Hyundai’s first hot hatchback is a cracker
You might not pay much attention to a first-time entry into the testing hot hatch market if the company involved has no experience in performance motoring.
Hyundai does have that experience, however. They’re in the World Rally Championship, which counts for a lot. Add in their 87 per cent increase in European sales over the last five years and their claim that they have endeavoured to pack in as much performance for the least amount of money, and you’d have to be a fool to discount what they’ve done.
Hyundai i30N Performance Package
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Torque: 260lb ft
Gearbox: 6-spd manual
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 39.7mpg
CO2 rating: 163g/km
Drive a Hyundai i30N, and the happy reality of Hyundai’s achievement comes crashing home. This debut vehicle from their new ‘N’ performance department is quite a tool.
The man behind it is Albert Biermann. Fans of BMW M Sport machinery might recognise the name, as before Hyundai he ran that department for a long time. For Biermann, ‘ESC off’ means exactly that, not ‘some electronic intrusions may still be noticed’. He understands the value of an entertaining chassis but is also pragmatic enough to realise that a 2017 five-door hot hatch needs to be practical too in order to get buyers.
On paper, there’s nothing especially remarkable about the i30N’s spec. You get a five-door hatch using the same shell as the normal i30, but stiffened by strut braces, lowered by 8mm, and with wider wheel arches.
Deep-intake front bumpers, a red pinstripe on the splitter, a triangular brake light in the gloss-black rear spoiler and the N-unique, and rather snazzy, Performance Blue paint pick the car out from the common i30 herd. You can have 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres or 19-inchers with bespoke Pirelli P Zeros.
Under the skin is a 247bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine driving the front wheels, an electronic limited-slip differential, three-way adaptive suspension and upgraded brakes, six-speed gearbox, clutch and suspension. The cabin sports a choice of five- or eight-inch dashtop displays, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus readouts for power, torque, turbo boost pressure and lap times. There’s even one for acceleration, which will tell you that 0-62mph comes up in 6.4 seconds in the standard car.
What is noteworthy is the entry price for that specification: £24,995. Tick the Performance Package option and (along with a removable brace across the boot floor) the numbers go up to 271bhp, 0-62 in 6.1 seconds, and a still sharp £27,995. Both cars top out at 155mph and are claimed to return a 40mpg average.
Developed (as usual) at the Nürburgring, the i30N is very configurable, with a slightly silly-sounding 1,944 settings for the e-differential, engine map, exhaust, suspension, steering and ESC. For simplicity you can just choose Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+ or N, leaving the hardcore complexity of N Custom mode to nerdier types.
It’s all jolly impressive, especially as the whole project took just 30 months from start to finish and you get the usual five-year Hyundai warranty. Better yet, the car feels right straight from the off. The seats are low and grippy, and unusually for this segment there’s plenty of steering wheel adjustability. We noticed a little centre-offset to the pedals in our left-hand-drive test car, but heel-and-toe shifts are easy if you’re old-school enough to spurn the very effective rev-match function.
The gearlever and clutch actions are short and punchy, and there’s a great feeling of robustness about the whole car, even if the cabin material quality isn’t quite up to Golf GTI levels. Having said that, we liked the i30N’s straightforwardness and sense of purpose. It has a Clio 197 or Focus RS feel about it.
Given its head, the 2.0-litre engine is happy to take a higher gear and the brilliantly damped chassis will carry surprising speed through bends. You have the option of stretching it through each ratio to the 6000rpm sweet spot, enjoying the beautifully crisp (for a turbocharged engine) throttle response and the personality of the trailing-throttle popping and banging in N mode. The Performance Package setup adds an overboost function of 279lb ft for up to eight seconds a go.
It’s hard to overpraise the excellence of the chassis. Sport+, the most ‘full-on’ mode, is not only usable, it’s arguably the best mode on all but rough roads where the regular Sport setting damps down excess wheelspin. Normal mode will feel, well, normal for those times when you don’t want to be reminded that you’re driving such a speedy hatch. The mode settings combine really well with the high-feel steering.
If you must have the sensation on being dragged hard into an apex at daft entry speeds, you might be better off in a Vauxhall Corsa VXR with a Drexler diff. If you want ultimate conviction in direction changes, you might prefer certain French cars. Refreshingly, Biermann admits that the Renault Sport Mégane has a more adjustable rear axle for trackday work, and the Hyundai can seem a bit front-heavy on ambitious turning-in and its ABS a little sensitive, though that could have been down to our scabby Italian roads. Generally speaking, however, we wouldn’t disagree with his assertion that the i30N is more versatile and better for a track learner.
Hyundai deserves a lot of praise for producing such an intuitive, involving and flat-out fast hot hatch contender that will also work in the supermarket car park. Even the Performance Pack N-car undercuts the Honda Civic Type R and the basic Golf GTI on price. It’s arguably better than both of them as an all-rounder.