When I tested Hyundai’s i30N hot hatch last year, I was blown away. Here’s a sports car that’s really come out of nowhere, and it’s taking on (and arguably beating) the likes of the VW Golf GTi and Honda Civic Type R.
And now I’ve tested the Fastback version, it’s just cemented my belief that this is one of the most agile and exciting hot hatches on the market, only now in a prettier, more coupe-like bodyshell.
But just what is a fastback anyway? Compare it to the conventional hatchback, and it’s a bit lower and longer, even though the wheelbase is identical. This means you get a slightly bigger boot and rear headroom is about the same.
Barring the shape, and a few spec limitations that won’t really bother anyone, there’s little to separate the two stablemates. There’s a tiny difference in something called “bump stops” and spring rates are reduced slightly, but essentially it’s the same package.
To take on automotive legends and win, a hot hatch needs to tick off a few ingredients in the tried and tested recipe book. Firstly, it needs to be fast. And the i30 Fastback N in either guise is available with a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offering 276bhp and 289lbft. And there’s a cherry on top, but I’ll get to that.
Hot hatches also need to be fun to drive, and the i30 Fastback N feels lithe and eager, with a firm ride, but tonnes of grip and a fabulous throttle response.
A hot hatch should also be practical, and comfortable enough to use every day. And there’s nothing about the 130N Fastback – apart perhaps from that fairly firm ride – which would put you off using it as a daily driver.
It’s available with a manual gearbox that offers rev-matching, or an eight-speed auto. I’ve now driven both, and they’re each a solid option. Personally, I like the auto, which can be shuffled through at a frenetic pace with a pair of paddles, but traditionalists will not be disappointed with the manual box.
Inside you get a decent-sized touch-screen, a generous smattering of physical buttons and a great driving position. The steering wheel is heavily clad in buttons, including two large, pale blue buttons which cycle through drive modes or quickly engage a customisable “N” mode.
On the auto, there’s also an innocuous little button that said “NGS”. This stands for N Grin Shift, and it kicks off a 20-second timer on the instrument binnacle which counts down a spell of absolute lunacy.
Straight away you’re given an extra 10bhp to play with, and the gearing alters to allow for “overboost”, which sounds very exciting.
Although I guess there could be a sensible application for this when overtaking, it’s little more than a gimmick to show off to your mates. And I absolutely love it.
Even without Grin Shift engaged, with everything turned up to the maximum, in Sport mode, or in your favourite interpretation of N mode, the i30 Fastback N feels like an absolute animal. The ride is even firmer, the responses from all inputs are tightened up beautifully, and the exhaust opens up to serve up a theatrical set of pops and bangs on over-run.
It’s a boy-racer’s wet dream, but it’s also a brilliant driver’s car. On a B Road, in the sunshine, once the tyres are warmed up, it’s honestly one of the most exciting cars on the road.
And, it’s a Hyundai. This means it’s not frighteningly expensive (it’s around £35,000 or so, depending on the gearbox) and you get a five-year unlimited warranty. Including, and this is a really neat touch, track day cover.
So Hyundai really isn’t mucking about with the i30N. And now I’ve driven the prettier Fastback, I’m even more smitten than I was before.
It’s easily one of the best hot-hatches – sorry, coupes – on the market.