Hyundai's i30 N is Korea's very first really credible performance hot hatch. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
With this i30 N hot hatch, Hyundai launches its new 'N' performance sub-brand. It's the kind of car you simply wouldn't expect from this Korean maker, with a 275PS output intended to provide performance to embarrass this car's Volkswagen Golf GTI arch-rival.
Hyundai is getting serious about performance. For proof, take a look at this i30 N hot hatch, developed by a team led by former BMW M Power boss Albert Biermann. It's undergone a lengthy testing period that included over 6,000 miles of running on the legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack and it aims to slot right in amongst the established players in the volume part of the family hatch-sized GTI segment. The 'N' in the model name stands not only for 'Nurburgring' but also for 'Namyang', Hyundai's vast research and development centre back in South Korea.
The stats certainly look promising. Beneath the bonnet, you'll find a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, delivering 275PS and 353Nm of torque. As a point of comparison, the most you can get from a Golf GTI is 245PS - and that's only if you pay extra for a 'Performance Pack' on that car. The i30 N is front-driven - there's no sign of a 4WD option - and if you're quick with the 6-speed manual stick shift, 62mph can be reached from rest in just 6.1s en route to 155mph. The single gearbox option, a 6-speed manual stick-shift, has been specially developed for this car and its clutch is uprated. There's also a selectable rev-matching system to make you sound like Fernando Alonso when you're downshifting through the gears.
As segment buyers will expect, 'Launch control' for 'Grand Prix'-style getaways and a rev-matching function both feature in the standard spec, plus there are five selectable driving modes and an electronically managed suspension set-up. An 'N button' will switch the car into its most dynamic setup and drivers can tailor settings through an 'N Custom' mode. With the standard 'N Performance' package, you get an electronic limited slip differential, plus beefy brakes, a variable valve exhaust system, and larger 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P Zero rubber. The handling of this variant was perfected at the legendary Nurburgring Nordschliefe race track - and you'll feel like you're on a circuit when you're pressing on behind the wheel, thanks to an Electronic Sound Generator that creates a rorty engine note.
The i30 N certainly talks the talk in terms of its looks. At the front, the headlamps have black bezels and the 'Cascading' grille has a red insert. There's a front splitter and a prominent rear wing spoiler for extra downforce and aero-balance. Air inlets have been added to each corner of the car's front end, aiding aerodynamics and brake cooling. The larger wheel arches house standard 18-inch rims with a 4mm lowered ride height - or larger 19-inch wheels with an 8mm lower ride height.
Inside, you get an exclusive blue-stitched 'N' steering wheel to the left of which is the drive mode selection system. To the right of the wheel, there's a chequered flag 'N' button for the 'N-mode' that releases this car most focused red mist performance setting. The red zone of the variable LED rev-counter changes according to the driving performance and varies with the engine's oil temperature. The 'ball-type' gearknob bears the N-badge. There are high-performance 'N'-embossed sport seats trimmed in a combination of suede and leather or cloth. These chairs feature extendable cushions.
Pricing for the i30 N starts at around £30,000 for the 275PS 'Performance' model. For fractionally more, you can opt for the sleeker Fastback body shape with the same mechanical set-up. The 'Performance' package comes with 19-inch Pirelli P-Zero high-performance Hyundai N tyres, distinctive red N break callipers and larger brake discs (18-inch at the front, 17-inch at the rear). An 'E-LSD' Electronic Limited Slip Differential and a Variable Exhaust Valve System are additional features included in the Performance Package to provide the optimal race track experience.
As standard, buyers get an 8.0-litre centre-dash infotainment screen which shows navigation instructions and features information on PS, torque and turbo boost, as well as a lap and acceleration timer. All the infotainment options include access to the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' 'phone mirroring systems, enabling users to connect their devices to deliver and control music, telephone or navigation functions on-screen.
Standard camera-driven safety features include 'AEB' 'Autonomous Emergency Braking', 'DAA' 'Driver Attention Alert', an 'LKAS' 'Lane Keeping Assist System', an 'SLIF' ' Speed Limit Information Function' and 'HBA' 'High Beam Assist'.
The introduction of new engine technology has kept Hyundai right on the pace of the class best when it comes to efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions. The brand says that this 2.0 T-GDI petrol model will return combined cycle and CO2 WLTP returns that are very competitive with obvious rivals (read VW Golf GTI). Sure enough, this 272PS model manages a reasonably competitive CO2 return of 188g/km with a combined cycle fuel return of 34.0mpg (both WLTP).
What else might you need to know? As ever with Hyundai, a strong buying incentive is the five year unlimited mileage warranty that comes as standard. It's backed up by breakdown cover that last the same length of time and free annual vehicle health checks over this duration. True, rival brand Kia claims to better this package by offering a similar seven year deal, but there, you're limited to 100,000 miles. As for servicing, well your i30 N will need a garage visit once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. If you want to budget ahead for routine maintenance, there are various 'Hyundai Sense' packages that offer fixed-price servicing over two, three or five-year periods. You can pay for your plan monthly and add MoTs into the three or five year plans for an extra fee.
So will potential hot hatch buyers consider an i30 N in preference to a Volkswagen Golf GTI, a Ford Focus ST, a Renaultsport Megane or a Peugeot 308 GTi? That's a big ask. These established segment players have had decades to cement their credentials in this sector.
Yet Hyundai has certainly gone about this the right way. The engineering's been done thoroughly and the performance stats certainly look promising, offering owners slightly more performance than competitors can deliver. We'd say that if you're shopping in this market, this Korean contender's well worth a test drive. At the very least, you'll certainly enjoy the experience.