► First drive in Hyundai i30 N hot hatch
► Performance Pack version tested here
► i30 N range starts from under £25k
The first pancake always goes wrong, doesn’t it? Unless of course it’s cooked by former BMW M Division boss Albert Biermann at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, with the industrial might of Korea’s largest car manufacturer behind it.
What on earth are you on about?
This is Hyundai’s first ever hot hatch – the i30 N. (We’ll temporarily forget about the Veloster, more a warm curio than a bona fide hot hatch).
The i30 N is the first car from Hyundai’s Biermann-headed N division and it is responsible for setting the tone for all following N models, plus helping transform Hyundai’s overall image from staid runabouts maker to a marque with credible performance cars in its roster. No pressure then.
It started with a comprehensive reworking of the standard car – the i30 N is lower by 4 to 8mm depending on wheel size, stiffer courtesy of a reinforced front sub frame from which sprouts firmer suspension, and more powerful thanks to a new exhaust system and inlet manifold.
There are also stronger brakes with improved cooling through intakes on the front bumper. The rack-mounted power steering is quicker than the standard car and set up with trackday driving in mind, says Hyundai.
Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, and the front wheels are driven through a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox, which has been modified with carbon synchro rings for faster shifts.
Standard electrickery includes torque vectoring by braking (on the regular i30N - choosing the Performance Pack upgrades to a limited slip differential) and launch control, plus rev-match downshifting. The latter can be easily turned off thanks to a dedicated button on the wheel. This is a good sign.
I am quite excited by all this
You should be – this is no bodykit special. Best of all it wades into the market with a £24,995 price tag, undercutting many of its obvious rivals.
Thing is though, as is quite common these days in hot hatch land, that figure is for the standard version. You’ll need another £3,000 for the Performance Pack variant, but it’s worth the extra money all day long – and Hyundai reckons 90% of customers will agree.
The Performance Pack uses the same four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol engine but offers up 271bhp, compared with 247bhp for the standard i30 N. Fuel economy is virtually identical for both with 40mpg promised and CO2 emissions a couple of points either side of the 160g/km mark.
The more powerful car cracks 0-62 mph in 6.1 seconds (three tenths faster than the standard i30 N), and features adaptive dampers, with a variety of selectable modes from comfy Eco to track-focused N mode, via Normal, Sport and mix-'n'-match N Custom.
Torque for both models tops out at 260lb ft from only 1500rpm, while an overboost function delivers an extra 18lb ft for 18 seconds, providing the exhaust is up to temperature.
What else do I get for my money if I choose the Performance Pack?
Larger 19-inch alloys shod with wider Pirelli P-Zero tyres (complete with a specific Hyundai N compound), larger brake discs for increased stopping power, plus the no-cost option of cloth seats instead of the standard leather and suede, saving nearly 13kg.
It also brings a joyous variable exhaust system, which is both louder and more characterful thanks to rally-spec over-run crackle. It sounds evocative and easily out-burbles more powerful rivals from Honda or the VW Group.
The main reason you want this version, though, is for its hydraulically actuated and electronically controlled limited-slip differential. It enables you get back on the power ludicrously early, subtly tightening your line and enabling hilarious cornering speeds in the right circumstances.
What’s the Hyundai i30 N like to drive?
Our testing ground is Rome’s Vallelunga – the i30 N suits its long, fast corners and feels heroically grippy, biting hard on turn-in and maintaining reassuring chassis balance mid-bend.
You can tuck the front wheels in neatly by lifting off but otherwise the rear end feels tied-down. The i30 N cleverly treads the line between trust and adjustability - when the grip does run out it’s the front that gently and predictably lets go first, usually after an awful lot of tyre squeal.
Hyundai says its engineers could have tuned the i30 N for a more playful rear end and faster lap times but deliberately chose a more confidence-inspiring set up. The brakes are equally dependable but not invulnerable to fade on track - under normal running conditions, though, the i30 N pulls up quickly with plenty of feel through the pedal.
Adaptive suspension is standard on the Performance Package car and is super-composed on track. In the real world, on atrocious tarmac far worse than our own strada deformata, the comfy dampers impressed. This is a car you’d be happy to use every day.
Should I buy one?
Yes – for a start it’s great value with a substantial standard spec: LED head lights, adaptive cruise control, and 8-inch touchscreen sat-nav. Safety features like autonomous braking, lane keep assist and road sign recognition are carried over from the regular i30, plus you also get a five-year warranty.
More to the point, it’s good clean fun to drive. This car may not advance the hot hatch game in terms of outright performance, but for Hyundai, often cited as a maker of beige appliance cars for people not interested in driving, it’s an intergalactic leap. This is the brand’s first proper hot hatch – and it has emphatically hit the ground running.
The i30 N is admirable in bringing a sense of humour to a market increasingly obsessed with soulless lap times, often at the expense of emotional enjoyment. Hyundai says this car has been designed to make your heart beat faster – essentially the opposite of a regular i30, then…