Hyundai i30 N: Pre-production K-pop hot hatch tested
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After years of design work, a world-wide testing programme and relentless fine tuning around one of the world’s most challenging racetracks, Hyundai’s first high-performance N model is set to hit New Zealand.
But let me be clear from the start: technically speaking, this particular i30 N is not Hyundai New Zealand’s highly anticipated entrance into the local hot hatch market; it’s only a taste of what is to come.
Rest assured, after one week and more than 1000km of mixed driving on our roads, the taste it has left is truly tantalising for clutch-kicking driving enthusiasts. But for the established competition, especially the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R, the sight of a Performance Blue i30 N on our shores will be a worry, and with good reason.
Yet, as it stands, the i30 N is a victim of its own success. Due to strong (and seemingly unexpected) sales of Hyundai’s first N model overseas, Kiwis have been left to wait while specifically tuned models make their way here, hopefully before the end of the year.
Which brings us to the car Driven was invited to test. According to the VIN, this is the 27th non-prototype i30 N built.
It’s a pre-production car fitted with European spec suspension and a few interior pieces from the i30 N’s luxury package, including adaptive cruise, heated front seats and steering wheel. It arrived in late 2017 to showcase Hyundai’s new N performance brand to a lucky few.
The “N” logo is a nod to both Namyang, the location of Hyundai’s Global R&D Centre in Korea where the brand was born, and Nurburgring where Hyundai setup its own dedicated European Testing Centre, a location where all future N cars will be tested and signed off.
The “N” also symbolises a chicane, an area where the i30 N has been calibrated to deliver traction and precision with more than 100,000km of testing clocked up on the 20.8km Nurburgring test track and two outings at the annual 24-hour race.
Manawatu / Wanganui | Palmerston North
$290.36 p/w $1,161.46 p/m
In Europe, there are two i30 N models on offer with two different power outputs. Performance fans rejoice — only the most powerful version is coming to New Zealand, and that’s the engine powering our test car.
The 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder produces a 202kW of power at 6000rpm and 354Nm of torque from 1450-4500rpm. It’s paired exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox, electronic differential and will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds with the aid of launch control.
Also identical is the striking bodykit. A new aggressive front bumper and spliter design features Hyundai’s trademark Cascading Grille and is matched with a roof-mounted rear wing to maintain front-to-rear balance.
Air inlets positioned underneath LED running lights on both sides of the front bumper channel air to the red N performance brake calipers for better cooling on or off track.
In the cabin the performance theme continues with the “N” sports seats and steering wheel which controls all drive modes with two dedicated buttons. The one on the left controls three standard modes: Normal, Eco and Sport.
On the right, a chequered flag N-mode button puts the car in either its raciest or fully customised setting.
In custom mode, drivers have independent control of eight parameters governing powertrain and chassis settings.
This level of customisation is usually reserved for high-end luxury cars, but is all standard kit on the i30 N.
Modes can be changed on the move via the buttons of 8-inch touch screen display that includes readouts for power, torque, boost lap and accelerator timer and navigation display.
Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes can be selected for the engine, rev-matching ( more later), electronic differential, exhaust, steering, suspension and electronic stability control.
With suspension and steering set to normal and everything else on sport+ it was time to see what Hyundai’s first N car was all about.
Immediately the noise from the engine and exhaust resembles that of the company’s factory WRC car. If you’ve wanted to drive a rally car on the road, aurally, the i30 N will have you in raptures.
Whereas competition like Honda have done everything in their power to make the Type R sound unexpectedly subdued, Hyundai’s N division has employed the opposite approach.
As revs build, unsympathetically loud induction noise from the turbo starts the show. The whoosh from the turbo turns into a rally-bred groan as gasses pass out the twin exhaust pipes.
The icing on the cake is the “after-fire” (gun fire would also be an appropriate description) shot out the exhaust on the overrun as you pluck another gear and start all over again.
From a standstill the i30 N’s acceleration will challenge any fast front-wheel drive hatch currently available — and even a few all-wheel drive models — all the while the 235 section tyres threaten to break traction in any of the first three gears.
But straight-line acceleration isn’t the i30 N’s forte — it’s only when the road gets twisty that Korea’s new hot hatch starts to shine brightest.
Firstly, the ergonomics behind the wheel are superb for spirited driving. The seat is low, gear lever throw is short and pedal placement ideal. So much so that rev-matching should be left off. If you’ve never learnt to heel-and-toe, this is the perfect car to do so.
In tight corners, there’s ample grip available, led by a front axle, which never seems to understeer, thanks in large part to a trick electronic differential. Even in the softest suspension setting the ride is firm, but i30 Ns sold locally will have a different calibration, so watch this space.
The hatch feels as if it was developed on-track, but when you inevitably arrive back to the hustle and bustle of city driving, the i30 N copes effortlessly. The clutch is light enough to deal with traffic, fuel consumption isn’t ridiculous (thanks Eco mode) and there’s 380 litres of boot space despite housing a rear stiffness bar. For those wanting an excuse to avoid an SUV, the boot is 20 litres bigger than the Kona crossover.
As a first effort, the i30 N is difficult to fault. But there are three big questions left unanswered. Retail price, local specification details and local suspension set-up remain a mystery.
That said, the competition should still take notice of Hyundai’s new N brand because, regardless of price, the i30 N is set to be a brilliant hot hatch.
Those who have placed deposits will not be disappointed. Bring on the local launch.
Hyundai i30 N
Pro: Superb engine, gearbox, chassis, steering and noise
Con: Unknown price, and suspension calibration will determine success