The hot hatch segment has always been populated with the same regular faces, the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R, VW Golf GTi and Vauxhall Astra VXR. That said, it’s very rare for a new contender to enter the class who really grabs the headlines, but Hyundai has managed it with this the i30N.
On the road
How do you get people excited about a performance-based car which hasn’t got any real heritage? Well, you bring in a team of experts with a proven track record, and that’s exactly what Hyundai did. In came a team led by an ex-BMW M division chief, someone who was pivotal in cars like the M3, then you hone the cars dynamics at the infamous Nurburgring.
There are two versions to choose, an i30N and i30N Performance, and both use the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with either 247 or 271bhp. In all honesty it’s hard to justify the extra oomph from the Performance version, it feels just as quick as some of its rivals. They both have the same torque figure of 260lb ft and there’s an overboost which increases this to 279lb ft for 18secs, which helps when it comes to overtaking.
Accelerate hard and you can tell from the sound track alone that it’s no ordinary i30, and on the overrun it spits and crackles which, for some, adds to the drama of owning a hot hatch like this.
It’s only available with a six speed manual gearbox, so there’s no flappy paddles to worry about. Overall though, it feels a really well planted and a solid car to drive. The steering offers excellent levels of feedback, and it’s precise which gives the driver confidence when pushing on at pace.
One of the reasons its worth going for the more powerful version, is the addition of an electronically limited slip differential, which controls the delivery of the power more effectively to the front wheels, meaning less torque steer when accelerating hard out of bends. When doing this you really have to push it harder to get the most out of it.
With the dampers set to comfort, it’s not exactly what you’d call cosseting, but it sits between the firmness of the Ford Focus RS and the somewhat more compliant Civic Type R.
In the cabin
Anyone familiar with the i30 interior will have no problems navigating around the N. The only issue is that not a lot of effort has gone into giving it a sporty finish. Yes, the sports seats are unique to the N, but there isn’t anything that sets your pulses racing like you would if you were behind the wheel of a Civic Type R or a Golf GTi.
Regardless, the seating position is excellent and the thin A-pillars make forward visibility excellent. There’s also plenty of adjustment on the steering wheel and seats on the performance model.
All models come with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system which sits at the top of the centre console. It’s pretty intuitive to use, even more so than systems in rivals, and it controls all the usual toys like sat nav, dab, apple carplay and android auto, as well as online connectivity for live traffic. You can even monitor the engine power, torque outpus and boost pressure, should you want to get a bit car geeky on the drive home.
If you like your hot hatch with a good level of practicality, then the i30N won’t disappoint. There’s more than enough head room for taller drivers, and with all models getting five doors, your rear passengers don’t have the problem of squeezing through a tight space to get in the back. However, when they are in the back, they may struggle for leg room. The boot isn’t the biggest in class, but the 60/40 split folding seats will tumble forward should you need to move large items in a hurry. The Performance models do have a rear suspension strut running the width of the car, which will be a hinderence.
It seems that Hyundai has made themselves a hot hatch that can truly match up against the heavyweights from Europe. The handling is sharp and precise, the engine is excellent, and it’s affordable with good levels of equipment. On the downside, it’s not quite as powerful as some of its rivals and the interior is a bit drab.