When Hyundai threw its hat into the hot-hatch ring, many sniggered at this bold attempt to take on such a tall task. We saw a great number of test mules lapping the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife proving ground, to much fanfare by international colleagues, who then proceeded to drive prototypes of the model. And when the production models were launched in Europe, we were even more intrigued by the glowing reports from our overseas colleagues. So you can understand why we also chomping at the bit to see what the fuss was all about, and as we finally got behind the wheel of the i30 N, the long wait seems to have been more than warranted.
Based on the latest i30 hatch, which sadly never made it onto our shores due to pricing challenges, the i30 N might not be the most striking of hot hatch designs, but it definitely fits the Eurocentric design template to the tee. It is a simple, intrinsic design with negligible peacock display paraphernalia to speak of. And this is a good thing in many respects, as it will for starters age gracefully, but also it will remain an incognito sniper that will catch the rival driver totally unaware. There are 19-inch alloy wheels shod with sticky slivers of Pirelli rubber, while the N emblazoned red brake callipers look totally resplendent as they peer through the diamond cut alloy wheels. N badges can be seen spruced on the front grille, the derriere and that is about it on the exterior. Dual oval chrome sports exhaust outlets and piano black plastic boot spoiler finish off the racy look.
It is here where things come a little undone, the cabin is anything but inspiringly racy nor class leading. It is very mundane, bland for most part with the pedals, thick rimmed helm and instrument cluster and gear knob the only give away to the i30 N’s performance repertoire. The front bucket seats are a comfortable place to perch, while the rest of the cabin’s switchgear is ergonomically sound at worst. It is a roomy cabin with space for up to five occupants and their luggage. Build quality, too, is noteworthy with little in the way of squeaks and rattles.
Passenger space is cavernous for both front and rear occupants and those aforementioned thickly bolstered front seats offer commendable support - whether tootling about town or scything through some winding back roads.
Beating under the bonnet is a 2-litre turbo charged 4 potter that pushes out 202 kW and 353 Nm via a 6-speed manual gearbox. It is a punchy motor that pulls strongly from about 2,000 r/min right up to around 5,500 r/min before tapering off. There is also a limited slip differential that keeps power delivery in check and the front wheels tracking true. As far as outputs go, it is on a par with the likes of the Renault Megane RS Cup and punches slightly above the segment favourite, the VW Golf GTI. It also delivers a healthy dose of theatrics via the fruity sounding exhaust pipes.
Can it hold its own, though? Absolutely, and with much conviction at that. Flick the steering mounted button to Sport or the full fat N mode, which slightly neuters the traction control, and the i30 N’s wild side comes to the fore. Front grip is leech like and much like the Audi S3 Sportback driver who decided to take me on while piloting the i30 N found out, eating dust was much the order of the day for the poor sod in the German premium hatchback. This is where the i30 N’s talents truly sparkle. Thanks to the sneaky gearbox, replete with rev matching capability, the smoother your driving style, the more endearing and blisteringly quick the i30 N becomes. Thanks to the adaptive dampers, it is also quite compliant for everyday mundane pottering exploits, while at a push of a few buttons, a thorough, full-blooded driver’s hot hatch comes to the fore.
It is not the quickest thing in a straight line and will easily be blitzed by many of its self-shifting-transmission equipped competitors. However, all is soon forgiven as the road ahead coils, because this is where the i30 N's talents truly glisten. With a well-sorted chassis, reasonably communicative steering, and a sneaky six-speed manual gearbox - you would be hard pressed to find a more resolved hot hatch outside of the even more extreme Honda Civic Type R.
The i30 N comes standard with a 5-year/75 000 km service plan - which is 15 000 km below the segment average. However, the class-leading 7-year/200 000 km factory warranty more than makes up for it. Residual values cannot yet be verified as the i30 N is still relatively new to the market, suffice to say, you can haggle a good deal if you ask your preferred Hyundai dealer nicely. Running costs are relative to rivals as we averaged around 10-litres/100km through the test tenure, which is more than acceptable when considering the performance on tap, which we used quite liberally.
Forget the R679,900 price tag, which depending on how you slice it, is slightly dearer than the outgoing Golf GTI TCR at R675 700. However, the i30 N comes stacked to the hilt with standard equipment and a class-leading warranty, but that is just the given. What the i30 N represents is a hot hatch that is thoroughly capable, a rewarding steer for the keen driver and a worthy proponent of the front-wheel drive hot hatch brigade.
Personally, it rates as one of the best front-wheel drive hot hatches currently available on the market, outgunned only by the still peerless Honda Civic Type R, which speaks massive volumes of the newcomer’s abilities in this hotly contested segment. The Hyundai i30 N is, simply put, a masterstroke first attempt at the hot-hatch genre.