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 brand, the letter standing for both the brand’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.
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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 might be a bit of a mouthful but the car is as impressive as the hatchback, and for some the more exotic 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 across the regular i30 N models.
Perhaps best of all is what we have to look forward to from Hyundai in 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.
Hyundai i30 N in detail
Engine, gearbox and technical specs – Just the one, 2-litre powerplant, and just a six-speed gearbox – just as it should be. Conventional underpinnings are used to unconventionally good effect.
Performance and 0-60 time – Not as quick as some rivals, but all is forgiven for one of the naughtiest exhaust notes this side of a supercar. Great brakes regardless of trim level, with good pedal feel.
Ride and handling – A case of Nürburgring development turning out a car that works brilliantly on the road. Stay clear of the racier suspension settings and you get a stiff structure with surprising pliancy to the ride, meaty and accurate steering and good balance.
MPG and running costs – Quite thirsty and 250-mile fills can get tiresome. Tyres can be expensive, too, but Hyundai’s five-year warranty is welcome.
Interior and tech – Cabin design is inoffensive but unremarkable, but the driving position is good and so is control feel. Sensible levels of tech won’t confuse or irritate.
Design – Not as classless as a Golf GTI or dramatic as a Civic Type R, but a nicely judged balance between the two. Fastback model adds a welcome unique touch to the range.
Price and rivals
Three grand separates the i30 N from the i30 N Performance, with the former starting at £25,995 and the latter at £29,495. Both are well-equipped as standard, so there’s not a lot you’ll be adding to that in terms of extra costs – really just one of the £585 paintwork options. There's also the option of the i30 Fastback N, of course – sold only in Performance form, pricing here starts at £29,995, which still undercuts most of the i30's rivals.
Standard kit across all cars includes N-specific body styling, a leather steering wheel and gearknob, sports seats, CarPlay and Android Auto integration, navigation and switchable driving modes. The Performance gets Alcantara and leather-trimmed, electrically adjustable versions of those sports seats, plus a series of mechanical changes – 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 £31,550 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 consideration is the Renault Sport Megane, starting at a reasonable £27,835, or £31,835 for the Trophy. Neither is perfect but the outright ability is high.
Ford has just launched a new Focus ST, too. The old model wasn't a patch on the i30N, even if it represented good value. The new car looks like being the other way around, with a much broader spread of abilities but starting at a surprising £31,995 and rising to nearly £33k with the performance pack. Power from the new 2.3-litre engine is on par with the i30N Performance.
The Fastback version doesn't really have any direct rivals at the moment, 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 could be worth consideration for its unique styling.