Hyundai i30 N hatchback
“The Hyundai i30 N is a truly special addition to the hot-hatchback class”
- Sophisticated suspension
- Captivating handling
- Value for money
- Not as fast as rivals
- Lacks perceived pedigree
- Looks may be too tame for some
It’s not often a car as exceptional as the Hyundai i30 N comes along. In producing a complete newcomer intended to rival established hot hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus ST, Hyundai set itself a very challenging task – not least because it’s the first car from the manufacturer’s new N performance division.
The i30 N turned out to be a surprising and welcome success, taking its place in the market as one of the sweetest-handling hot hatchbacks we‘ve ever driven. For 2020 it's been tweaked slightly to make it even better, with updates to the suspension that allow the i30 N to flow along British roads with greater composure.
The i30 N was originally offered in two forms: the standard 247bhp model and the 271bhp ‘Performance’ version. Hyundai discontinued the lesser powered car in 2020 because it accounted for such a small proportion of sales, leaving the Performance to battle it out against the 316bhp Civic Type R, as well as mega-hatches like the 395bhp Audi RS3. While the i30 N is behind much of the competition in power terms, it serves as a timely reminder that driving pleasure is about involvement, not just speed.
The standard i30 N takes 6.4 seconds to go from 0-62mph, while the N Performance shrinks that time to 6.1 seconds. Both cars are limited to 155mph.
The i30 N’s remarkable nature isn’t revealed by raw data – instead it’s detectable in more subjective, analogue ways. The i30 N communicates huge amounts of information to you through its perfectly judged and sophisticated adjustable suspension, for example, while its feedback-rich steering, slick six-speed manual gearbox and emotive engine note all add further to the fun. The net result is deeply impressive and genuinely rewarding hot hatch.
Hyundai is undoubtedly more renowned for its five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty than it is for performance and the unfamiliar ‘N’ badge on the back of the i30 N doesn’t have a rich heritage. However, if you can look past this, there is a great performance car to enjoy, thanks in large part to Hyundai’s decision to hire Albert Biermann, the wizard previously behind BMW’s illustrious M division, to head the N Performance division. If the i30 N is anything to go by, that was an inspired move, both for Hyundai and for hot-hatch fans.
The i30 N’s looks are more subtle than extreme, but with twin exhausts, flared wheelarches, black side sills, enlarged air intakes and a triangular central brake light, there’s enough to indicate that this isn’t an ordinary i30, and give a nod to Hyundai's rally cars. The mature approach Hyundai has taken to styling the i30 N is also likely to grow on you the more time you spend with it.
Special equipment includes sports seats, adjustable suspension, a bespoke gearknob, a rev-matching function, a launch-control feature and three standard driving modes, as well as a fourth, extreme ‘N’ mode, accessed by pressing a dedicated chequered flag button on the steering wheel. Hyundai even went so far as to commission Pirelli to develop tyres specifically for the i30 N – an expensive and time-consuming business. Go for the N Performance model (the only option since the start of 2020) and you get an electronic limited-slip differential (see section 3) and an active, enhanced exhaust, too.
Performance aside, the Hyundai i30 N is also a practical car. With five doors and a reasonable 381-litre boot, it more than fulfils the hatchback side of the hot-hatchback brief. Interior quality is impressive thanks to soft-touch plastics and rigorous attention to detail, while sat nav, a reversing camera, LED headlights and an eight-inch infotainment system are standard.
You also get the same impressive roster of safety kit fitted to the standard i30, which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance and traffic-sign recognition – systems that contributed to the standard i30’s full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
The standard i30 N was around the same price as an entry-level Ford Focus ST when it was on sale, while the N Performance version comes in at just under £30,000. The five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty provided by Hyundai comfortably exceeds VW and Ford’s three-year/60,000-mile guarantees.