Some cars shine in isolation, only for their foibles to become clear in comparison to their rivals. The Hyundai i30 N is in the opposite camp; it certainly feels like a very polished hot hatch in isolation, but only when you drive it in the context of other performance machinery do you realise what a high level it achieves.
This has been a more thorough long-term test than most, partly because of the i30 N’s broad abilities and partly because as one of last year’s most important releases, we felt it was important to put this newcomer through the wringer, so to speak.
As well as appearing at Bang For Your Bucks and Performance Car of the Year, six months spent with ‘my’ i30 N included more than 7000km of road testing, a comparison test against its closest rivals, straight-line performance testing, track testing at Sandown and Winton and club-level competition in a hillclimb and a tarmac rallysprint.
As such, we feel well placed to deliver a definitive verdict on Hyundai’s first hottie: it’s excellent. Let’s explain why, bit by bit. The drivetrain is the i30 N’s weakest link. Its on-paper stats of 202kW and 353Nm, with 378Nm available on overboost, are impressive, and the 0-100km/h claim of 6.2sec is competitive given the sole choice of a six-speed manual gearbox.
On the road the engine is very effective. Response is excellent and the broad spread of mid-range torque from 2000-5000rpm gives it the ability to pull vigorously out of almost any corner. On track it’s less impressive, the smaller turbo that’s responsible for the quick build-up of boost running out of puff beyond 5500rpm. If there has to be a trade-off, it’s difficult to argue with Hyundai’s decision to prioritise road flexibility over redline fireworks.
That said, I wish it sounded a bit better. The vicious rally car-style pops and bangs on the over-run are nice, but were they made so overt to distract from the fact that the basic engine noise isn’t anything special? Overall, the engine is solid but nothing amazing.
The gearbox fares similarly. Overall the shift quality is very nice, with each successive gear selected with a flick of the wrist. The i30 N is an easy car to stall, though; when I first wrote this I got an earbashing from Hyundai PR but pretty much everyone in the MOTOR office is in agreement.
The fact that the first thing Rick Kelly did behind the wheel of the i30 N at PCOTY was stall it means I’m sticking by the assessment. It has anti-stall software but it’s not strong enough to use no throttle and I suspect applying any throttle manually deactivates the ‘help’. No big deal, but it requires acclimation.
Another bugbear was the gear lever occasionally getting caught on the 5-6 shift; it’s the work of a moment to find similar complaints on i30 N owners’ forums around the world so it’s a common issue.
Again, not a huge drama, but annoying, as is the large gap between second and third gear. Second is short, ending at 99km/h, whereas third is quite tall, stretching to 149km/h. Did Hyundai choose a short second to improve the 0-60mph (97km/h) time, or was it the only gearset available?
Not sure, but it hampers the 0-100km/h time, as does the non-killable traction control in first gear, which cuts in to tame the vicious axle tramp and keep the driveshafts and CVs in one piece. A slightly longer second gear would make the i30 quicker against the clock but, far more importantly, better to drive.
And that’s saying something, because it’s already fantastic. On road or track, you’re guaranteed to get out of an i30 N with a massive grin on your face and probably have to wait for whoever you’re driving with to catch up.
It’s precise and grippy yet also adjustable, with strong brakes and a great front-end courtesy of that electronically-controlled limited-slip diff. The i30 N’s interior is a bit plain (though very functional, I have no complaints) because Hyundai spent the money on the mechanicals and the decision has paid huge dividends. Ideally, there’d be a little more ride comfort; the new i30 N Fastback has a softer setup and it’ll be interesting to see if this carries over to the hatch.
Hyundai has talked up the track day prowess of its first hot hatch and, by and large, the i30 N delivers. If you’re a regular circuit goer we’d recommend racier brake pads and better fluid as the brakes on NBT 60C were pretty tired by the end of our loan. Likewise, a set of semi-slicks will increase your enjoyment as the stock camber settings don’t let the standard Pirellis bite into the tarmac hard enough. Best of all, neither track use or the fitment of sticky tyres will void your warranty.
For a first attempt, the i30 N is a stunning achievement. It’s the perfect hot hatch: practical and undemanding in everyday use, yet it comes alive at the first sniff of a twisty road. All for $40K or so before on-road costs. There are minor flaws, but none are deal breakers and most probably already being rectified for future updates. We’d say Hyundai is set to feature towards the pointy end of the hot hatch segment for years to come.
A statement of a commitment on MOTOR long-term reviews
2018 Hyundai i30 N Pros & Cons
Three things that need to stay
1 - Adjustable chassis
2 - Stamina
3 - Broad powerband
Three jobs for facelift time:
1 - Revise gearbox
2 - Engine sound
3 - Jazz up interior