First Drive: Hyundai i30 N

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We get behind the wheel of Hyundai's first ever hot hatch the i30 N, and see how it stacks up against its German and Japanese rivals.


What is it?

The i30 N is Hyundai's first ever performance model. It introduces the 'N' branding that's been on the South Korean car manufacturer's motorsport models for a few years now into the road car market.

It has been a highly anticipated model because it goes up against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Seat Leon Cupra, and is appropriately priced to take them on too.

There's an entry-level model as well as a Performance variant, which gets more power and extra kit – and at £27,995 it undercuts the Honda Civic Type R.

What's new?

What's so great about any hot hatch is that they still maintain the practicality but add performance too. The i30 N is no different.

However, underneath a huge amount has been done to make this car the best it can be – in the words of Albert Biermann, head of Hyundai's performance division, they didn't just "put a big engine in and be done with it".

One of the major improvements has been the chassis, which has been strengthened to improve handling. Aerodynamic devices on the exterior and beneath the car have been added to improve downforce and cooling. The gearbox has also been overhauled to offer a faster, more slick response.

What's under the bonnet?

The top-spec Performance model has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which makes a healthy 271bhp and 353Nm of torque. This increases to 378Nm for up to eight seconds at full throttle. Power wise it is on a par with many £30,000-plus hot hatches for which 300bhp has become the norm. But the i30 N cost more than £2,000 less.

Thanks to the overboost system, you're never left wanting for performance either. The claimed 0 to 60mph is 5.9 seconds. Use the on-board launch control system and this very achievable. Out on the road the throttle response is superb, with the engine pulling from low in the rev range.

What's it like to drive?

There are various drive modes controlled via a couple of switches on the wheel. There is a normal and eco mode but they are rather dull in comparison to sport, which works for most types of road – the crumbling tarmac on our Italian test route highlighted a stiffly sprung car that quickly settled.

Flick the switch to N, however, and the car's personality completely changes. Everything sharpens up instantly. The rev range accelerates much more quickly, and the exhaust pops and crackles adding to the theatre.

There's also a 'custom' option should you wish to fine-tune various aspects of the car's set-up.

Hyundai’s highly anticipated i30 N is unveiled

Hyundai’s highly anticipated i30 N is unveiled

How does it look?

The i30 N has had lots of time spent on it making sure it is as aerodynamic as it can possibly be. To our eyes, it looks menacing and purposeful and yet doesn't detract from what was a pretty good-looking car to begin with, just with added spoilers and flared wheel arches.

If you talk about badge appeal, however, it still falls short of the desirability of its German or Japanese rivals. That said, it will appeal to motorsport fans thanks to lots of N branding – and as it is a brand in its early stages it needs more time to be recognised.

What's it like inside?

Inside it feels very well made and has an excellent, simple layout, with everything falling to your fingertips. However, it just doesn't quite cut the mustard compared to say Volkswagen's Golf GTI. Some of the switchgear is starting to feel old and the infotainment system is frustrating, especially the sat nav which was unmanageable at times.

Look past these flaws and concentrate more on the sporty N-specific extras, and you appreciate this car for the hot hatch it mist definitely is. These include the chunky steering wheel and very comfortable, supportive sports seats.

What's the spec like?

Even the 'entry-level' £24,995 version is well equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen, LED lights all round and adaptive cruise control as standard.

The Performance model costs from £27,995 and adds even more. This includes an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tyres, and a leather and suede upholstered interior.

Verdict

This really is a car that shouldn't be underestimated. The character of the car is unrecongisable compared with the i30 hatch on which it is based. It is an extremely worthy contender against its rivals, and shouldn't be sniffed at because it doesn't have a German badge.

Best of all is that it maintains that family practicality and has a very sensible five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. As far as cars entering the hot hatch stage go, this one is a cracker.

The Knowledge

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