Korea 10 years ago, one of CAR’s team members asked a senior Hyundai representative when they planned to release a performance car. After all, by then the company already had an impressive arsenal of products. He chuckled and explained it would be an expensive project, especially in terms of design and R&D.

Well, only a few years later the call was made to engineer a performance car, and yes, it came at a high cost, but that’s the price you pay for poaching distinguished designers and engineers from established brands in Germany. Most notably – and applicable to the i30 N – Albert Biermann, then vice president of engineering at BMW’s M GmbH division, moved over to Hyundai. This showed serious intent by the South Korean company about its future products and laid a solid and respectable foundation.

We spent a week with the i30 N during the 2020 Performance Shootout. Some big players joined us on the trip and track tests. In that company, the i30 N didn’t impress us as much as we had hoped it would (although it beat the BMW M135i xDrive in the final ranking). Much like we did with the BMW, we requested a test car following Shootout to assess it in everyday conditions to form a more rounded view of the Hyundai.

Painted in eye-catching Performance Blue, the i30 N looks great. It’s certainly more striking than the much-loved but subdued Golf pairing (GTI and R). Details such as the rear wing, crimson highlights and double exhaust outlets contribute to a purposeful-looking performance hatch. Overall, it is visually appealing and grabs most road users’ attention.

Under the bonnet is a 2,0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 202 kW and 353 N.m. In overboost, the latter figure jumps to 378 N.m for a maximum of 18 seconds. These numbers are crucial, as they elevate the Hyundai above the cheaper GTI and nearly into the four-wheel-drive R’s realm, where it’s also priced.

To soften the initial impact of that rand figure, South African i30 Ns come with a host of standard equipment. This includes a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, feature-rich infotainment setup, electrically adjustable and heated part-leather seats, dual-zone climate control, launch control, a panoramic sunroof and park assist. Climb aboard and the sporty nature is instantly evident. The bolstered seats are comfortable and supportive, while perceived quality is of an expected high standard, as we’ve become used to from the brand.

Importantly, it is the “N Grin Control” software buttons that grant the driver access to a total of five driving modes: eco, normal, sport, N and custom. In the latter configuration, you can variously set all the parameters such as steering, exhaust note, throttle response and the electronically controlled limited-slip differential to their least or most aggressive settings. There are between two and four options in each category. Engage the rev-matching system and it automatically blips the throttle before you change gear. It is best to leave the suspension in its softest setting, as it becomes extremely firm and at times can unsettle the car if you hit bumps mid-corner.

Commuters will probably grow weary of the manual transmission but for everyone else it’s a sheer delight to find an analogue ‘box in a modern-day performance car. The short lever moves in a direct and precise manner; a rare and involving exercise. 
The influence from those high-level automotive engineers is obvious in small details such as the rev lights around the counter which indicate the maximum engine speed when the powertrain is still cold (M products coming to mind?). Once all the fluids are up to temperature, the additional horizontal rev lights illuminate as you approach the red line.

Once you’ve selected the most aggressive drivetrain settings, you are quickly drawn in by the i30 N’s performance. The engine pulls with vigour through all six gears. The rev-matching system contributes to brisk, smooth changes while the steering feel and feedback impress, even if the weighting becomes a touch too heavy in the sportier settings.

Just as pleasing is how light the car feels on its feet. Direction changes are swift with clear transmission of feedback through the chassis while a step off the accelerator lightens the rear ... just like it should. You can’t help but giggle when this car is driven hard. Weighing just over 1 500 kg (fully fuelled), it hides its weight well and you never feel threat-ened by any unpredictability from the chassis. The driving position is marginally too high, though, especially if you are taller than 1,8 metres.

On our test strip, we struggled to match the claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6,1 seconds, the i30 N eventually settling on a quickest figure of 6,77 seconds, which lags behind that of rivals. The braking system was much more impressive, recording an average stop time of only 2,68 seconds. The car felt extremely stable during each of our 10 emergency stops.

After spending two weeks with the i30 N, it’s clear this excellent chassis can handle more power, with the vehicle perhaps shedding some weight in the process to really boost performance. It appears Hyundai agrees, as it previewed with the i30 N Option at the 2018 Paris Motor Show. Seated in this show car, we were highly impressed with the bucket seats, Alcantara steering wheel and all the exterior body addenda which gave the i30 N a much more serious stance than nearly any other competitor.



TEST SUMMARY

It is refreshing to welcome a new manufacturer to the hot-hatch crowd. Even more so when that carmaker in question has shown serious intent to offer a performance car aimed directly at those enthusiasts who would normally flock to Renault and Volkswagen’s showrooms.

That said, the i30 N’s ultimate performance is somewhat disappointing, as shown by our Killarney track test on this vehicle in last month’s issue, and our test results here. But don’t let the facts and figures deter you; on the road, the i30 N feels quicker than the numbers suggest, and much more involving than some rivals. Sadly, it’s a pricey alternative to established hot hatches that are either quicker or less expensive.

As a first try, though, we can only heartily congratulate the company. Considering how accomplished the i30 N is, just imagine what upcoming N models (including the facelift) will be like…