Hyundai i30 N review
Hyundai’s first attempt at a hot hatchback is close to being a class-leading one, despite well-established competition
Almost every mainstream carmaker has had its toe in the water of the performance car market at some point, but Hyundai has very little prior experience. Other than the lukewarm i30 Turbo version of the previous generation i30, its car range has mainly been about offering reliability and space at a competitive price.
But the i30 N represents the start of something new for the Korean carmaker. Having built up its financial and manufacturing might over the years, it was able to lure in top talent from various European carmakers, including former engineering boss for BMW’s M division Albert Biermann. With a design headquarters in Europe and an engineering base at the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, Hyundai us taking it’s new ‘N’ performance sub-brand seriously.
The i30 N is the first product of Hyundai’s N division, which is set to roll out a variety of sporting models over the coming years. The ‘N’ stands for both Nurburgring and Namyang, Hyundai’s global R&D centre in South Korea. Far from taking a standard i30 and chucking a bigger engine in it, the development team spent a long time overhauling the chassis to ensure it can handle the power on offer.
It’s available in two states of tune: the base i30 N and the i30 N Performance. The standard car uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol to produce 247bhp and 378Nm of torque, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox using a rev-matching function to blip the throttle on downshifts. It gets five doors, four-mode adaptive dampers, an open differential and 18-inch wheels to mark it out.
Car group tests
The bigger seller is expected to be the i30 N with the Performance Package, which adds £3,000 to the list price and sees power boosted to 271bhp. There’s also a switchable active exhaust, an electronically-controlled limited slip differential, bigger brakes and 19-inch wheels added with the pack. Both cars sit 8mm lower to the ground than a standard i30.
For comparison, the i30 N’s closest rival, the VW Golf GTI, puts out 227bhp in normal form and 242bhp with the Performance Pack, though it is lighter than the Hyundai. The latter spec also comes with an electronic locking front diff, although items such as adaptive dampers are an optional extra on the Golf.
Hyundai has played a blinder with its first hot hatchback. The i30 N feels like a thoroughly developed product, blending a willing engine with an engaging and adjustable chassis and great steering. It might not offer the outright power and four-wheel drive grip of pricier rivals, but it’s still one of the best in its class to drive.
It’s also comfortable, well-equipped and useable day-to-day, and even manages to look good value next to the established hot hatch challengers. Only the interior, which doesn’t feel much more special than that of a regular i30, and the lack of any heritage or badge prestige let it down.
Engines, performance and drive
Most Hyundais offer acceptable driving dynamics, but they don’t stand out when compared to class leaders. The i30 N is different. The brand’s chassis engineers have done an excellent job in transforming an unengaging family hatchback into a sharp and enjoyable small performance car.
From the off, you can tell that the i30 N is a proper hot hatch, with a rasping exhaust note (particularly on cars fitted with the active exhaust) and a tied-down feel. The driving experience itself is adjustable with adaptive dampers, individual drive modes and a custom function, allowing you to select different parameters for the engine mapping, suspension, exhaust note, diff modes, rev matching and more. The i30 N is at its best on UK roads in a less aggressive suspension setting, but with everything else in a sportier mode.
Once set up, the Hyundai feels really alert and gives plenty of feedback, both through the precise steering and the involving chassis. It allows you to build confidence with it, trusting the clever diff to deliver huge levels of front-end grip and the well-judged suspension to keep body roll in check while not being fazed by large bumps. It might not be as fast point-to-point as the best four-wheel drive hot hatches, but it’s just as much fun as many of them.
Models without the Performance Pack don’t get their power down as smoothly out of a corner, but in normal driving you’d be hard pushed to notice the difference. All i30 Ns have a taut yet composed ride in either comfort or sport settings, but N mode is simply too stiff for UK roads and is best reserved for the track. Unsurprisingly, the standard model’s 18-inch wheels add a bit more absorption to the ride.
Engines, 0-62 acceleration and top speed
The i30N’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine isn’t the car’s stand-out feature, but it’s still likeable, flexible and very punchy.
Both the 247bhp and 271bhp versions of the car share the same torque output, which reaches a maximum of 378Nm on overboost. The N is capable of 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds with the base car, while Performance models do the same sprint in 6.1 seconds. Both have the same quoted top speed of 155mph.
Thanks to the healthy torque output and short gearing it feels a fair bit faster than its figures suggest, with a strong and urgent delivery right through the rev band that outguns the Golf GTI. The more powerful Performance version only feels a little more urgent when driving flat out, so the base car is by no means the weak link.
It also sounds good for a four-cylinder, particularly on the Performance model with its active exhaust. In its shoutiest mode it fires out a cacophony of pops and crackles when you lift off, making even short trips to the shops more amusing. It’s capable of being docile and refined when you’re not in the mood, however.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
While the i30 N is considerably more expensive to buy than the regular i30, when lined up alongside its rivals it looks good value. But it’s not just competitive in terms of list price, as it also offers reasonable running costs.
Hyundai claims 40.4mpg combined for the standard version, and 39.8mpg for the Performance model. That’s slightly down on some rivals, but not significantly so, and it’s a respectable return given the performance on offer. The CO2 figure of 159g/km in standard form makes it a more affordable buy for business users than many rivals thanks to lower Benefit-in-Kind company car tax.
Hot hatches were a nightmare to insure only a few years ago, but a great advance in safety and security features means that it’s a lot difficult to get cover now.
The i30 N sits in group 27 in standard form, or group 28 with the Performance pack. Almost every rival sits above group 30, meaning the i30 N is the hot hatch to go for for younger drivers who can afford it.
Residual forecasts for the i30 N have yet to be calculated, so we can only speculate so far. Hyundai’s regular models hold their value broadly as well as most rivals these days, and we don’t expect the i30 N to shed significantly more cash over three years than other hot hatches. It’s low list price helps, too, and although the N brand is a relative unknown in the market now, it might not be in a few years’ time.
Interior, design and technology
The base i30 is billed as a car that has been designed, developed and tested in Europe specifically for our tastes. That’s reflected in the simple and well laid-out interior, which the i30 N inherits with only a handful of changes.
The hot Hyundai benefits from a pair of lower and more supportive sports seats, with additional side bolstering to help keep you in them through the corners. The trouble is, the dark and drab fabric they’re trimmed in means that most people wouldn’t even notice the difference visually.
The same goes for the rest of the interior, which is trimmed in gloomy black plastic and only benefits from small amounts of body-coloured stitching. The dash is identical too, with only a bespoke steering wheel and a few N badges dotted about the interior to mark it out. But the Ford Focus RS suffers from the same interior issue, so we can’t criticise too much.
What can be said is that, despite the dark and occasionally scratchy plastics, fit and finish is excellent, while the ordered layout rivals the Golf GTI for ease of use. There’s also loads of kit thrown-in as standard, including sat-nav, autonomous emergency braking, wireless phone charging and parking sensors. Performance models further benefit from electrically adjustable heated leather seats, while a heated steering wheel is also available.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Every i30 N comes with an eight-inch touchscreen display mounted on its own panal at the top of the dash. While it sticks out rather than being integrated into the dash itself, it means that it’s in the driver’s line of sight, making it safer to use while driving.
The screen is clear and responsive, while the shortcut buttons down the side make it easier to use on the move than some rivals. The graphics aren’t the most glossy, but when it comes with sat-nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, there’s little to criticise overall.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Hot hatchbacks aren’t just about offering an entertaining drive; they also have to offer the space and usability that sports cars cannot. On that basis the i30 N meets the brief, as there are barely any sacrifices to make over the standard car.
Like the standard i30, it’s five-door only, while the seats are easier to get in and out of than more hardcore hot hatches. There’s a good amount of storage in the cabin, with a decent bin between the front seats and chunky door pockets. Visibility, particularly through the rear is much better than rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R, while a reversing camera makes parking easy.
The i30 N is identical to the standard i30 in terms of exterior dimensions, being 4,335mm long, 1,795 mm wide and 1,455 mm tall. It sits in the middle ground of the hot hatchback class, being around 77mm longer than a Golf GTi but a full 220mm shorter than a Civic Type R. It’s narrower than the latter, too, and is easier to place on Britain’s tight country lanes as a result.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
As the dimensions suggest, the Hyundai i30 N isn’t the most capacious hot hatchback on sale, but it’s by no means the most cramped. Space in the back is fine for most adults, with only those over six-foot finding their heads rubbing on the roof. Knee room is also adequate, with no significant impact from the sports seats. But if outright space is a priority then a Skoda Octavia vRS or Honda Civic Type R will better fit the bill – even if the latter has less headroom in the rear.
Meanwhile, space up front is fine with lots of movement in the seating position and a steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment standard on all models. Everything is logically located – especially on cars fitted with the larger touchscreen.
The Hyundai i30 offers a useable 381-litre boot, which is 15-litres down on the standard hatch on account of the rear strut brace that sits across the edge of the seatbacks. It’s almost identical in size to a Golf GTI, although a Civic Type R offers a fair bit more space. The seats fold easily but don’t leave a flat floor, which, combined with the strut brace, makes loading long objects a bit trickier than in rivals, but the 1,287-litre overall capacity is very good.
Reliability and Safety
It’s too early to accurately predict how reliable the i30 N, or this generation of i30 as a whole, will be over a period of years because it’s relatively new. But we know that Hyundai as a brand finished 10th out of 27 manufacturers in our 2017 Driver Power survey, so owners don’t usually have too much to complain about.
Build quality seems solid enough, and the Korean manufacturer doesn’t have a reputation for dodgy electrics or patchy finish. The high performance powertrain of the i30 N is a new development, however, so its long-term durability is untested by anyone other than the brand itself.
Safety-wise, the i30 N is one of the best in its class. The standard car received a five star Euro NCAP crash test score and an 88 per cent overall rating, which few rivals can beat. The amount of standard safety kit contributes to that – autonomous emergency braking, front collision warning, high beam assist and lane keep assist are standard fitment. Rear cross-traffic alert is also available as an option.
It’s relatively unusual for a performance car to offer a warranty longer than three years, so the i30 N’s five-year cover is one of the best out there. It means piece-of-mind for the owner, and even if issues do arise you can make use of the five years of free roadside assistance provided too.
Hyundai Sense offers owners fixed-price servicing over two, three or five years. You can pay for it monthly, and all the work is carried out using genuine parts and by trained technicians.
The two-year plan costs £349 for the i30 N, with a three-year plan costing £150 more. Few owners will keep their cars for five years, but if you intend to hold onto your i30, the five-year plan costs £899 for petrol cars. You can add MoTs into the three or five-year plans for an extra fee.
The i30 N will need servicing once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner.