What is it?
The Hyundai i30 N is the brand’s first performance model, a more potent version of the mid-sized family hatch.
- Complete package with impressive performance and handling
- Not too extreme to act as everyday car
- Two versions at competitive prices
The Hyundai i30 N is one of the most surprising new cars of 2017. The brand’s new N division has produced a complete package with every bit as much performance prowess as far better-known and established rivals.
All of this is available in a car that one can live with just as easily as much less powerful everyday hatches. Add in an extensive specification, a strong safety package and a five-year warranty at a value-for-money price, and the Hyundai i30 Nis a definite winner – on road or track…
Hyundai has not previously made a performance production model and few of the brand’s core customers probably expect it to. The hot hatch market does not appear natural technology for the Korean badge, once a pure budget choice, today regarded as a more upmarket value brand.
Hyundai’s enthusiastic UK boss, Tony Whitehorn, tells us that he could imagine fans of hot hatches hearing of the new performance version of the i30 hatchback, dubbed the N, dismissing the car as offering likely nothing more than jacked-up suspension and a chip in the engine management system.
They could not be more wrong. The i30 N will be the first of a range of N performance cars and Hyundai has clearly demonstrated its intentions by to poaching Albert Biermann to head the division. He has been responsible for most of BMW’s most-admired M models over the last two decades.
N stands both for Namyang, Hyundai’s enormous research and development centre in Korea, and the Nurburgring, the challenging 14-mile circuit in Germany where much of this car’s development was carried out.
Hyundai expects to sell many examples of the i30 N to trackday enthusiasts, who spend their free time pounding their pride and joy round the UK’s race circuits. And the brand’s confidence in the car is so marked that the UK launch includes time on just about the most challenging UK circuit available to the trackday crowd – Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire, dubbed the ‘mini-Nurburgring.’
Buying and owning a Hyundai i30 N
The basis of the i30 N is the five-door i30 hatch, and importantly virtually all the changes made to give the car performance prowess are hidden under the skin. The i30 is already regarded as a very good value family car, and both in terms of specification and as we will shortly see performance the N retains this appeal.
Two versions of the car are on offer. The N costs £24,995, the N Performance £27,995 – highly competitive pricing amongst the perceived opposition which Hyundai claims is the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST rather than the more potent Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R.
Both N models use the same turbo petrol engine of two litres. In the N it produces 250hp, while the N Performance gains an extra 25hp. Torque figures are the same across both versions, at 353Nm from just 1750rpm, while an overboost feature can add an extra 25Nm for up to 18 seconds – great for swift overtaking. Best 0-62mph time is 6.1 seconds in the more expensive version, while the 6.4 seconds of the stock model matches the opposition.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, actually a strengthened version of that from the larger i40 model, while other upgrades include significant stiffening to the shell to aid the car’s handling prowess.
Visual changes are not as radical as the likes of Honda has done with the Civic Type R. The i30 N is intended to be an everyday car, so while the front and rear bumpers, the side skirts and the alloy wheels are bespoke, they are not radical redesigns and the car looks pleasing to the eye. Most obvious markers, in fact, are the Performance Blue paintwork that is only offered as an N option, and the red finish to the calipers acting on the enlarged brake discs.
The options list is notable because basically there isn’t one – the only choices are metallic or pearlescent paint, and on the N Performance specifying the same cloth seat finish as the N, instead of the standard leather of the higher performance model. This no-cost alternative is really aimed at the truly competitive, as it saves 12kg in weight…
This lack of options does not mean that the i30 N is a stripped-down hot hatch – far from it. The standard specification is just as in the rest of the range, long and impressive – particularly as this will be regarded as a range-topping i30.
LED head and tail lights, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start and an eight-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system with Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility all come as standard, before one starts talking about the performance upgrades. N Performance models also add the leather and suede seats, electrically adjustable up front, and an ‘Active Variable Exhaust System’ which Hyundai says it added just for fun and which basically allows the car to make evocative ‘crackle’ and ‘pop’ sounds from the exhaust when in the N or Custom drive modes – more on which shortly.
The safety package is as pleasingly extensive as other Hyundais. Autonomous emergency braking with a collision warning is standard, as are hill-start assist, driver and emergency stop sign alerts. While the i30 N has not specifically been tested by Euro NCAP, it retains the full safety package of the mainstream i30 that scored five stars earlier in 2017.
One major plus of the i30 N is its warranty. The car is supplied with the same five-year deal that is standard across the Hyundai range, but remarkably it also covers track use. It won’t sort any crash damage resulting from too fast a corner entry and a meeting with a barrier, but if the engine cries enough, for example, Hyundai will want to know.
Inside the Hyundai i30 N
Stepping inside the i30 N will be familiar territory to anyone who has driven any of the mainstream range. The interior space replicates that of the rest of the range, generally good, with slightly restrictive rear headroom but a 395-litre boot that outdoes many rivals. The seats are more cossetting than the normal car’s to keep the driver in one place when cornering hard on the track, but not to the degree that becomes uncomfortable on a long journey.
The design of the cockpit is not at all radical but generally well thought-out and put together. Everything one expects from a normal road car is there in terms of audio, Bluetooth, navigation and smartphone connection, including wireless charging.
Being an N, however, there are some extras. The instrument display includes a bespoke digital cluster that offers information aimed at trackday use, providing lap times, acceleration and G-force recorded, while a line of shift lights on the dash light up as one goes up the rev range, turning from orange to red as the max power point comes closer.
The driving modes are selected by two buttons, mounted either side of the bottom spoke of the steering wheel. The lefthand one offers the usual normal, eco and sport modes, while the righthand one is intended only for the track. Its N Performance mode stiffens everything up and produces the most performance, while a custom mode allows one to for example have all of the performance without the rock-hard suspension, perhaps for enthusiastic progress along a challenging and empty country road.
Driving the Hyundai i30 N
The i30 N is of course intended as a driver’s car, which is why the launch day focuses on laps of the challenging Cadwell Park. But rural Lincolnshire also offers surprisingly challenging roads, and a route around these proves that this really is an everyday performance car. In its normal, even sport mode, it is as well-behaved as any other family hatch, and a shopping trip to the supermarket, or a drive across half of the country with miles of motorway munching, will prove unremarkable and fatigue-free.
When one wants the car to perform, however, the i30 N becomes truly remarkable – in just how good it is. While our test cars are to N Performance specification, with more performance extras that include an electronic limited slip differential, larger brakes and wheels and bespoke Pirelli performance tyres, it is the handling that most impresses.
A combination of excellently sorted suspension and well-designed electronics stops the front-end diving under braking, then point the car’s nose into the apex of the bend and hold the rear tight as the revs are wound on, with none of the rear-end fidgetiness that one expects.
There’s more. Launch control enables superbly rapid getaways from a standing start, while out on the track a brake knock-back feature pre-loads the callipers to ensure when one steps on the pedal retardation is instant. The faster one tries, the better the car becomes, accompanied by the right noise, the active exhaust adding the popping and banging soundtrack. This can be turned off but why would you want to? It is a whole lot of fun.
Albert Biermann has been quoted as saying he was given a blank sheet of paper and “the opportunity of a lifetime” when appointed as the head of the N division. On the evidence of the Hyundai i30 N, he’s made the most of that opportunity.
Any experienced performance driver who steps into the i30 N will initially express major surprise and then start to smile. This is certainly no chipped hatch with big wheels – it has every bit as much prowess as better-known rivals, and indeed this reviewer found it to be just as much fun as the so-called class above Honda Civic Type R that he drove recently on road and track. And all this is clothed in an overall package which is no less an everyday car than any mainstream Hyundai, Ford or Volkswagen.
The Hyundai i30 N proves that performance car fans do not need to compromise – this really is the best of both worlds.