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First Drive: Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.

First Drive: Hyundai i30 N
Straight off the bat, Hyundai launches a gem of a hot hatch in the form of the i30 N.


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Hyundai i30 N

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Another day, another corking hot hatch - the difference here being that this is Hyundaiís first stab at such a thing. Itís called the i30 N and in terms of power, it sits in the middle ground between the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Skoda Octavia vRS, and then the proper 300hp hard hitters like the SEAT Leon Cupra 300, the Honda Civic Type R and the four-wheel-drive mega-hatches of the ilk of the Ford Focus RS, Mercedes-AMG A 45 and Audi RS 3. However, while the i30 N doesnít have the on-paper data to outmanoeuvre the big guns in this sector, what it actually boasts is a stunningly good chassis - so much so that it vaults straight into the very thick of the action in the performance hatch battleground.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Hyundai i30 N Performance
Pricing: i30 N from £24,995; N Performance from £27,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hot hatchback
CO2 emissions: 163g/km (VED £500 first 12 months, £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 275hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 353Nm at 1,450- 4,500rpm (378Nm on time-limited overboost)

What's this?

Hyundai properly hotting up its i30 hatchback. And anyone who says the Korean outfit has done a 'hot hatch' before, in the shape of the distinctly underwhelming i30 Turbo MkII, needs to have a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. And then give themselves a slap.

This time around, Hyundai has not employed half-measures. Poaching no less an engineering luminary than Albert Biermann, formerly the man responsible for the chassis set-ups of cars issuing forth from BMW's M Division, a lavish amount of money and technical expertise has been thrown at the third-gen machine to create the company's genuine first hot hatchback - and a new performance sub-brand has been born in the process: Hyundai N.

The single initial stands for either Namyang, Hyundai's R&D HQ, or - perhaps more pertinently - the Nurburgring. That's because the undulating German circuit was used extensively in the development of the i30 N, the pioneer of Hyundai's brave vision for performance. Hyundai reckons the i30 N will be sold almost exclusively in Europe, therefore why not use the region's most fabled test track as the proving ground for the kinematics? It's sound logic, we reckon.

There are two levels of hot Hyundai to choose from, both employing a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 353Nm of torque in most instances, but - for a time-limited overboost period - that number rises to 378Nm; both have a top speed of 155mph (limited). The entry model has 250hp and a 0-62mph time of 6.4 seconds, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, Electronically Controlled Suspension (ECS), 17-inch ventilated front brake discs with 16-inch rear stoppers and a Torque Vectoring System that can adjust the car's line by braking an inside wheel. It also gets LED head- and tail-lights, eight-inch touchscreen satnav with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and go and dual-zone climate control. For this lot, it'll cost you £24,995 when it goes on sale in January 2018.

But you don't want that. You want the £27,995 i30 N Performance. This enlarges the wheels, and the front and rear brake discs by an inch, while the rubber switches to Pirelli P-Zero tyres which are formed of a compound bespoke to the Hyundai. Power rises to 275hp, dropping the 0-62mph time to 6.1 seconds, while inside leather and suede sports seats with electrical adjustment are included. However, the Performance also gets an Active Variable Exhaust System and, most importantly of all, the Electronic Limited Slip Differential, a clever, clutch-based system of splitting the available torque to whichever front wheel can best handle it.

Either variant of i30 N has subtly enhanced exterior looks that we really like, especially in the signature Performance Blue paint that's a no-cost standard finish, but some observers are not so keen on the reserved nature of the overall vehicle. Nevertheless, Civic Type R and the four-wheel drive uber-hatches aside, most hot hatchbacks opt for a more restrained aesthetic, and we can see no reason to criticise Hyundai for taking the same path. Indeed, we approve heartily of the i30's solid stance, its neat black contrast detailing, the dignified aero tweaks to the front, sides and rear (and also the underside, which is shielded and thus almost entirely flat, except for the exhaust tunnel), the lovely designs of alloys, that natty triangular third brake light at the back and the little bits of red pinstriping. It's an effortlessly handsome thing.

Inside is similarly enticing, as the instrument cluster, steering wheel and gear knob have all been upgraded to good effect, while the quality of the fixtures and fittings is generally high, save for one or two trim finishes that are sub-optimal. But the driving position, the visibility out of the car, the feel of all the switchgear and major controls - it's all superb. Not just good; genuinely superb. And, to put all this into context, the i30 N Performance, with all its trick chassis toys and its 275hp motor, costs less than a bog-basic five-door Golf GTI with 230hp and the non-Performance chassis. Even before we've turned a wheel in anger, things are looking good for the hot Hyundai.

How does it drive?

Hyundai expects the UK sales split of 250hp i30 N versus 275hp i30 N Performance to be a colossal 90:10 in favour of the Performance. And as similar 'low-power' versions of cars like the Peugeot 308 GTi (250hp) and SEAT Leon Cupra (265hp) have bitten the dust in favour of their full-on brethren, we don't think the 250hp Hyundai will last too long. Not that it's a bad car; far from it, in fact, as it provides a really impressive all-round performance for a price a fiver shy of 25 grand; great value, given the i30 N (like all Hyundais) has a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

But then you try the Performance, and your eyes widen in a quite terrific amount of shock. Where in twelve types of blue blazes did this thing come from?! It is phenomenal; all the more so because it has absolutely no antecedents to fall back upon. The i30 N is not going to just be 'there', making up the numbers in the increasingly congested hot hatchback field. No, it should be one of the first cars you try if you want a five-door, practical machine that can also set your senses on fire should the mood take you.

Don't worry about the N Performance's relatively modest on-paper stats. Hyundai said all along it didn't want to go chasing 'Ring lap times (odd, given the weight it imbues on the i30's developmental links to the Nordschleife) and various other Top Trumps-esque 'best numbers' for the N, instead aiming to make it tremendous fun rather than simply fast. And, by crikey, has the Korean marque delivered on that score.

On track and on some truly atrocious test roads, the i30 N Performance shone. It's an enthralling machine that, while being easy to deal with from the get-go, nevertheless starts to reveal different facets of its character, teach its driver more things about its mannerisms, as you spend more time with it. The first thing you'll notice is the noise. For a 2.0-litre forced induction four-banger, the i30 N has a magnificent soundtrack. Lots of the music is made by the popping, banging exhaust, but we're pleased to report that the engine itself contributes some key notes and the Hyundai, as a result, manages to make everything this side of an Audi RS 3 sound bland.

You'll also not lament the Performance's sub-300hp output, because this torquey mill manages to be smooth and linear in its responses and possessed of enough grunt to give the i30 a thumping turn of pace. You'll feel its ultimate lack of horses most on track, where acceleration starts to tail off beyond 100mph when something like a Civic Type R or the ridiculous 400hp RS 3 is just getting into its stride. The engine is also mated exclusively (for now) to a six-speed manual that's tight of throw and pleasing to use, if not as snickety-snick as that found on its Honda rival. But, for most road applications, this drivetrain blesses the Hyundai with plenty of accelerative urge.

Yet it's the i30 N's rascally cornering attributes that please the most. The steering is excellent, meaty, precise and positive. The ECS dampers do a remarkable job of negating dive under braking, the lifting of the nose during hard acceleration and any noticeable roll when cornering. Big brakes developed in-house have a fine balance of pedal modulation, bite and resistance to fade. And the rev-matching function on downshifts is a peach, which is easily cycled on and off via the 'REV' button on the steering wheel.

However, the real star here is that trick diff. It transforms the front axle into something breathtaking, because the i30 N will resist push-on understeer into or out of a corner, no matter what stupid provocation you throw its way. Such a dependable and talented front end makes for a hot hatch which should put a grin on even the most curmudgeonly driver's face. The N just scythes into bends, time and time again, in a gleeful manner that's impossible to dislike. On track, an environment that quickly sorts the wheat from the chaff, the i30 N felt like it was in its element and it was an absolute delight to thrash to the ragged edge. Better still, at no time was there a sensation of torque- or diff-steer, no camber-hunting nor tramlining. The i30 N is an extremely planted car in pretty much all conditions.

You might have noticed from the pictures that there are two blue buttons on the steering wheel and they cycle through the five drive modes. The left-hand one, marked 'DRIVE MODE' (helpfully), controls Eco, Normal and Sport. The right-hand one, emblazoned with a chequered flag motif, puts the car in full N attack dog settings or even allows you to pick and choose how you want to mix various items in Custom. You'll want N for circuit work and smooth-surfaced challenging roads, Sport for most real-world routes, Custom (soft dampers, everything else in N/Sport+) for gnarly passes and then Normal for motorway driving. Whereupon you find the i30 N can cruise with almost the same urbane civility as a Golf GTI. It remains firm in the ride department, but not uncomfortably so, and there's little to report in terms of tyre roar and wind noise; and it proves that Hyundai's 'everyday performance car' boast is not in the least bit far-fetched.

Is the i30 N Performance perfect? No, of course it's not. If we're honest, we'd like a little bit more movement of the rear end of the car during big lifts of the throttle, and the steering - good though it is by Hyundai's own standards - still lacks the final degrees of nuance and feel that would elevate it to the exceptional levels of the rest of the N's chassis hardware. Despite these points, though, you can't help but marvel at how incredible the i30 N really is. It would be pretty damned impressive if it were from a manufacturer that had five, ten or even twenty-plus years of hot hatch manufacturing under its belt; for a first-time effort, it's therefore scandalously good.


Two years ago, when Hyundai was knocking out the extraordinarily lukewarm i30 Turbo, it would have been inconceivable to think that the company could be standing toe-to-toe with the likes of the Golf GTI/R, Focus RS, Civic Type R, Leon Cupra et al any time before, say, 2025. And yet, here it is, bounding into the action with the i30 N, a fully-fledged, bona fide slice of five-door brilliance that feels as resolved as any of this super-tough class' established leading lights.

The Hyundai goes straight in very near the top of the segment for its overall package, and it is most definitely up there with the absolute best for the involvement of its chassis. Perhaps its hardest battle is yet to come, in the form of the impending Renault Sport Megane Trophy, but to even be typing that sentence... well, it should give you an idea of just what Hyundai has achieved with this hot hatch debut. Simply sensational stuff.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 25 Sep 2017    - Hyundai road tests
- Hyundai news
- i30 images

2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.

2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.2017 Hyundai i30 N Performance drive. Image by Hyundai.


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