Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its
Hot hatches and Hyundai: not a mix of particular historical significance it has to be admitted. Hyundai’s first real forays into performance motoring can be traced back to its now-successful attempts at the World Rally Championship, which in turn can be traced all the way back to the era of the original Coupe. That first assault came with limited success – the Coupe Kit Car was followed by several years campaigning the unloved Accent. Even in the hands of such names as Alister McRae, Kenneth Eriksson, Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz Hyundai could only drag the outclassed Accent to the odd fourth place here and there. In 2014, after 11 years out of the sport, Hyundai returned with a proper effort, campaigning the i20 hatch in the WRC class’s previous incarnation against the unscalable might of Volkswagen. With the new-generation WRC Hyundai has finally became a regular rally winner, with Belgian ace Thierry Neuville even running the legendary Sebastien Ogier close in a battle for the ’18 title.
But Hyundai hasn’t entered rallying just for the hell of it. Back in 2016 it debuted a new concept car at the Paris Motor Show – the N Concept (N for Nürburgring, obviously) previewed a new range of performance cars in the Hyundai range. The i30N followed a couple of years later as the first in this new line of hot Hyundais, and now we have the Fastback coupe version about to launch.
The i30N Performance is fitted with Hyundai’s excellent turbocharged four-cylinder petrol motor, boosted in power over the standard i30N to 275PS (271bhp) and 353Nm (260lb ft), but it is inside where the spec list becomes impressively overwhelming. At a starting price of £27,995 Hyundai have managed to crowbar almost their entire parts list into the i30N. Outside you’ll find massive 19-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, red callipers with ‘N’ Logo and seriously beefed up styling over the standard i30 – seriously, next to each other you can see the lineage, but the N looks so much more powerful that you would struggle to say they are the same base car.
Inside the interior is functional but absolutely loaded with tech. There’s ‘N’ branding everywhere and an incredibly comfortable pair of electronically adjustable seats up front. There’s an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, Sat-Nav, DAB digital radio and wireless charging pad. The N is also fitted with front and rear parking sensors and rear parking camera as standard as well as an automatic dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers and climate control. You’ll actually struggle to find things on the list that are optional rather than standard.
The first time out in the hot hatch sector, Hyundai surely couldn’t be ready to take on the big boys, right? Wrong. The i30N has more than enough to catch, and mostly pass, its more established rivals. An initial power output of 275PS may not seem that much, but when you are actually out and about the delivery is fantastic, there’s barely a hint of lag and in isolation feels more than pokey enough. But it is in the twisty bits that the i30N shows its rallying pedigree. The Hyundai has one of the most planted front ends we’ve had the pleasure of trying. It manages to be precise and sticky without ever being twitchy like a Focus RS (the benchmark for hot hatch front ends). You’ll want to personalise drive modes to dial out the rather extreme damping that comes in the top-level ‘N Mode’, which turns small bumps into Everest, while keeping the exhausts wonderful cheerful crackle (and ignore the naysayers who complain about a ‘fake sound’) and the throttle on its sharpest map. Then you’ll have one mind-blowingly capable hot hatch. Pitch it into a corner and you will feel the confidence ooze through the chunky, weighty wheel on entry, perhaps the standard hint of understeer creeps in but never in drastic amounts. You’ll hardly need the back to come into the equation – the front is that good – but if you really do, or are feeling like a grinning loon, then a lift of the throttle can pull the back round for that little extra control. Exit is crisp as the throttle picks up immediately and that lack of turbolag is really noticeable on the drag out of a corner.
In the world of 2018 there is no time for a slow start. If Hyundai wanted to show the world it means business in the world of performance motoring then it had to start strongly, and boy is that what it’s done. Sure there’s now plenty of hot hatches that will sprint to 60 faster, but that’s absolutely not what a hot hatch should be about. We’re looking for absolute maniacal grins, wheel-cocking nuttery and the i30N delivers in absolute bucket-loads. At a price point of under £28,000 Hyundai have undercut any real competition, something it needed to do for a sceptical public when they joined a new sector. But have done so without compromising on anything. The Hyundai i30N Performance is without a doubt one of the best hot hatches to drive today, nailed together with impressive capability and guaranteed to stand out with that stunning exhaust note. The establishment hot hatch world has to sit up and take note.