Hyundai i30N hatchback (2017 - ) review
The i30N is priced to go head-to-head with the Golf GTi. It has the seminal hot hatch licked for power and pace, but does it have the polish to upset Volkswagen’s legend?
Interested in buying Hyundai i30N?
Perhaps the worst aspect of the i3ON is its fundamental lack of visual drama. Even the plethora of hot hatch embellishments on the ‘N’ compared to the normal ‘i30’ can’t overcome the blandness of the exterior design. For the record, the N sits lower to the ground than the standard i30, and comes with body side skirts and wider wheel arches to accommodate the 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels. It also adds a bespoke N-badged grille and bumper treatment, with big air-scoops and LED daytime running lights. Further back, a roof mounted spoiler, complete with triangular third brake light, along with bad-boy twin exhaust pipes, and a faux air-diffuser below the rear bumper, all add to the stereotypical hot hatch treatment. The latter probably creates about as much down force as a mouse breathing on the boot lid, but along with splashes of red paint on the lower lips of the bumpers and brake callipers, it’s an inexpensive but effective shout-out to Hyundai’s successful WRC campaign.
Like most hot hatches, inside, there’s not a whole lot that marks this sportier model out from the standard car. As such, the interior quality is not a patch on a Golf GTi. While some parts of the dashboard have a rather hard, scratchy feel, the plastic panels surrounding the door pulls look like they’ve bypassed the finishing process. All in all, things look and feel a wee bit utilitarian.
At least there’s a bright, 8.0-inch infotainment screen that gives you 3D sat-nav maps, live traffic alerts, and points-of-interest information. The major star in the N’s interior is its steering wheel. Trimmed with blue stitching and an N logo, it features two big buttons of note. The one on the left allows drivers to select three drive modes: Normal, Sport and Eco, while the chequered flag emblazoned on the right summons up N mode. This boosts throttle responses, firms up the suspension settings, flings open the exhaust flap of the performance model’s sports pipe, and increases the steering weight. Jab this button once more and you can access a central screen menu that allows you to personalise and store your preferred settings from the various drive modes.
You also get a round gearlever top rather than the oblong item in the standard cars, and a pair of sports seats, which looks pretty impressive but don’t really go low enough to give you that essential low-slung driving position. What’s more, the sides of the seats look pretty chunky and supportive, but in practice, they’re rather soft and don’t provide sufficient resistance to hold you in place when maximising the N’s high-speed cornering potential.
Regardless of how much tuning or bracing or widening of wheel tracks that goes on, every hot hatch is effectively based on the same basic architecture as the humblest model in their respective line-ups. So, just like the entry model 1.0-litre i30, the crackerjack N variant gets a decent amount of room inside, and it pretty much matches the vast majority of rivals in its class. Thankfully, the transmission tunnel running down the centre of the car is low and flat, so foot space for those travelling in the middle rear seat is far less compromised than in some rivals. As is the norm, the rear seats split fold 60/40, and the step in the boot when the seats are folded isn’t too obtrusive. With the seats back in place, the boot wins the bragging rights over a Golf on capacity, but if your priority is large speedy deliveries, you’ll probably be better off with a Skoda Octavia vRS.
Ride and handling
Hyundai reckons the standard i30’s body shell is stiff enough to cope with the stresses that the N’s greater performance places upon it, but there’s a lot of underbody reinforcing. Regardless of the amount of blacksmithing, the results are pretty impressive, as in most modes, the car rides fluidly and changes direction swiftly and predictably.
There are no end of powertrain, suspension and steering settings you can play with, and it’s worth taking the time to dial in your preferences and store them in the custom menu. That’s because the ham-fisted N mode is probably too extreme for UK roads, especially with how much it firms up the suspension. By the same measure, the additional weight that’s forced into the steering produces a heavy, mushy feel. No matter which steering setting you choose, it’s too eager to return to centre, so when you just want to dial back a smidgeon of steering input mid-corner, you end up in a gentle wrestling match with the wheel. Braking power is certainly strong enough, but the pedal lacks some initial stiffness, so it can feel a little soft and delayed at first.
The N uses a pumped-up 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that channels its power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. So far, we’ve only driven the punchier performance version – Hyundai reckons this will make up 90% of N sales – which comes with a limited slip differential, a rabble-rousing exhaust, bigger brakes, and a handy 25PS power boost over the cheaper model’s 250PS.
It’s not the smoothest sounding engine and you can hear quite a bit of buzzy vibration as the engine note is piped into the cabin. Thankfully, you don’t have to rev it too hard, as its real strength lies in its prodigious mid-range thrust. You rarely feel the need to ring its neck in the quest for extra speed, and it will still haul strongly out of corners even when the revs have fallen well down the pecking order.
Like all powerful front wheel drive cars, the engine’s power can be felt tugging away at the steering wheel when you really get on it, but it’s nothing that can’t be countered by a firm grip of the wheel. Unusually, for a manual gearbox car, there’s a launch control programme that can be used to maximise traction away from the mark, and a rev matching function that will automatically blip the accelerator to help you replicate those slick, race-style down-shifts. Although the clutch is quite heavy and lacks a define bite point, the gearshift is one of the sweetest we’ve encountered, thanks to its relative short travel and a steely-edged feel as the gears are slotted home.
For a car with such strong performance on tap, an official fuel return of 40.4mpg for the standard model and 39.8mpg for the 275PS performance version is impressive. This compares pretty favourably with the 44.1mpg a Golf GTi is capable of, and that’s even more impressive when you consider the GTi is quite a bit down on power compared to the Hyundai.
If you fancy running an N though your business, CO2 emissions of 159 g/km for the 247bhp i30 N and 163g/km for a car specified with the Performance pack, means benefit-in-kind will be levied at a rate of 30-31%.
With so much power going exclusively to the front wheels, you can expect to work your way through expensive sets of rubber in sharpish fashion, and insurance ratings will be steep, to say the least.
Although the N has upped the power stakes, we don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be every bit as reliable as the humbler i30, which has proved to be a tough and durable car. Additionally, Hyundai generally has an excellent reputation for reliability and robust construction. Five years of roadside assistance and vehicle health checks are included with the standard, fully transferable, unlimited-mileage warranty.
The N gets all the same safety kit as the standard i30, and that car was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score. Its active safety elements include six airbags, hill-start assist, electronic vehicle stability management, and brake lights which flash during an emergency stop. The i30 also comes with autonomous emergency braking, driver attention alert and lane-keep assist.
The N is the most expensive i30 you can buy, so you’d expect it to get lots of kit, and it does. Cruise control, LED headlights, a reversing camera, keyless entry and go, and a wireless phone-charging pad – that’s all well and good providing your phone is compatible – are all included. The 8.0-inch infotainment system is integrated with sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring systems.
As we’ve said, 90% of buyers will go for the N Performance pack, which along with all the driving enhancements, brings leather upholstery and electronic adjustment for the front seats.
You’ll probably buy Hyundai’s first hot-hatch because you’re one of those early adopter types who aren’t frightened to try something different. For that exact reason, we reckon it’s a shame the car doesn’t look more different. Despite the relative lack of road presence, the i30N is a highly capable and highly enjoyable car to drive. Less frantic than some and more potent than others, it could prove to be a great daily driver, and a whole lot of car for relatively little money.