So we know its motorsport department prepares competitive Touring Cars and runs a pretty awesome World Rally Championship team, but have you ever thought about taking a Hyundai to a track day? No?
Think again, because that is exactly what Hyundai's new N sub-brand is all about and its first incarnation is the i30 N, a five-door hot hatch, competing against the second tier of rivals – think Ford's Focus ST rather than the mighty £30-grand, 4x4 Focus RS. Perhaps that's why the N brand's head Albert Bierman (ex of BMW) won't announce the i30 N's best time round the Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring in Germany. They've tested this new car comprehensively round the Green Hell so they know full well that it's a bit down on power and downforce compared with say, the awesome £33,000 Honda Type R, which has a Nordschleife time 7 minutes 43.8 seconds.
Under the hood is a standard two-litre petrol turbo, with a Keyang Precision, twin-scroll turbocharger and specially fabricated inlet and exhaust manifolds to help it breath more deeply. The £24,995 standard car delivers 247bhp and 260lb ft with an 18-second overboost to 278lb ft. The £27,995 Performance Pack delivers 271bhp, along with 19-inch wheels and tyres, leather upholstery (cloth is a no-cost delete option which saves 12.7kg) and electronically activated limited-slip differential and a variable-noise valves in the exhaust.
The six-speed gearbox gets its own uprated ratios, carbon-plated synchromesh rings and a short-throw gear lever gate, with an uprated, short-travel clutch. The engine's sound is amplified into the cabin and the circuitry will also blip the throttle and rev match the engine on down changes while also dragging a bit of fuel into the exhaust to give a resonant pop and bang – you can switch all this off, however. Standard MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension has adjustable valve dampers, uprated geometry and stronger hub bearings, along with the underbody strengthening plates and a boot brace.
There are a couple of new colours including this Performance Blue and a slate grey, but apart from that and some serious looking air intakes and rear venturi, there's not a huge amount of difference between the cooking and hepped-up i30s. You can only have an N version on the five-door hatch, but there's likely to be an N trim line soon and other full N models will eventually follow, although the forthcoming second N model, based on the new Veloster, won't be sold in the UK.
Open the door and the sculpted racing seats are the most obvious changes, but look in vain for after-market names such as Recaro. As with the rest of the chassis, Bierman has resisted the temptation to crowd his new sub-brand with further sub, sub-brands. Simplicity rules here, with a proper steering wheel, a manual handbrake, concise twin-dial instrument binnacle and little gear lever that defines snickety. It seems well made and of reasonably quality (if not quite up to Volkswagen standards), but there's not a lot of labelling or indeed difference from the standard i30 except the steering wheel has a couple of buttons to allow you to separately dial in harder settings for the damping, throttle response, exhaust note and steering.
Even in normal mode, it sounds a bit throatier than a standard i30, but this engine hasn't the finest of voices, which an orchestra of electronic wizardry fails to transform beyond mildly wearing. Nor is it as lightning fast as the top-order of hot hatches, yet on the road, it feels tough enough, with lots of mid-range urge and a lovely progression to the major controls. You'd not really notice the extra go of the Performance Pack at this level of driving, though a race track makes it obvious. That gearbox is a delight, however, with a short travel to every aspect, so much so, you need to have a care not to wrong-slot the lever, especially when braking into corners.
Electrically powered steering hasn't the last word in feedback, but it is precise and progressive, and there's a sense of control you don't always get with powerful front-drive hatchbacks. Part of that is the action of the differential which helps to drive the nose into the turns, despite a tendency to nose on oversteer if you simply sling it around. The body control is taut and confidence inspiring, and on the track, this gets to be seriously wayward good fun. That wonderful chassis balance allows you to slither round at the edge of insanity and even with everything off, the i30 N remains forgiving of pretty much everything, up to and including a cheeky dab on the brakes midway through corner to bury the nose deeper into the turn. It's great fun. And talking of those brakes, there's another triumph for the development team, with simple swinging arm callipers bought to a level of performance which gives them a first-rate response and allows them to be abused round a circuit for lap after lap without significant fade.
The price of all this merriment is a ride quality (particularly on the 19-inch Pirellis of the Performance Pack), which jiggles your innards and jangles your brains. It's actually quite an unpleasant experience and limits Bierman's aim of producing a track-day special, which could also be used as a daily driver. On the 18-inch Michelins it's just acceptable, but still on the wrong side of harsh.
From the outside, this car doesn't shout of its considerable abilities and perhaps that's just as well. In almost every aspect, however, this is a deeply satisfying car to drive, all the more so because it comes out of a process of refinement and honing rather than simply bolting on yet more go-faster bits. In that respect, its closest rival would be the similarly understated Peugeot 308 GTi, both discreet calling cards of their development team's skills. The Peugeot rides better though and while the N brand is a considerable marker laid down by this South Korean marque, it is that bone-shaking ride quality which makes it difficult to fully recommend it. N is almost great in so many ways, but not every day is a track day.
Engines: 1,998cc turbocharged four cylinder, petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Bhp/lb ft: 271bhp @ 6,000rpm/260lb ft (278lb ft on overboost) @ 1,450rpm