Hyundai i30 N review: everyday thrills for the supercar owner
The Korean carmaker isn’t known for building performance cars but all that could be about to change
Nothing quite beats the sheer joy of pitching a 600bhp supercar through the undulating turns of a British B-road – when the weather allows.
The supercars of yesteryear, such as the Ferrari F355 and 993 Porsche 911, were particularly well-suited to a quick sprint on a Saturday afternoon. But you’d never want to rack up too many miles in case a mechanical gremlin brought your drive to a premature and costly end.
Today’s speed machines are, thankfully, far more reliable, but there are still all sorts of reasons why supercar owners might want to keep their mileage to a minimum. The McLaren 600LT, for instance, is covered in carbon fibre surfaces that cost a small fortune to repair, so you’ll only ever want to bring it out of the garage when conditions are perfect.
This is where the hot hatchback comes into its own.
The premise is simple: take a three or five-door family hatchback and fill it with a host of performance parts so that it can give a supercar driver a hard time on a racetrack.
Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has arguably been the king of the market since the first model arrived in 1976, but a number of opponents have arrived since then. The Renault Sport Megane is tailored towards the more hardcore hot hatch owner, while the Honda Civic Type-R has bags of performance and typically radical looks.
But now there’s a new contender for top spot of the hot hatch market: the motorsport-inspired Hyundai i30 N.
We’ve been behind the wheel of Hyundai’s hot hatch to see whether it’s the perfect everyday car for the supercar collector.
First, a bit of back story. The i30 N isn’t just a warmed up version of Hyundai’s i30 family hatchback. The Korean carmaker’s N division is headed by Albert Biermann, the man behind some of BMW’s greatest performance cars from the firm’s M division.
Biermann was drafted in to work some of his engineering magic on the i30 N to give the hot hatch extra cachet among petrolheads. His influence on the project has not only ensured that the i30 N appeals to car fans, but also provides a key link between Hyundai’s consumer cars and its motorsport programme.
Under the bonnet sits a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produced 271bhp in our i30 N Performance model. The motor is coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, which helps the front-wheel drive hatch sprint from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds (in Performance trim).
It certainly feels punchy on the open road, especially when the speed limit changes from 30mph to 60mph. There’s a small delay between pressing the accelerator and the car delivering its maximum power, as you’d expect in a turbo car, but this gives it a retro feel, as if it were an old Subaru Impreza from the early 1990s.
But it’s the i30 N’s chassis and handling that really shine through.
At first, we found the i30 N’s handling a little obscure. As the car is front-wheel drive, we expected it to feel heavy when manoeuvring around twisty bends. While that seems to be the case when you turn the wheel, the car’s electric limited-slip differential provides a level of grip that we’d never have expected from a front-wheel drive car.
The feeling that the car’s handling changes in the middle of corners can be a little jarring at first, but it soon gave us the confidence to drive it as if it were a mid-engine sports car.
There’s a host of driving options when you press the chequered flag button on the steering wheel. These include settings for suspension stiffness, the electric limited-slip differential and the weight of the steering.
You can also adjust the sound of the exhaust from the menu. But it’s worth opening a window while you do so. The i30 N is pretty loud although it isn’t obvious from inside the cabin as there’s a hefty amount of sound insulation that means it’s relatively quiet. We were told that people could hear us coming well before we arrived. This, admittedly, won’t be a problem for most petrolheads.
What will be a problem, though, is the quality of the cabin. The plastics found throughout the interior are disappointingly cheap and this is especially noticeable on the lower half of the centre console.
The design of the i30 N’s interior is inoffensive but acceptable. It’s unlikely to split opinion like the interior of the bold Honda Civic Type R, nor does it have the plush feel of the VW Golf GTI.
There’s still plenty of tech in the interior. We were thrilled to see a wireless smartphone charger built into the centre console, a feature that’s available in standard models. The infotainment system’s design is also noteworthy as it appears to be inspired by the Gran Turismo racing games.
Much like its cabin, the i30 N’s exterior design is nothing to write home about. Aggressive bumpers and 19in alloy wheels set it apart from the standard i30, but it’s nowhere near as flashy as the Renaultsport Megane or Civic Type R.
While we’re a fan of the car’s subtle looks, which highlight its versatility, we recommend choosing the “Performance blue” paint scheme on the options list. It adds £585 to the car’s £29,495 price tag (in Performance trim), but it’s the same colour as Hyundai’s racing cars and gives the hatchback a much-needed sporty look.
Overall, the i30 N appears to be a near-perfect car for supercar owners yearning for driving thrills but keen to avoid worrying about adding extra miles to their beloved McLaren or Ferrari.
Yes, the cabin is disappointing and yes it takes time to adapt to the car’s handling, but we believe these drawbacks are easy to accept in a car that’s priced at around £30,000.
The i30 N isn’t just an impressive first attempt at creating a hot hatchback, it’s one of the best cars in the sector currently on sale.