UK drive: Hyundai i30 N

The Hyundai i30 N is a newcomer to the hot hatch segment, hoping to kick established rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R off their perch. AOL Cars takes it out on British roads to see how it stacks up.

What is it?

This is Hyundai's first attempt at a hot hatch. The South Korean manufacturer has built a reputation for building practical, reliable cars with excellent warranties. However, it wants a slice of the performance car sales pie, and has opened its wallet to do so.

With former BMW M Division boss Albert Biermann steering the project there were high hopes, and after its international launch the reviews were positive. Now it's time to see how it fares on UK roads.

What's new?

It's based on the standard i30 hatchback, but the mechanical changes are wholesale. It's got a strengthened chassis and in top-spec N Performance guise gets an electronic front differential to improve handling and get the power into the road.

Although the i30 N doesn't have prominent aerodynamic features like the Honda Civic Type R, it has plenty of subtle, functional features to help keep the car stable at high speed. Meanwhile, drive modes allow owners to tweak the car's settings to suit different types of driving.

What's under the bonnet?

Power comes from a boosty 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which has an incredibly aggressive power delivery when the sportier settings are collected. It makes 247bhp in entry-level form, or 271bhp in our test car's N Performance trim. Both engines make 353Nm of torque, but have an overboost function to give 378Nm for eight seconds at full throttle.

Although it's slightly down on power compared with rivals, you're never left wanting more performance thanks to that impressive torque figure and the way the engine surges through the rev range.

What's it like to drive?

We can talk about the importance of everyday practicality in a hot hatch all we like, but the truth is that the best cars in this segment sell because they're great to drive – and the Hyundai i30 N more than delivers in this department.

Put the car in full N mode and it's far too stiff, with Sport more than sufficient for road driving. Here, the car manages lumps and bumps well, largely resisting the urge to be bumped off track. The electronic differential works admirably to put the power down without too much torque steer, too. And the rorty soundtrack that accompanies the whole thing is just the icing on the cake.

How does it look?

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The i30 is quite a dull looking car, and Hyundai has resisted the urge to adorn it with large wings or chunky bumpers, giving the N an understated look. We'd recommend Performance Blue, the N-specific special colour, which really makes it stand out from the crowd.

For those who don't care what others think or would rather blend in with other traffic, the subdued look will be very appealing, but those who want their hot hatch to stand out will be disappointed. Likewise, the Hyundai N badge lacks the appeal of established rivals such as VW's GTI or Honda's Type R, which will matter to some.

What's it like inside?

The Hyundai's real weak point is the cabin. While the latest model is a big improvement on its predecessor, there's no denying that it lags well behind rivals from Germany. There are some N-specific touches that improve matters, with the optional bucket seats a particular highlight, but overall it's disappointing.

And technophiles will hate the infotainment system, which feels years behind the industry average – particularly the sat nav, which picks downright bizarre routes at times.

What's the spec like?

Standard equipment is impressive, with that admittedly poor eight-inch touchscreen, LED lights all-round and adaptive cruise control.

However, opt for the go-faster N Performance model, which starts a fiver under £28k, and you really get value for money. The electronically controlled limited-slip differential is a real highlight for drivers who plan to push the car to its limits, while 19-inch alloy wheels with sticky Pirelli P-Zero tyres and leather and suede upholstery are also fitted.

Verdict

The Hyundai i30 N is fantastic value for money. While it's not quite up there with the very best from Honda and Ford, it gets much closer than a newcomer has any right to. The fact it's more than £3,000 cheaper than many of its rivals and barely feels inferior is the icing on the cake.

The rival that should really be worried is the Volkswagen Golf GTI – it feels boring by comparison, with the Hyundai only coming second to the German car's interior ambience. Those who like driving will likely find the i30 a sensation.

Facts and figures

Model as tested: Hyundai i30 N Performance
Price: £27,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Power: 271bhp
Torque: 353Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.9 seconds
MPG: 39.8
Emissions: 163g/km

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