Changing Perceptions: Hyundai i30 N Driven

Initially it was as much Hyundai’s well-publicised five-year warranty and an aggressive scrappage scheme campaign in 2009 that helped it to gain market penetration and consumer respect. However, the way the Korean firm’s products have continued to improve since demonstrates that as far as ambition and execution go, it is among the best in the business. Where the Hyundai i30 N fits into that is what we are about to find out.

It’s simple really: what Hyundai has always lacked is a product to set the pulse racing. Sure, there’s been the now discontinued (in the UK at least) Coupe and Veloster, but despite their sleek styling neither could really be described as driver’s cars.

The i30 N changes all that. Indeed, when it arrived in UK dealerships a year ago it marked the beginning of what will become a range of N-branded cars, each designed not necessarily to be the fastest in class, but instead the most fun to drive. In doing so, Hyundai is going after Volkswagen, Ford, Renault, Honda et al to become king of the hot hatch.

Not that you could ever call an i30 N slow, either. It’s available with two power outputs: 247bhp or the 271bhp Performance model. The former is capable of getting form 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds, while the latter manages it in just 6.1 seconds. Both use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It’s a solid unit with a wide spread of torque and a strong top end that’ll have you holding on to the revs until the shift lights on the dash flash frantically to signal another gear is needed.

In addition to its extra power, the Performance model comes with an electronic limited-slip differential, switchable sports exhaust that pops and bangs when the car is driven hard, larger brakes, 19-inch alloy wheels and electrically adjustable sports seats. That’s all on top of the standard i30 N’s adaptive suspension, torque vectoring, keyless entry and an infotainment system that includes sat-nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

We should be used to Hyundai exceeding expectations when it comes to interior design, fit and finish, but still the i30 N impresses. Certainly the quality feels first class and built to last, but it’s also the thoughtful design that stands out, as evidenced in details such as the buttons for the driving modes being placed on the steering wheel rather than hidden away by the gear lever or on the dash.

This ease of operation encourages you to experiment with the best settings for any given road, adjusting the car’s throttle response, steering weight, exhaust sound, suspension and more. It does all make an appreciable difference, and allows the i30 N to cover an awful lot of bases, from comfortable daily driver to a very capable track car.

As far as practicality is concerned (this is still a family hatchback, after all) the five-door layout and a boot that matches the Volkswagen Golf GTI is all to be commended.

What really impresses about the i30 N though is how finely honed it feels regardless of driving mode. It’s one of those cars in which every control weight is perfectly matched, making it completely intuitive and incredibly satisfying to drive regardless of how quickly you’re travelling. This kind of dynamic composure is completely new to Hyundai and is telling of the benefits of taking on the talents of ex-BMW dynamics guru Albert Biermann to guide its high performance car division.

The steering response is crisp but not edgy, and the weight build-up from there is superb. Hook the car on to your chosen line, feed in the power and the i30 N grips and goes, not torque steering excessively or making you fight with the controls, but nor so over-assisted that it stifles feedback. It’s a genuinely brilliant hot hatch to drive, with a truly organic feel to it.

It is seemingly not only the car’s ultimate dynamic ability that was Biermann’s goal, but also to ensure that it still fizzes with fun at lower speeds. And it certainly does just that, putting a smile on your face from the moment the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine fires into life until you pull on the handbrake (manual, of course) and switch off again at the end of your drive.

If you’ve driven a standard i30 and wondered how a family car could be quite so plain then the N is going to come as a total shock. For aside from the same practical layout and ease of ownership the two couldn’t feel more different.

The tactic appears to be working, too, with Hyundai UK reporting that first full year sales are on target to exceed expectations, with 1,000 cars likely to have found homes by the end of this year. One drive in an i30 N will be enough to tell you that its success is entirely deserved – and that’s before you realise what good value it is, too…
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