IAIN ROBERTSON

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Grinning can be like yawning, highlights Iain Robertson, in that its innate infectiousness can start an unwitting and inescapable chain reaction but you can forget the yawn factor with Hyundai’s fresh take on the traditional hot hatchback.

One of the five selectable chassis settings employed by the South Korean carmaker enables Grin Control. It is true. It is not a joke. In fact, opt for the 8-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual gearbox on the i30N and N Grin Shift is one of the trio of N Performance functions that also includes N Power Shift and N Track Sense Shift. In coining this unusual descriptive terminology, Hyundai is demonstrating uniquely that it is as willing to play, as its potential customers may wish to.

Ever since Volkswagen gave us the GTi tag, many other carmakers have joined the throng chasing accessible performance, with attainably low running costs. While GTi is well nigh impossible to copyright, which allows rival brands to christen their performance models similarly, it is forever linked to VW, for which performance addicts are sure to be grateful. Yet, there has been a distinct lack of creativity in the sporting arena.Hyundai-i30N-5

The precept of bumping up the horsepower to around 250-280bhp, lowering and stiffening the suspension and speeding-up the reactions of all major controls (steering, brakes and so on), while adding a set of sporty seats, noisier exhaust and the liberal application of red trim details, is now established practice. However, Hyundai is relieving the boredom with the more succinct naming of the i30N’s ‘funbumps’. It is immense fun and why should it not be?

VW relied on Porsche’s development (for Le Mans) of the PDK electronically actuated twin-clutch mechanism. The Audi TT was the first roadgoing model from the Group to use the freshly named and revolutionary DSG (Direct Sequential Gearbox), which promised near instant up and down shift speeds, even under full throttle driving conditions. Defiantly NOT an automatic transmission, it could react like one, when ‘D’ (Drive) was selected but it remained seamlessly smooth at all times. BMW took the transmission onto another level, when it equipped the M3 model with its version. Mind you, its variable timing introduced snap shifts that felt as though something mechanical might snap; it was soon re-engineered for silkier operation. A GTi thus equipped could prove to be immense fun to drive, whether shifting ratios via the gearstick, or the steering wheel mounted paddles. The grin factor was sizeable.

Hardly any supercars, or the latest crop of hypercars, manage without a sequential manual gearbox these days, from Ferrari and Lamborghini to Porsche, of course. Yet, known to have a positive impact on vehicle emissions, the archetypal twin-clutch variation is also available on some quite mundane motorcars. While not suggesting that Hyundai is mundane, it is mainstream.Hyundai-i30N-2

Its ability to manage a notional 247bhp, as well as the N Performance upgrade on the i30N to 277bhp, suggests that Hyundai’s extensive R&D, which encompasses its international rallying programme, further highlights the fast-track progress made by the company. The N Grin Control System was used on the first generation i30N and gives customers the choice of five distinct driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom. The driving modes adjust the parameters of the engine, the suspension, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), N Corner Carving Differential (an electronically controlled Limited Slip Differential), exhaust sound, steering and transmission, optimising them for different driving conditions. In the N Custom mode, the grinning driver can select each of the components to match personal driving preferences and road conditions.

Sticking with the 277bhp upgrade, it develops its maximum torque of 289lbs ft (almost 30lbs ft increase on the 247bhp unit) between a most useful 1,950 to 4,600rpm, although its maximum power is produced at a lowly 5,200rpm, which serves to underscore the phenomenally accessible potency of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It is enough to despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in just 5.6s, en-route to a top whack of 155mph (same maximum as the lower power unit; it gets there quicker though).

There are other valid reasons to consider the N Performance upgrade, as the stock 18.0-inch diameter cast alloy wheels are replaced by forged alternatives in 19.0-inch size. Designed to reduce unsprung mass but introduce high strength, they are a whopping 14.4kg lighter than the cast items. They are clad in Pirelli P-Zero asymmetric tyres (replacing the Michelin Pilot Super Sports covers) that are developed especially for the i30N. The N Light leather and Alcantara front seat option may add to the fun factor, the monoform structures being more heavily bolstered, while reducing each seat weight by 2.2kg and they even feature an illuminated ‘N’ logo in their in-built head-restraints. Unsurprisingly, the car also features ‘flat-shift’ (on the 6-speed manual gearbox option), with rev-matching and launch control. The front discs are increased from 345mm to 360mm diameter for increased braking efficiency.Hyundai-i30N-3

As far as the rest of the i30N is concerned, it is exceptionally well-equipped, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen in the dash centre and a full complement of ADAS, including crash mitigation, lane assist, blind spot assistance and collision warning system. Soft-touch trim proliferates around the cabin and the quality of the trim is second-to-none, with fit and finish up to Audi standards. The i30N’s handling is engaging to say the least, yet the ride quality, while firm, is remarkably compliant. The power steering is quick but satisfyingly weighted to ensure a decent feel and dependable feedback at the helm.

Hyundai has certainly placed a cat among the GTi pigeons. As with its rivals, it could have easily followed them to market. Instead, it is leading them with its relevant ‘grin’ aspects and finely engineered dynamics. The i30N is competitive in power terms but its delivery is smile-inducing and the company knows that it is redressing the balance in a market segment that has become amazingly stolid and lacking in true definition.

Conclusion:     Hyundai intends to make its mark and placing the grin factor central to the development of the new i30N model, which is available from early-2021, in both hatch and fastback body styles, is sure to accelerate an enthusiastic consumer response.Hyundai-i30N-4