Hyundai has forged a bit of a name for themselves in the family arena. The Santa Fe, the Tucson, the Kona even the IONIQ and beyond, all seem to have strong family appeal and for good reason. Hyundai has evidently thought long and hard about this target audience and produced very nice vehicles that fulfil their needs – it’s not rocket science I agree, certainly not in theory, but as many Marques will attest, not that easy to put into practice.
Executives have been in the line of fire for the brand too. Hyundai has their fair share of sedans with upmarket interiors and plenty of the ‘luxury’ fruit to keep that segment happy – but this isn’t too far removed from all the family niceties though. For me, the biggest challenge they have is in the performance arena – how does a nice, family-friendly brand become naughty? Well, it all starts with an N.
As it turns out, Hyundai is not, in fact, a stranger to the realm of performance vehicles. The Scoupe, the Tiburon, the Veloster plus in WRC, the Accent and the (Hayden Paddon driven) i20 AP4++. But unlike some other marques, Hyundai has lacked a specialised performance arm, that is until now.
Standing for Namyang and Nürburgring, one of the most demanding race tracks in the world and home to Hyundai’s European Test Centre, ‘N’ is spearheaded by ex BMW M division executive Albert Biermann and is the high-performance sub-brand of Hyundai. I got my hands on the first in the range, the i30 N.
With five colours to choose from (Performace Blue to Engine Red), my machine came dressed in Polar White. It’s quite an understated colour but it did accentuate the angry red and black highlights that separate the ‘Hot’ from the Hatch. Of course, it’s based on the i30 but according to Hyundai it’s been developed from ‘the ground up to deliver maximum fun on the road and on the track’, by this, I think they mean all the stuff required to turn a shopping trolley (no insult intended) into a sports car.
Cosmetically, the shinny fat 19-inch alloys are hard to miss (especially as they are coated in a mere ribbon of rubber) and the ‘N’ badging comes in thick and fast throughout this model (I think we counted around fifteen). There’s plenty of drama at the rear with two large exhaust tips, a diffuser and a roofline spoiler with triangular stop light in the centre.
The interior feels very ‘normal’. Softer plastics up top, harder ones below. Modern ‘Hyundai’ layout, a floating infotainment screen (with an N-mode that I’ll get to soon), embossed sports seats and ample amounts of Hyundai’s driving and safety aids.But it’s when you push the start button followed by the chequered flag on the steering wheel that things turn from nice to naughty.
What springs to life is the i30 N’s powerful T-GDi engine. It generates 202 kW of power and 353 Nm torque from 1,500 – 4,700 rpm, that rises to a maximum of 378 Nm when in overboost. i30 N is also teamed with advanced racing inspired features including a launch control system (that I couldn’t get to work) and an exhaust note that will happily crack like a whip at any given moment. Plus, my driving purist friends, it’s got a quick-shifting 6-speed MANUAL transmission with shift timing indicator on the instrument cluster and rev matching technology for most excellent downshifts.
I took the hot hatch to my current favourite stretch of tarmac to see how it performed and wasn’t disappointed. Off the line I managed to get a 0-100km/h time of 6.7s (6.1s is Hyundai’s claim) and would have done better if I could’ve engaged launch control – probably my ineptitude at following instructions. There’s a hint of torque steer as the engine and traction control put power to the front wheels, but it’s enjoyable, it’s a car that you should wrestle a bit with. The grip in the corners is a gift that keeps giving and the exhaust note yells throughout the rev range (when in Sports + mode) and last but not least, N mode (on the infotainment screen) lets you adjust and monitor all your faves (from G force to lap timers).
With just under a week behind me and nigh-on a full tank of fuel, I spent a lot of time behind the hatchback’s leather wheel. It navigated the mundane (shopping and commute) with ease – maybe a case for an auto could be created here, but it’s when I hunted out open road freedom and pushed that chequered flag that the car came into its own. Hyundai may have forged a name for themselves within the family fraternity but ‘N’ really does turn their next generation i30 from nice, to very naughty.
Good working with you Matthew D’Souza