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Driven: Hyundai i30 N Performance. Image by Hyundai.

Driven: Hyundai i30 N Performance
More time behind the i30 N's wheel has completely convinced us of Biermann's genius.


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Hyundai i30 N Performance

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: Handsome if reserved looks, lovely instrument cluster and seats, exceptional chassis, strong drivetrain, value-for-money, accessibility of its handling talents

Not so good: Some of the cabin plastics are a bit black and dull

Key Facts

Model tested: Hyundai i30 N Performance
Price: i30 N starts from 24,995; Performance from 27,995 as tested
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 163g/km (VED 500 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 275hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 353Nm at 1,500-4,700rpm (378Nm on time-limited overboost)

Our view:

This is another case, like the Honda Civic Type R, where we drove a hot hatchback on the international launch, adored it and then suspected that more time behind the wheel on UK roads was needed, in order that we might be able to dole out the full five stars. And so it proves with the spectacular, utterly joyous Hyundai i30 N Performance.

We don't need to go at great length over all the gestation and styling and terrifically competitive pricing of Hyundai's inaugural hot hatch; read the First Drive review above for all the background. This was simply a chance to spend seven days and many miles - 534, as it finally turned out - behind the wheel of the i30 N Performance, to see if it might very well possibly be the best hot hatchback on sale, of any kind, right now. An enormous claim, sure, but... well, we're going to try and justify it.

We will, ever so briefly, just touch on the aesthetics. We're not and have never been of the opinion that the i30 N is ugly or boring, because it strikes just the right aesthetic balance of restrained muscularity, without it looking as wild and lurid as the likes of the hot Honda, the Ford Focus RS or either of the expensive German hyper-hatches. Its lines also suit Engine Red as well as they support the trademark Performance Blue shade Hyundai is using as its motorsport colour, so don't feel like you absolutely must go for the latter if you're buying an N.

Inside, there's still a bit too much cheap-looking black plastic and a lack of 'light and shade' finishing to break up the monotonous darkness, but the seating position in the grippy front buckets is magnificent, the chunky steering wheel is a delight to hold and that instrument cluster - with a rev counter that extinguishes perimeter lights as the oil temperature rises, an oh-so-BMW-E46-M3 trick and one which speaks volumes about former M boss Albert Biermann's heavy involvement in the Hyundai - all contrive to make the i30 N feel a truly special place to sit.

But looks are subjective. The driving experience, though - that's another matter entirely. Starting with the 'two drive-mode buttons' on the steering wheel, rendered in Performance Blue, while they might annoy some people, we think they're a work of genius. At a twitch of your left thumb, you can cycle through Eco, Normal and Sport modes. Press the right-hand switch and the car enters full N fury, or you can set up a multitude of chassis, drivetrain and control parameters to your preferred dynamic blend. We did this, choosing the softest, 'Normal' damper setting with 'Maximum Attack' for everything else.

It means that you can click the i30 N into whatever set-up you want it to be in, within the merest fractions of a second - rather than just cycling through five settings on one switch, and then scrolling too far so you have to keep pressing the same button until you get back to the setting you wanted. Then there's the rev-matching function, switched on and off with that single 'REV' button on the steering wheel (except in Custom mode, where it is disabled). No other car company we can think of, which has a rev-matching facility, has ever made it as easily accessible or negatable as this.

But while you do have the car on Eco on the motorway - where you marvel at how well-judged the throttle response and attendant acceleration is, because the Hyundai never feels like it has a horrid, fuzzy accelerator pedal - and Sport for that big, fast, sweeping A-road you know which is often lightly trafficked and, oh yes, it has THAT bend on it halfway along your route, and Custom when you hit a gnarled but thoroughly involving back road on which the only dangers are the occasional trailer-full-of-turnips-towing John Deere or an errant badger, in all truth you can stick the i30 N in Normal, leave it there forever and revel in an absolutely first-class, front-wheel-drive chassis.

From mile one, the weight and detail of the Hyundai's steering, the progression and pedal modulation of its monster brakes, the slick, solid six-speed manual gearbox and that oh-so-linear 2.0-litre, 275hp engine all set about wowing you, while the suspension is just brilliant. It's firm, even in Normal mode, but it's never unbearable (unless you set the dampers to N on highly corrugated surfaces) and the i30 N breathes wonderfully well with the vast majority of road surfaces you encounter.

It sounds great. It goes like the clappers - never has 275hp and up to 378Nm flowed through the front axle alone felt so controllable and precise. Oh sure, it is a bit traction-limited in wet conditions because, even with traction control engaged, you can get the fronts spinning in second and third if you're injudicious with the throttle when it's sopping wet, but when the Hyundai does lose its grip on the road surface, it doesn't skew wildly from side-to-side. It just keeps tracking straight and true. That means you always feel confident using hefty chunks of power, no matter what the weather is doing outside.

The i30 N is also superb on the motorway. It'll chug along at a faster speed, at which you won't be hindering traffic flow and you'll actually be overtaking other cars and not just HGVs, all while returning 35mpg (we saw 35.4mpg on a long A1/M11/A14 jaunt and at no point were we hypermiling). Despite being mercilessly thrashed on many occasions during our ten hours and 45 minutes behind the Hyundai's wheel, it managed to give back 28.7mpg overall for our week in its company, so it's not terrifyingly thirsty. And wind noise and tyre roar are kept to the barest minimums at speed, so it's a perfectly easy-going companion that'll be a delight in day-to-day usage.

But it's not schlepping up and down the M11 in the Hyundai i30 N Performance which will stick long in our memory. No, it was the multiple times we tried to drive the doors off the Korean hot hatch on our favourite roads. At which point, the N thrills you like the very finest family performance machines of the modern day or eras past. It's just sensational. The front-end bite, the traction afforded by that limited-slip diff and its bespoke Pirelli P-Zero tyres, the weighting of the steering and the balance of the body - this is simply top-drawer stuff from Hyundai's N department, nothing less. You have genuine grin-a-minute fun at the wheel of the i30 N and with the pop-bang-pop exhaust and one of the best four-cylinder forced induction soundtracks of all - no matter its augmentation - this is everything you could want or hope for a hot hatchback to be.

No debates, this thing is just a better car than a Ford Focus ST. It's better than a Peugeot 308 GTi. It's better than a Skoda Octavia vRS and a SEAT Leon Cupra (even the super-limited R) and a Volkswagen Golf GTI and an Audi RS 3 Sportback and a Mercedes-AMG A 45. The i30 N is more involving, it's more exciting and its greatest talents are more accessible at sane road speeds than any of the above. Which is surely the utmost, overriding point of a hot hatchback in the first place - rather than what its residual values might be, or the finish of its dashboard, or the boot space it possesses. Hyundai has prioritised driving excitement above all else and that is entirely as it should be.

Which leaves just a handful of the most stellar of modern rivals to discuss. We'd put the i30 N above the Volkswagen Golf R. That's a monstrously tough call for us to make, because the 310hp VW is probably the German company's finest-ever achievement in terms of driver reward. But, as polished as the AWD Golf is, it never quite matches the highest dynamics thrills and sonic treats of the Hyundai. Meanwhile, while this correspondent hasn't yet tried the new Renault Sport Megane, the initial critical reviews on that have not been as euphoric as perhaps the motoring world expected. Maybe the forthcoming Trophy version will rise to the top but, for now, it would seem the RS Megane is not yet in the leading pack.

That leaves the Ford Focus RS and the current Honda Civic Type R. To be honest, these three are so close together that we're struggling to separate them out. No doubt the Ford and the Honda are quicker than the Hyundai, and certainly the FRS has the ability to hang its backside out more readily than its two front-wheel drive Asian rivals. But for a company's first-ever attempt at a hot hatchback, to even conceive of the Hyundai being able to challenge the latest and greatest evolutions of products Ford and Honda have been refining for decades is just phenomenal. So, while you might say you prefer the unflappability of Focus' AWD traction or that the unapologetic exterior of the Civic is simply too much to ignore, the Hyundai sneaks to the narrowest of victories for us, purely by the sheer scale of what it has achieved to get to this lofty point with its very first steps.

The Hyundai i30 N might not be the greatest hot hatch ever - some limited-build rarities, like the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S or the old Renaultsport Megane R26.R, would probably lay claim to that title, and you could make a serious case for smaller vehicles which will long stand the test of time, like the Peugeot 205 GTi or outgoing Ford Fiesta ST.

But, right here, right now, we can't think of a hot hatchback we'd rather own than the Hyundai i30 N Performance. It is a staggering, monumental piece of engineering genius and a colossal amount of fun into the bargain - and that's why we're hopelessly, hopelessly in love with it. Thank you, Albert Biermann.


Ford Focus RS: A simply belting car - fast, fantastic fun to drive, has four-wheel-drive traction advantages and a mammoth 2.3-litre turbo engine; that the i30 N can stand comparison to it is testament to the Hyundai's brilliance.

Honda Civic Type R: The car the Hyundai i30 N is attempting to usurp. Its wild looks and slightly hit-and-miss interior finishing won't be to all tastes, but the rocket-ship 320hp CTR's glittering chassis should convince any doubters.

Volkswagen Golf GTI/R: Volkswagen makes two brilliant hot Golfs - the slower front-wheel-drive one, and the faster all-wheel-drive model. And the Hyundai is simply more fun and less money than either.

matt Robinson - 9 Mar 2018    - Hyundai road tests
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2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.

2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai i30 N. Image by Hyundai.


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