Gareth Butterfield takes the exciting new Hyundai i30 N for a test drive
WHEN I first drove the Hyundai i30 N I was bowled over. Here’s a company that has had several stabs at making sporty cars, but never really offered one that pushed my buttons.
The i30 N follows the hot-hatch rule-book to the letter. Take your popular family workhorse, plonk in a bigger engine, bolt on a few bits of bling and make the exhaust a bit louder to top it off. Yawn. We’ve seen it all before.
But Hyundai has gone far beyond this standard blueprint with its first ever hot hatch and they’ve gone to town to give us a proper sports car which is as thrilling as pretty much any of its competitors. No, really, it is.
The N in its name stands for Nurburgring, which is the legendary German race track where it was developed. I’ve been testing the Performance version, which has 275bhp and, when you set it up right, is absolutely bonkers.
I say “when you set it up right” because the infotainment screen gives you access to a range of modes that can be mixed up and played with until you find your chosen sweet spot. This may take a while, though, because there’s a frankly slightly ridiculous 1,944 setup combinations available.
I eventually got bored of playing with all this and just turned everything up to its most absurd setting and took it out for a spin in full Nurburgring mode. And it’s absolutely mental.
The kick from the Turbo is extremely significant. It launches off the line and you fire through its manual gearbox with the power relentlessly surging you forward.
The steering and suspension are set up really nicely, and they feel just right in any mode, but when you’re playing and using all the settings in nutcase mode the whole thing feels alive and responds beautifully.
For me, though, the best bit is the fun you’ll have shocking passers-by as under load, in full-on stupid mode, the exhaust sets off a series of loud bangs between each gear change and on over-run. There is simply no reason for this to happen, but I love the fact it does.
There’s also a brilliant mechanical rev-matching system, which blips the throttle when you change down, eliminating the need for heel and toe. It’s great to see this in a hot hatch and I wish more manufacturers would develop it.
Of course, I shouldn’t really be surprised by all this. Hyundai has been making a really strong name for itself on the rally scene and this car distils some of that burgeoning motorsport pedigree and applies it to an already pretty good road car.
The Nurburgring connection is more a vanity project which today’s hot hatches use as a badge of honour. The real strengths of this car lie in its always-evident thrills on the open road. You will never tire of driving it hard.
That said, pop back into the driving menu, turn everything back down several notches, and you’re once again driving a nice, civilised and thoroughly decent family hatch-back.
Space is good, it’s comfortable to sit in, there’s plenty of standard kit and I really like the driving position.
Prices for the Performance version start at around £30,000. You’ll save a bit if you go for the lowlier standard, 247bhp version, but if you can afford the range-topper, go for it. It’s a fabulous car.
There are rivals that will beat it both in a straight line and round the bends, and they do cost similar money. But the i30 N is more understated and feels like its trying less hard.
It’s testament to how good this car is that it’s often compared in tests with the grandfather of all hot hatches, the Volkswagen Golf GTI. And while the Golf will always be the classier, trendier option, it’s not necessarily as good.
There, I said it. I think the i30 N is better than a Golf GTI. And I really can’t give it any higher praise than that.