Hyundai i30 N drive review

It will change the way you think about Hyundai. It’s fast, competent, smiley good fun and, on early evidence tougher and more durable than the Euro hot-hatch notables. And, at $41,400, virtuous value too.

A day to relish covering 400km on brilliant, challenging mountain roads assessing and enjoying the new Hyundai i30 N rocket. Then another day at Winton raceway, hammering out dozens of laps with little respite, evaluating, pushing hard, relishing this new machine…

The track sessions were particularly illuminating, with Hyundai placing no restrictions on laps or treatment. “Go for it…as many laps as you want. Enjoy!”  And, later, when i30 Ns ran low on 95 octane, they were dutifully refuelled and sent back into action.

There couldn’t be a more rousing torture test for the newest addition to the harsh hot-hatch genre; nary a stutter, the brake fluid didn’t boil, nothing in fact overheated. It ran and ran…

Created, engineered and developed and carefully tuned over time at several points on the planet, it is a true global product with a strong European feel and an injection of Aussie personality – the suspension was tuned with Australian Hyundai tuning gurus.

Hyundai is offering the standard Hyundai five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty also covering track use (for non-competition events).

This shouldn’t go unnoticed by hot hatch adherents who realise that some market rivals, when driven hard and long, have proven to be less than tough and durable.

A statement of intent, and signalling the importance of the Australian market is the fact that we are getting the most rousing of the two engine choices, the 202kW and 353Nm (378Nm with overboost) Performance version of the 2.0-litre direct injection turbo, electronically limited to 250km/h (despite the speedo hinting at 300 top whack).

The lively engine, though a little thirsty, is certainly grunty and willing and pleasantly driveable too in day-to-day work, pulling easily in tall gears from around 3000rpm.

Experimenting with suspension settings suggests Normal is ideal for town and highway, with firm-riding Sport and Sport+ reserved for the track, where comfort isn’t a priority.

The only transmission currently available is a beautifully positive and unbeatably fast short-stroke six-speed manual with carbon coated synchros. Designed to handle serious track activity, the manual shift quality is terrific and the clutch take up and feel is right up there with the benchmark Honda Civic Type R. We are told Hyundai spent a lot of working hours ensuring a high level of satisfaction.

Yes, the absence of an auto will hurt sales but the cavalry is coming…a Hyundai-made dual-clutch will be on Australian shores soon enough, and we hear it’s a precision-tuned instrument, much like the rest of the car.

In Sport+ there’s the touch of theatre from the exhausts, which pop and crackle with gusto when shifting or at lift off.

Drive modes allow the choice of Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom. So the driver can pick a setting of his/her choice or individualise the adjustment of  dampers, exhaust sound, throttle response, stability control, steering feel, rev matching and the electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential.

All these performance gizmos would mean little if the i30 N fails to deliver driver appeal in spades.

Sitting 8mm lower than the regulation i30 and with an electronically controlled suspension (ECS) managing body roll, pitch and dive, the N is so predictable and agile, gripping the tarmac tenaciously.   It’s stable with an absence of twitching and anxiety. It takes a level of brutality to induce understeer, and when it does appear, it is easily controlled by the throttle.

The bespoke 235/35 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres cling on madly, and their combination with the LSD is remarkable. An endorsement of the N’s inherent balance, is the low wear rate of the front tyres.

The brakes, bigger than on the regular i30 and benefitting some extra cooling, are effective enough, although they lost some pedal pressure (but not performance) during our sessions on the track.

The electronic stability control system can be switched off via Sport + to give more adventurous drivers the chance to fling the N around. And allowing the driver to left-foot brake.

The N’s more direct steering tends to be heavier than most and lumpy in any mode.  It’s a minor criticism.

There is a Launch Control system. With the engine warmed up and on a flat surface, maximum acceleration is achieved in N mode.  Using all the accelerator, the engine finds the sweet spot of around 4200rpm and with 1.5 BAR boost and sensible clutch deployment, fires the hatch to 100km/h in 6.1 secs.

The overboost function, which stays in play for a span of two-18 secs, improves overtaking performance.

Yet the goal for Hyundai, local product planner and engineer Andrew Tuitahi reminds us, was not to build the fastest hot hatch, but to ensure it’s the most fun to drive on road and track.

With carryover fascia from the i30, the N’s budget, most obviously, has been directed at stuff that matters; performance and dynamics. Still, perhaps the N’s grey cabin is too understated with muted trim, cloth-upholstered sports seats with blue stitching and a throwback circular steering wheel rather than one with flat bits. The instrument panel shows some BMW M-car influence with LEDs rimming the tacho and yellow-to-red shift warning lights.

Alloy pedals borrowed from the SR are at just the right location and height to make heel-and-toe downshifts a piece of cake (even though the i30N has a rev matching system). The sat nav is also from the i30 donor car, but there are N-specific gauges, and well-bolstered sporty buckets.

Standard safety equipment is generous with seven airbags, a rear camera, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping, and tyre pressure monitoring.

All of this of course would be barely appealing without a keen price tag, and the recommended retail of $41,400 puts the N squarely on the radar of those shopping a hot hatch.

While well equipped as an affordable driver’s car, i30 N can be further personalised with either the Luxury Pack ($3000) or the Luxury Pack with panoramic sunroof ($5000).

The i30 N is mercifully bereft of the garish styling morsels that some competitors believe add to the lure. Yes, we’re talking about you, Civic Type R.  True.

The Type R is the toughest all-round rival but bears the weight of fugliness and costing 11 grand more. In the same market shootout too are the Peugeot 308 GTI, aging but still worthy Ford Focus ST, all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX …

The rival the new Hyundai appears to be accosting most forcibly is the decoratively elegant Golf GTI, which has a long-standing reputation and fanatical fan-boy following.

Albert Biermann, the engineering guru who left the BMW M division in 2014 to head Hyundai’s nascent N department, started a war of words with VW early this year when he opined boldly of the rival Golf GTI, “It’s a great car…but after two laps the fun is over.” Pushed to detail what he thought would fade over those two laps, Biermann replied with pointed brevity, “Everything!”

Unsurprisingly, VW Australia’s managing director Michael Bartsch fired back quickly, suggesting “While any skunkworks can turn out a track day special, the expertise and experience required to engineer a GTI or an R – cars that also excel in the real world – is rather more hard won.”

Actions speak way louder than invective. The slightly cheaper and better equipped N wallops the Golf GTI just about everywhere bar heritage, cabin decor and past deeds.

Let it be shouted loudly that the new i30 N hot hatch – the brand’s first crack at a serious performance car – is outstanding with no signs of weakness.  It’s an instant image creator for its maker and a savage kick in the testes for a bunch of Euro manufacturers hoping the first Hyundai road-and-track weapon wouldn’t be so competent, so resolved, so satisfying and almost relaxing.

The N may have even lifted the benchmarks for the genre, factoring in bang-for-dollars with excellence. There’s that punchy engine acceleration and flexibility, sensible and predictable ride comfort and handling, terrific seating support, all-conditions grip and notable wear resistance from the P Zero rubber, broad choices of exhaust soundtrack, brakes designed to relish track work…

And standout durability too.

Doubters who can’t accept that reputations can be won remarkably speedily should think back to the launch of the original Subaru Impreza WRX in 1994.  Subaru Australia predicted it might sell 25 units per month.  Within a few years, after an interior upgrade, the loved-up Rex was regularly cracking 400 monthly.

Don’t say the i30 N won’t quickly grow an enthusiastic customer base…

Intriguing will be the longer-term answers to posers that not even the Hyundai marketing and product people can provide: what will be the profile and demographic of  i30 N buyers, how many i30 Ns will be sold monthly in Australia, and what will be the split when the dual-clutch version comes on stream next year?

Hyundai i30 N specs and price

Price $41,400 Maximum power  202 kW @ 6,000 RPM   Maximum torque 353 Nm @ 1,450 – 4,700 RPM   Overboost: 378 Nm @ 1,750 – 4,200 RPM   Wheel dimensions  19 x 8.0J +55  Tyre dimensions  235/35R19 91Y  Tyre brand  Pirelli P-Zero H  Kerb weight  1429 kg – 1509 kg

Final Verdict:

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