If the i30 N were a rock band, it would be 2003’s breakthrough group Jet. From nowhere to global smash in a matter of moments, named after the engine that thrust aviation into the future, it’s the speed of impact that parallels with Hyundai’s i30 N.
When drilled down to its fundamentals, there isn’t one area where the i30 N truly sets a new hot-hatch benchmark, however it’s so strong across the board, and so harmonious in its combination of abilities, that you can tell it was developed by a unified team with a clear mission. For a first attempt, it’s stunning.
In fact, there is one area where the i30 N blows all-comers out of the water – price. It’s a Golf R competitor with Golf R equipment (if not interior quality) for less than 40 grand, yet it’s the N’s favourable comparisons with the Civic Type R that truly cement its value proposition. This slightly understated, beautifully balanced hot hatch can do almost everything the Civic does, yet it’s a massive $11,000 cheaper.
And it has five seats!
From the moment you depress the N’s starter button and move off, the Hyundai conveys an immediate sense of connection. It’s one of those rare cars that barely 50m down the road makes you think “jeez this thing is good”. You can feel it instantly. And it keeps getting better.
No one could’ve expected the Hyundai to claim the lap-time gold at Haunted Hills (by a whisker), though the tight and challenging course definitely played to the i30 N’s strengths. “What an awesome little car”, exclaimed Renato. “I thought I’d jumped into a WRC car with that noise coming out of it. Mid-corner speed felt a lot faster [than the Type R], and it had a lot more initial turn-in. Every time [the exhaust] had a little crackle, I had a bit of a smile.”
And that’s what the i30 N does – makes you smile. Only at a track like Phillip Island would the i30 N get blown away by the Type R’s Porsche GT3-like bandwidth. And while the Honda’s supernatural speed and suction through one particular 55km/h-posted left hander on our road loop was mind-blowing – reinforcing our observations that it’s almost like a front-drive Porsche – the i30 N was still awesome.
A hugely effective mechanical LSD sucks the Hyundai towards apexes even with the throttle mashed, and its power-down prowess is brilliant. It annihilated our test road with nuanced, involving, towering effectiveness, brakes included.
The information fed through the N’s perfectly sized steering wheel is crisp, uncorrupted and immediately on its game, much like the mechanical weight of the N’s luscious gearchange, and all the touch points are absolutely spot-on, including Hyundai’s excellent front buckets (with electric operation an option).
Pity the same can’t be said for the i30’s pedal placement, which isn’t ideal for heel-and-toe downshifts (though the N does include in-built rev-matching). Or the interior’s rental-car ambience and lack of ornamentation. Too much hard plastic – why isn’t there a trim insert across the centre section of the dashboard to alleviate the swathes of dull, hollow greyness? – and a scattered control layout do undermine the i30 N slightly, but that is not what this car is about. Not for that red-hot price.
What no one ever expected this hot Hyundai to deliver is layers. It has so many elements to its personality – from a relatively composed ride in Normal damping mode (and even Sport), backed by an incredibly tractable engine that pulls effortlessly from just 1400rpm right to 6800 – that you can play under-the-radar stealth or barking-mad theatrics at the press of a steering-wheel button.
The i30 N doesn’t quite achieve the incredible highs of the Civic Type R, yet there’s definite genius in its all-round excellence. It may not smash the class wide open, but the N definitely has its handsome face peering out from the very top of the hot-hatch tree.
It represents a tremendous effort by Hyundai – both for where it’s come from and what it does – and the result is a superb driver’s car for an amazing price.
Hyundai i30 N
LAP TIME: 1:03.9sec
Engine: 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Power: 202kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 363Nm @ 1450-4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Tyres: Pirelli P Zero 235/35ZR19 91Y
Fuel consumption: 16.7L/100km (tested)
Power to weight: 141kW per tonne
0-100km/h: 6.2sec (claimed)
Hot Hatch Megatest Contenders
12th, Score 6/10: Mini Cooper S JCW
11th, Score 6.5/10: BMW 125i
10th, Score 6.5/10: Subaru WRX Premium
9th, Score 7/10: Subaru WRX STI
8th, Score 7/10: Skoda Octavia RS245
7th, Score: 7.5/10: Ford Focus ST
6th, Score: 7.5/10: Renault Clio RS220 Trophy
5th, Score: 8/10: Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
4th, Score: 8.5/10: Volkswagen Golf R Grid
3rd, Score: 8.5/10: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
2nd, Score: 9/10: Honda Civic Type R
Winner, Score: 9/10: Hyundai i30 N
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