Winning the WRC, competitive within the World Touring Cars and now heading to the British Touring Cars in 2020, Hyundai is making a name for itself. Seemingly this isn’t just in motorsport, but it’s gunning for the big dogs of the highly contested hot hatch market.
Hyundai’s ‘N’ line has been present for a couple of years now, but I feel its notoriety has peaked recently. But why? It’s a Hyundai!? The only real experience I’ve had with Hyundai is the old i10 and it hasn’t left the best impression. Sure it went forward, turned and generally just did what a car does. But for me that is the whole image of the Korean marque – barebones basic and bland. Thinking back to anything remotely exciting with a Hyundai badge is the coupe, which at best was ok. It ran mid pack with its counterparts and did the best it could to hide the fact it’s a Hyundai.
So when a good friend of mine purchased a brand new i30N I was surprised and wary. But as an effort to confirm or deny my scepticism, I had to take it for a drive, just to see what the fuss was about. Although I was fully expecting a mediocre dupe of a Golf GTI.
My initial impressions are of the outside. In this instance you can’t help but to judge the book by its cover. Regardless of whatever wizardry may be hidden underneath I’d be the last to drive anything that may resemble a milk float. However, this 5 door hatchback is far from dairy transportation. Aggressive and sharp lines run through the body panels which define and bulk up the car, setting it apart from its less muscular base model. The black accents have a bold contrast against the fiery red paint and further help mould the Hyundai’s profile into something quite good looking. The car sits poised and stable on huge alloys, accentuated by the colour matched callipers marked with the ‘N’ logo. It certainly ticks the box of brash and bold, visually holding its own against the rest of the hot hatch pack.
Inside the car dulls off a little. That’s not to say it isn’t nice, it just doesn’t quite have that cockpit feel like the Civic or have something bold and iconic such as GTI tartan cloth. However, the materials are nice, the seats are comfy and the entire space is roomy with good visibility. 5 real sized human beings could sit comfortably within and there is a spacious boot to fit in all the necessary shopping and luggage (even more so with the removable strut brace popped out). Good dials, tactile buttons and the all important ‘N’ switch link nicely to the large touch screen on the centre console. On this screen there are options to display data and alter settings in endless sequences. This well laid out interface is perfect to track performance information and to tailor the car to your liking. But there is one thing Hyundai couldn’t quite get right. The analogue, digital and GPS tachometers all read completely differently. That is rather infuriating.
Put together nicely inside and out the Hyundai i30N is so far a solid looking car, but how does it feel? Well in short it’s fast and capable. I won’t bore you by reeling off a spec list, we don’t do that here. What I will say is that it keeps up with competitors, nestled within VW, Ford and Renault. Launch control and rev matching are just a couple of great tricks that prime the car, allow it to dig in and fire away. Overtaking and any act of (perfectly legal) hooliganism is well taken care of with plenty of power that is affirmed by an audible roar from the twin exhausts. The sound for me is sweetened when you back off the throttle and the i30N spits and bangs, loud enough to wake any sleepy rural dwellers or induce a heart attack on the little old lady pottering around town.
A good suspension and braking system gives a confidence while cornering, everything feels stiff and taught. This is especially prevalent when you set the dampeners to sportier settings. However the car can quite easily transform into a perfectly comfortable daily driver when used in standard or eco mode. Thankfully back breaking stiffness isn’t the default settings, unlike that of other performance hatches. That Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality of the Hyundai somewhat sells me on it. Can I imagine myself commuting the 45 or so minutes to work every day? Absolutely. But I can also see me venturing out onto the track, making the most of the G-Force and Torque displays as well as the endless setting combinations to push the car to the stress limits it was founded upon.
Whilst on the thought of tracks it’s best to explain that the ‘N’ stands for Nürburgring. It’s somewhat cliche, all too reminiscent of the endless shit cars with the track shaped sticker slapped onto bumper, all for no other reason than just for the sake of it. Makes me retch. But I’ll hold the sickness in for now as the testing and development of the Hyundai was actually done on the 25.95km its named after. Germany is a world away from Korea, geographically and culturally, but ex-BMW M Division boss Albert Biermann is a bridge between the two. Heading the ‘N’ project, Beirmann has a steak in the instant success of the car by providing German engineering, experience and testing. It’s seems that Hyundai have strived to create a very good car, rather than focusing on the idea of making the quickest car. This approach wholly benefits the drivers of the i30N by creating something well rounded, yet very brash and most importantly fun.
Hyundai with its German influenced approach has developed a car that surprised me as well as others. The i30N is praised and ranked well by the usual automotive outlets and holds a general consensus across key points of the vehicle. It’s good, and my scepticism has been thwarted. Long gone is my view based on that old i10. Going forward I’ll think of this i30N when I think Hyundai and so long as they can input some of that great external styling and implement it inside, I’ll be very much looking forward to see what will come next from them.
Words and Images by Sam Dennis