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
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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.
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
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 £25,995 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 £29,810 – 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 £585 paintwork options. There’s also the option of the i30 Fastback N, which is only marginally more expensive at £30,310, 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 £31,870 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 £28,295, or £32,295 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 £29,495 and rising to £30,295 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.