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In review: Hyundai i30 N

Motoring journalist Tim Barnes-Clay takes the all-new Hyundai i30 N for a spin.

The all-new Hyundai i30 N

The all-new Hyundai i30 N

South Korean motoring giant Hyundai has created a brand new 'N Division', which has sparked the awesome new i30 N.

I say 'awesome' because the i30 N is hot in every sense of the expression 'hot hatch'. And could I resist the offer of driving the model? No, of course I couldn't. I'm a man who can resist everything but temptation - and I gave in to Hyundai waving the i30 N's keys under my nose.

Now, the Asian car-maker has a strong reputation for building reliable family vehicles, but Hyundai doesn't have any record of manufacturing hardcore, high-octane, motors. This only served to arouse my interest in the i30 N further.

So, can Hyundai deliver on this front? The short answer is 'yes'. It just begs the question as to why it's taken so long for the firm to make a high-performance car.

The reason is to do with the hiring in 2014 of Albert Biermann, who for two decades fronted BMW's 'M Division'. The terms of his new contract with Hyundai were clear: to give life to a range of fast, exciting cars, via an innovative hot sub-brand - the 'N Division'. It has taken a few years, but every genius must take their time to get things right.

He is a genius, by the way. I met the man in South Korea in November. What a focused and fascinating guy he is. Coming up with the goods for a totally new automaker, near enough on the other side of the globe, is a challenge, but Biermann and his crew have worked industriously to get the i30 N perfect. And the first-rate Hyundai i30 N is the outcome. There are several reasons why the car is as accomplished as it is.

The regular variant gets a 251PS petrol turbo unit, but it's the 275PS Performance Package i30 N that I was handed the keys to. This car gets bigger brakes to scrub the extra speed off. At the front of the model there's also a no-nonsense electronic differential, which decides all sorts of smart things to keep the front wheels biting into the bitumen.

The i30 N's chassis is electronically damped - and the arrangement has been designed to supply all-out precision. At the same time, the system doles out a good dose of refinement, meaning comfort is not in short supply. What's more, the car has state-of-the-art electronic dampers at each corner that empower it to do things some other challengers can't even consider - both on tarmac and on track. Oh, and as an aside, the hot hatch travels on a set of Pirelli P-Zero tyres, devised specifically for Hyundai.

The i30 N also belts out a banging tune of its own. Seriously, the car sounds incredible when the N button on the steering wheel is pressed. And when the pedal is pushed to the metal in third gear, all sorts of crackles and pops fire from the tailpipes. It's completely meant to happen, Hyundai's engineers assert, and isn't stage-managed, as is the case with some rivals' hot hatch offerings.

What's most extraordinary, however, is how the i30 N handles, turns and comes to a halt. The steering is outstandingly precise, and the car doesn't feel edgy at the rear whatsoever. This is some feat, considering that it takes the Hyundai a mere 2.2 turns from lock to lock.

The handling is unreservedly razor sharp, even in 'Normal' setting. Things get spicier in 'Sport' mode, and there's a 'Custom' choice in which you can alter the car's specific characteristics. The i30 N also has, perhaps unsurprisingly, an 'N' mode. This is only meant for using on a track really, so the ride quality is stiff and hard-nosed. But if you're in the right frame of mind and the weather and road conditions are okay, then it is a grin-inducing system. The throttle map and exhaust become zestier, while the dampers become more unyielding. Furthermore, any interruption from the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) is played right down.

Out and out performance is heavy duty from the 2.0-litre petrol turbo powerplant in all settings. It never feels too much, though - and the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission hops through the cogs satisfyingly. There is also an auto-blipping function that can be chosen by manually pressing a switch on the i30 N's steering wheel.

The hot Hyundai's straight line talent is blisteringly impressive, but it is the i30 N's chassis that blows you away. This is the feature that remains indelibly etched on my mind. It's my 'take-away' memory of the car if you like. Sure, this isn't the fastest hatchback ever made - but the point is, not many cars in this segment will have such an excellent chassis set-up.

And, here's the occasionally thorny bit - the price. Well, with this Hyundai there is no issue. The South Korean firm knew it had to chip away at the main competition to give itself authority in the hot hatch market. Therefore, an on-the-road price-tag of £27,305 is more than respectable, bearing in mind how capable the 2.0 T-GDi 275PS N Performance is behind the wheel. Moreover, the car is jam-packed with kit and it feels well screwed together.

Factory-fitted equipment encompasses a sat nav, a touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay, cruise control and electric sports seats. Additionally, the i30 N has more safety features than you can shake a stick at - as well as a five-year warranty.

I have got to say, I was a little gutted to hand the keys back. I enjoyed my time with the i30 N more than I'd dared hope. Hyundai should be proud of its first baby from its N Division. It's a car that's hard to forget - and one I would own in a heartbeat. For a first stab at the hot hatch market, this is one truly sensational machine.

Fast facts (2.0 T-GDi 275PS N Performance - as tested)

  • Max speed: 155 mph
  • 0-62 mph: 6.1 secs
  • Combined mpg: 39.8
  • Engine layout: 1,998cc four-cylinder petrol turbo
  • Max. power (PS): 275
  • CO2: 163 g/km
  • Price: £27,303 (save £692 on list price)

About the Author

Tim Barnes-Clay

Motoring journalist and guest contributor