It's a Guy Thing

The New Kid on the Block

The Hyundai I30N has recruited BMW’s top engineers to build a hot hatch. The result is astonishing!

It’s been two years since the Hyundai I30N was launched in in relatively small numbers and only now is it filtering through to the nether regions and across the vast oceans. Hitherto it has been idyllic smooth sailing for contemporaries like the VW Golf GTI and Renault Megane R.S., as well as for outliers like the Honda Civic Type R, A35 AMG and BMW M140i. Does a Hyundai i30N really belong in this prestigious company, with some adversaries sporting more than a decade-worth of credentials under their belt and the sticker-smearing fanbases ready to defend them? 

First appearances might be deceiving so I ask that you don’t turn to the next page in haste. The I30N comes into view as an underrated performance hatch but this is an appealing recipe that traditionally fares well when compared to the premium pricing. The I30N is practical in most of the right ways (chiefly five doors) yet retains an aura of exclusivity. Less polarising than a Civic Type R, probably lacking the panache of the Megane R.S. but the Hyundai I30N still packs twin pipes, meaty N brake calipers in red and a boot spoiler to help build trust between this start-up performance skunkworks and a new audience. 

It drives well too. Hyundai’s catchphrase is “developed in Namyang, honed at the Nurburgring”. Interestingly (perhaps tellingly) they have never revealed its time around the ‘Ring. We drove it on road and track and it excelled in both environments. 

The Hyundai I30N might just have the best range of damper control I’ve ever sampled in a hot hatch; fluent and supple in comfort mode then firming up with more finesse than the R.S. Cup. There’s a neutral and confidence-inspiring way about the swiftness in a change of direction, or how the electronic differential doesn’t viciously corrupt the steering on corner exit. Grip from the Pirelli tyres is astonishingly good. Brakes are sharp. Noise, particularly with the rev-matching on, is a good substitute for vrrrrpa in hot hatch literaturealbeit enhanced by motorsport know-how from Hyundai’s WRC car.

The I30N is a great all-rounder. Not viscerally fast but a varied mix of sensations and responses that keep you enthralled and engaged. The 2.0-liter turbo, front-wheel-drive layout is no more interesting than the outputs of 270hp and 260lb-ft but like all the great hot hatches you appreciate the nuances behind the lovely harmony. Much to the chagrin of motoring purists, like myself, the only time the package felt out of synchrony was when I had to take a hand off the wheel to grab the next gear from the six-speed manual gearbox. Terrific gearbox (name all the shifting hyperboles and they’re there) but on a tricky mountain pass it feels more disruptive than rewarding. It’s also bound to restrict the car’s appeal to a very specific type of driver. 

It’s very customizable, which simply adds to its bandwidth. The N setting allows you to set the chassis how you want it, the fireworks from the exhaust, rev-matching, steering weight etc. There are shades of BMW M Division in the way it stores settings right by the tips of your thumbs, which is no coincidence since the i30N was part of Albert Biermann –former M Division chief – first projects at Hyundai.  

Elsewhere Hyundai has poured a solid quantity of standard equipment into the i30N although you can’t blame our hot hatch reference point for expecting some red stitching, a flat-bottom steering wheel or brightly colored seatbelts to uplift the conservative cabin, not mentioning one attached to a price tag that will result in a small grimace. Some finishes are just plain poor, like the door handles, window switches and cheaply exposed manual handbrake. 

A facsimile of the GTI’s all-round capability but upon leaving a traffic jam in the city, it’s the i30N I would rather point in the direction of a twisty loop. Hyundai has nailed its first attempt at creating a hot hatch that hits all the right notes without going overboard on the tech or power. This is just the tip of N Performance brand which has already proved that it is not afraid to take on the hot hatch pecking order of yesterday. VW fans get out your pitchforks, you’ll need them… Pawan Dhingra