Hyundai i30 N review – verdict, prices and rivals

An superbly entertaining, charismatic and playful hot hatchback that shows its deep-rooted rivals a thing or two

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Rating
star-4.5
Pro
Fantastic fun but usable too
Con
Could stand to be lighter, image may still be a problem for some

Hyundai may be a relative newcomer in the hot hatchback class, but the recognition its i30 N has already gained from enthusiasts is not to be underestimated. Combining the familiar hot hatch ingredients of practicality, affordability and an entertaining drive, but coming from a marque that has not competed in this sector before, the i30 N has certainly done its job of shaking up the status quo. Hyundai has dabbled with driver’s cars before. Its old Coupe models won plaudits in the 1990s and more recently the Veloster offered moderate B-road thrills, but no previous effort has hit the spot quite like the i30 N.

It’s the first car from Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand, the letter standing for both the department’s home in Namyang, South Korea, and its home away from home at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. And Hyundai has hit the mark on its first attempt, because the i30 N is a hugely entertaining driver’s car and one that sweeps aside some fairly well-established opposition, too.

Good value, well-judged styling, and an engaging chassis and drivetrain all count in the i30 N’s favour, and nowhere does the car stumble to any great degree. Only the badge will hold it back for some, lacking the kudos of Volkswagen and Peugeot’s GTI emblems and the charisma of a Renault Sport or Type R billing, but to dismiss the Hyundai for this alone would be a mistake.

Hyundai subsequently added to the i30 N range with a second model – the i30 Fastback N. The name may be a bit of a mouthful but the car is just as impressive as the hatchback, and for some the unusual shape will be well worth the extra outlay. Improvements to the Fastback’s suspension, mainly aimed at introducing some extra compliance, have since been applied to the hatchback i30 N. Perhaps best of all is what we have to look forward to from Hyundai in the future. If this is what the company is capable of the first time it tackles a proper hot hatchback, we’re even more intrigued to see what’s next.

Price and rivals

Hyundai has condensed its N range to just the Performance version, dropping the entry-level 247bhp standard car. As a result, the i30 N’s head-turning $33,325 starting price no longer applies, but given the extra capability of and customer willingness to upgrade to the more powerful Performance variant, it comes as no surprise to see the lesser model being ditched. As a result the i30 N Performance starts from $38,215 – still a competitive price point for a car with so much performance and finesse. 

The i30 N is superbly equipped as standard too, so there’s not a lot you’ll be adding to that price in terms of extra costs – really just one of the $750 paintwork options. There’s also the option of the i30 Fastback N, which is only marginally more expensive at $38,855, which still undercuts most of its rivals.

Standard kit across both models includes N-specific body styling, a leather steering wheel and gearknob, CarPlay and Android Auto integration, navigation and switchable driving modes. The standard sports seats are trimmed in Alcantara and leather, electrically adjustable and heated. The Performance also features an electronically controlled limited-slip diff, 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero tyres, bigger brakes and an active exhaust. 

We’ve previously compared the i30 N Performance directly with the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance and Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport. It fared well, winning our test in issue 245, largely thanks to its entertainment factor. The Golf and Peugeot are more subtle in their styling and the Peugeot in particular is quicker, but for fun the i30 N is hard to beat.

One that can beat it is the Honda Civic Type R. With prices from $40,855 it’s more expensive, but its level of ability is remarkable and currently unmatched in this class. The styling will be a little much for some, though, and the Hyundai feels more compact, which is certainly appealing in some situations – the Civic is a big car these days. Also worth considering is the Renault Sport Mégane RS 280, starting at a reasonable $36,275, or $41,400 for the Trophy. Neither is perfect, but the outright ability is high.

Ford has recently launched a new Focus ST, too. The old model wasn’t a patch on the i30 N, even if it represented good value, and the same rings true of the new model, which despite a strong powertrain and lively chassis lacks the finesse and natural responses of the Hyundai. It’s also more expensive than before, starting at $37,810 and rising to $38,840 with the performance pack.

The Fastback version of the Hyundai doesn’t really have any direct rivals, though given the rising popularity of what manufacturers like to call ‘four-door coupes’, it’s only a matter of time. Its higher price brings it a little close to some of the traditional hatchback rivals above, but doesn’t represent an enormous leap over the regular i30, so it could be worth a look if you’re drawn to its unique styling.

Engine, gearbox and technical specs

With the regular i30 N now dropped from the line-up your only i30 N option is the more powerful N Performance derivative, in either hatch or Fastback form, resulting in one state of tune to go with the single engine and gearbox option (until the DCT ’box arrives later this year).

Power comes from a 1998cc, turbocharged four-cylinder engine badged T-GDi, and the gearbox is a six-speed manual, with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential provided as standard. With 271bhp produced at 6000rpm, peak torque is the same and produced across a wider spread between 1500 and 4700rpm

Structurally the i30 N is much like any other car in this class, with a steel, five-door monocoque shell and steel panels. In terms of hot hatchbacks its suspension set-up is also common, with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear axle. As part of the N’s upgrades over a regular i30 the chassis receives a strut brace between the rear suspension towers, as well as additional welding in the shell. Fastback models carry a little more of their weight towards the back of the car, which actually improves the front-to-rear weight balance and its shape improves its aerodynamic efficiency, too.

Electronically controlled and adjustable suspension is standard on both the hatch and the Fastback, while the electronically controlled limited-slip differential is standard on both models, too. Initially the Fastback’s chassis differed to that of the hatch, including longer bump-stops (from 55mm to 62mm), spring rates reduced by five per cent and a one millimetre thinner front anti-roll bar, but from 2020 these chassis changes, along with reduced camber on the rear axle and stronger gearbox and differential mounts, were made to the i30 N hatch, too. Brake discs measuring 345/314mm front and rear respectively are standard on both body styles.

Both hatch and Fastback are fitted with 8×19-inch wheels and 235/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tyres, with electrically assisted power steering and 2.14 turns lock-to-lock.

Officially the i30 N weighs 1509kg regardless of bodystyle, although on evo’s scales a Performance hatch came in at 1477kg, comfortably within that range but certainly no lightweight.

All Ns get electronic sound enhancement. It’s loud, raucous and perfectly judged to the car’s character, with pops and crackles thrown in for good measure (but, pleasingly, sounding far from synthesised, as they feel in several other cars).

Engine and exhaust noise can be tailored via the Custom mode in the driving mode menu so you can switch it off when you want to fly under the radar. A firm, short-throw gearshift and good traction also both contribute to the entertainment factor of extending the N’s engine, while a reassuringly firm brake pedal pays dividends when it comes to shedding speed.

Performance and 0-100 time

If there is a weak point within the i30 N’s dynamic package it’s the Theta 2-litre turbocharged engine. It’s not slow, far from it, but compared to the engines found in rivals it can be a little flat. While it revs cleanly to its redline, it doesn’t have the top-end enthusiasm found in the best VW or Peugeot units, while also lacking the huge mid-range punch of the latest Focus ST.

The engine’s relative lack of sophistication is partly due to its fairly humble beginnings in American-market mid-sized saloons and SUVs, making this feel like a potent engine put into a small car, rather than one designed specifically for the job. 

Performance on paper is strong enough though, breaking the 250kph mark having passed 100kph in 6.1sec. Not class leading but on the money with its rivals. In our own performance testing, we recorded an i30 N Performance at 0-100kph in 6.6sec, and 0-160kph in 14.9sec. Those numbers are respectively 0.1 and 0.3sec off a Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance, and 0.6 and 1.1sec off the significantly lighter and similarly powerful Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport.

Ride and handling

There are hot hatchbacks with more grip, some with more adjustability, and others that will outsprint the i30 N point to point, but in the current market it’s difficult to think of many that are quite as entertaining or as fluid as Hyundai’s first stab at such a car or one that performs so well across all areas.

The i30 N’s steering is the first statement of intent. It’s weighty even in its lightest setting, not unlike that of a BMW Motorsport product. Delve into the menus and it’s possible to adjust the weighting and on the road Sport mode feels about right; whichever setting you choose, it’s always responsive, with the slightest movement off the straight ahead resulting in a positive and proportional reaction at the front axle.

There’s grip to back it up, too, and feedback that feels natural rather than artificial, which allows you to push deeper into the N’s talents. It’s not a chassis likely to catch you out, either, unless you take liberties, while the rear end will rotate with a sharp lift of the throttle and it matches grip with poise and a sense of fun that’s missing from some rivals. There’s a hint of old-school Renault Sport in there.

Three stages of stability control (Off, Sport and Normal) give you options depending on how much you appreciate electronic intervention, but the electronically controlled limited-slip differential is so well managed that it’s best to switch it all off and have some fun. For an electronic system it feels nicely mechanical and you can lean on it to get the best from it and ask more of the front two Pirellis regardless of the angle of the curve. It finds strong traction on the exit of lower-gear corners and manages torque and understeer through the quicker stuff with an unexpected level of sophistication.

Our biggest criticism of the i30 N hatch when it first arrived was how ride quality had been sacrificed, or perhaps optimised for race tracks and ultra-smooth tarmac roads, therefore pegging back its performance. It was an issue rectified with the introduction of the i30 N Fastback, which received softer chassis settings, and before long Hyundai’s N Performance division equipped the hatch with the same chassis set-up.

A reduction of the front wishbone angle and a spring rate reduction of five per cent were at the core of the changes, so too seven millimetre longer bump-stops and a thinner anti-roll bar. At the rear the camber angle was also reduced.

The result of these chassis changes to the 2020 model year i30 N is a hot hatch that you no longer need to fight with if the surface deteriorates or you find yourself on a local road. Its new-found softer edge rounds off the original car’s harder focus, allowing the car to breathe with the road in a more consistent manner than before, therefore allowing you to exploit and enjoy more of its performance more of the time.

There’s a further fine layer of polish to its steering, too, with a little more accuracy to work with, allowing you to lean on the diff that little bit harder. They are incremental improvements, but there wasn’t a huge amount to rectify in the first place. So while there are hot hatches that have more power and torque to get you down the straights a little quicker, few will allow you to carry as much speed through the corners as the Hyundai.

L/100km and running costs

We’ve become familiar with modern cars failing to match their official combined consumption figures in normal driving, and while performance cars often get closer than many – they aren’t designed to be economical in a very specific set of conditions from the outset – the i30 N’s real-world fuel economy is still slightly disappointing for us.

Officially, it’ll do 8.3L/100km on the WLTP cycle (around 56.5L/100km shy of the old NEDC measurements), a figure matched by the Fastback N Performance. That’s fairly close to reality, where you’ll be looking at mid-30s on a gentle motorway run and possibly just scratching the surface of 9.4L/100km in everyday driving, with numbers plummeting the more performance you use.

That, on its own, wouldn’t be such a problem – plenty of other cars in this class will do similar, albeit few are quite so thirsty – but the 50-litre tank can often seem a little on the small side for a car consuming at that rate. In theory around 482 kilometres should be possible, but a realistic fill-up interval of around 400 kilometres can wear a little thin on longer trips.

If you enjoy the performance then you may want to heed the cost of replacement tyres. The N’s 235/35 R19 Pirelli P-Zeros will set you back over $190 a corner fitted from online tyre supplier BlackCircles, but it is a wheel size ripe for experimenting with different tyre suppliers.

Still, Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty should redress the balance somewhat when it comes to ownership, and aside from a few satnav stutters and a pessimistic tyre pressure sensor our Fast Fleet i30 N Performance proved trouble-free over seven months of use.

Interior and tech

Save for lots of hard and slightly scratchy textured plastics here and there, there’s not a lot to complain about in the i30 N’s cabin. As with the standard i30, it’s logically laid out, feels well-built and offers good levels of comfort and refinement.

In fact, comfort is one of the N’s strong points. While you don’t get the option of bewinged Recaros like many rivals offer, Hyundai’s own bolstered seats are well-padded and widely adjustable. They don’t adjust quite low enough for some, but between the seats and the reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel, most drivers should be able to find a good driving position. Fastback buyers will find a little less rear headroom, and similar boot space.

The wheel is good to hold – a chunky (but not too chunky) three-spoke affair whose buttons for stereo controls, cruise control and information display functions are logically arranged. Here you’ll also find two larger, Performance Blue buttons used to select drive modes. On the left spoke is the button to switch between Eco, Comfort and Sport modes, while the right, denoted with a small chequered flag, switches between ‘N’ mode and a custom setting.

Those custom settings are adjusted through the central touchscreen, and one of the i30 N’s highlights, allowing you to tailor the drive to your own preferences, forever just a couple of quick presses on the N button away, and only ever a press on the left-hand button away from switching back to the car’s more relaxed modes. For us, it’s driving modes done just right.

Otherwise, the i30 N’s central touchscreen gives you access to an intuitive satellite navigation system, as well as iPhone and Android integration. The cabin is spacious, though feels a little less so than that of a Golf, and boot space is relatively uncompromised by the strengthening cross-brace between the suspension turrets.

Design

Hyundai has turned its mild-mannered five-door hatch into a convincingly styled hot hatchback with the i30 N. It doesn’t have the classlessness of a Golf GTI, but nor is it quite as brash as a Civic Type R – and in that middle ground the end result is something quite appealing.

Front and rear bumpers, side sills and a spoiler with an integrated, triangular brake light mark the N out from regular i30s, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels and red detailing. Hyundai also has its own signature colour for the N, called Performance Blue – a light shade that sounds a little odd until you see it in the metal. It really works, though the N looks great in understated black or traditional reds and whites, too.

The Hyundai i30 N is due a subsequent facelift towards the end of the year, with a look that’s already been previewed by the lesser i30 N-Line that traditionally shares many of the i30 N’s design elements sans the performance-oriented additions like big wheels, brakes and exhaust outlets.

And the Fastback? It took us a little getting used-to, and arguably isn’t as sleek as such a car could (or should) be, as Hyundai has clearly been keen to preserve some practicality. But with longer exposure it gets better and from the rear in particular looks more exotic than the standard car. It might just be the one we’d go for.

This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk

Copyright © evo UK, Dennis Publishing

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