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Hyundai i30 N Performance review: Life and Seoul of the hatchback party?

The Good

  • Bags of fun
  • Sounds fantastic
  • Practical

The Bad

  • Untrendy badge
  • Dull interior
4.5

First impressions of the Hyundai i30 N Performance were first-rate, but do we feel the same way after living with the South Korean hot hatchback for a week and can it really compete with the Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS and BMW M140i?

You know that person you meet once and you’re slightly mesmerised, but then you meet them again and they do something so ridiculously annoying that the illusion is shattered?

For us, that was our concern with the i30 N Performance, the most powerful version of the i30 N hot hatchback. Driving it on very fast, smooth roads and then around Cadwell Park circuit, complete with its hugely fun elevation changes, was never going to make it look bad, was it?

So we asked Hyundai to lend us the exact same model for seven days. Enough time, we hoped, to rekindle a beautiful relationship. But also enough time to discover the motoring equivalent of picking your nose. Or eating with your mouth open. This was make or break.

If you are considering this car, we can spare you the suspense. The i30 N performed admirably to the point where we are considering buying one. For a mixture of practicality, hooliganism and value, it is spot on. But there are some downsides, as you shall soon find out.

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: What is it?

Hyundai i30 N Performance from the front

Hyundai wanted to improve its image and what better way than to create a fast, but ultimately accessible car? This is actually the second (or third if you count the i30 Turbo) time the manufacturer has given a hot hatchback a go, having experimented with the often forgotten but enjoyable Veloster Turbo – a new version of which is on the way.

Unlike previous attempts, however, the i30 N Performance was given serious time at the Nurburgring to ensure it was both capable and hardy. Hyundai also enlisted the help of former BMW M staffer, Albert Biermann, who also worked on the Kia Stinger. Before that, he was responsible for the legendary 1 Series M Coupe. Hyundai also created the ‘N’ tuning division – short for Namyang, which is where the Hyundai R&D centre lives – and put Biermann in charge. Being so close to ‘M’ in the alphabet is anything but coincidental.

Underpinning the front-wheel drive Hyundai i30 N is the standard, third-generation i30. To satisfy its main customers (younger petrolheads), Hyundai dropped in the most powerful version of its 2.0-litre petrol, providing a whopping 271bhp at 6,000rpm and 260lb/ft from 1,500rpm. In the cheaper i30 N, the same engine puts out 242bhp.

Both versions of the i30 N also gain a few unique adjustments to improve performance such as a lower ride height, improved stiffness, more potent brakes, rack-mounted power steering and a modified six-speed manual gearbox with carbon synchro rings for faster gear changes.

Hyundai i30 N Performance on the road

Where the i30 N gets torque vectoring of the braking variety, the i30 N Performance (named so because it adds a ‘Performance Pack’) has a limited-slip differential. It also gains an auto-blip for blissfully easy rev-matching, adaptive dampers so you can adjust the ride quality and launch control for giving you the best chance of winning in a drag race.

Then there are the Pirelli P Zero tyres made from a compound specific to the i30 N Performance, variable exhaust system so you can control how likely you are to get an ASBO and, on the off chance you want to save 13kg of weight, the option to swap leather and suede seats for a lighter cloth alternative.

Jumping up from the i30 N costs £3,000, bringing the i30 N Performance to a total of £27,995. By Hyundai’s reckoning, nine out every ten customers will pay the extra and, although we are yet to drive the standard version, the extras you get and noticeable power increase make it a no-brainer.

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: Bit boring to drive, yeah?

Hyundai i30 N Performance oversteer action

Critics of the Hyundai i30 N Performance have complained about its struggle to turn horsepower into meaningful forward motion, particularly in the wet. There is some truth to this, but then any high-powered hot hatchback that sends power to the front wheels will do the same.

What makes Hyundai’s runaround so appealing is just how unruly and angry it can be. In 1st and 2nd you can hear and feel the electronic and mechanical systems battle with 271bhp with such vigour that the cabin shakes and the wheels cry for dear life. Spot of rain? Hello, third gear wheelspins. It’s like battling a bull, only there is no risk of having your lung punctured by a horn or the need to move to Spain.

That momentary unruliness, combined with the thunder of the engine, whooshy turbo and enthusiastic forward motion, is as satisfying as the ridiculously loud exhaust pops that follow when you ease off. Unlike the all-wheel drive Focus RS, which pops more than bubble wrap, the i30 N is brutally loud but tastefully measured. Ease off earlier in the rev range and you get one shotgun-esque blast, creep up further next time and you get two, maybe three. Even at its most loutish there is reasoned logic.

Hyundai i30 N Performance slide in the wet (oooh, matron)

Once at speed, the Hyundai i30N Performance really comes into its own. The well-balanced steering makes chucking the nose into a corner a very natural process. It always reacts in a way you expect. Lift off and the tail may treat you to oversteer. Keep it planted and the limited-slip differential will help you stay true to your line or, at if very heavy-footed, bring about understeer. Neither body roll nor chassis imbalance ruin the show, you just point and shoot. And it never feels anything but satisfying every time you do.

The 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds sounds slow (and is probably an underestimation, actually), but it never feels that way as it blurs the horizon and deafens onlookers. Those who want the fastest lap time will be better off elsewhere, but drama is what Hyundai wanted and drama is what you get. “BPM, not RPM,” as Biermann puts it. Despite a monumental power deficit, very few hatchbacks are as involving.

It is for this reason that we often find ourselves comparing the i30 N Performance to much pricier hot hatchbacks such as the Civic Type R, Focus RS and M140i, as opposed to cars in its price bracket. The VW Golf GTi, for instance, is just too staid for a true comparison (and the RRP is actually more expensive once equipped to a similar level).

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: What about the ride quality?

Hyundai i30 N Performance steering wheel and custom button

Look, the i30 N Performance can do the everyday life thing to reasonable level but the compromise is that it rides rather firm. Even in its softest ‘comfort’ setting, you will notice bad road surfaces more than in a Type R. But then things get more forgiving as you pick up speed and the harshness is never quite that of the Focus RS in attack mode.

N mode, the sportiest setting available, is really harsh. Think piles after a ten-minute drive. For best results, you need to press ‘custom’ and then make use of 1,944 permutations of the steering, exhaust, suspension, limited-slip differential and other things. Because unlike, say, the Type R that restricts you to certain configurations, you can fine-tune the i30 N just how you like it. In our case, everything on sport, loosen up the safety systems and soften the suspension.

Making these adjustments is done through a reasonably sized touchscreen, which is unusually responsive (for a car) and the menu is really easy to use. Unlike G-meters and other pointless graphics in some cars, the custom setting is a huge plus and another feather in the i30 N’s cap. You can decide if you want rev matching, or do the job yourself.

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: So what’s wrong with it?

Hyundai i30 N Performance interior and infotainment

Despite inheriting most of what makes the standard i30 easy to live with, the i30 N has its quirks. The clutch bite point is, for one thing, so high you will stall. Even if your first name is Lewis and second name is Hamilton. It had been years since we last stalled a car. One week with the Hyundai and we managed it twice.

Then there are the brakes, which cope with serious abuse without fading and can stop you in such rapid fashion you will have to push your lungs back in. That’s all great, but try stopping gently. There is just so much braking power in such a short amount of pedal travel that it makes smooth braking unnecessarily tedious. Even at the end of the week, having racked up hundreds of miles, we still found it to be an issue.

We also had flashbacks to the Focus RS upon stepping into the i30 N Performance. Besides some light blue accents here and there, the interior is very standard i30, which in other words means drab, grey and plastic-heavy. It is clear Hyundai spent the money where it mattered most, on performance, and pricier cars are even guiltier of this crime. It just seems a shame there is no extra zing to accompany the solid build quality and comfortable front seats.

Then there is the styling. If you get it in the ‘Performance Blue’, you will stand out. In a good way, if you ask us. But in grey, as we had, and suddenly it becomes a bit too VW Golf for our liking. Besides a few sporty touches and, of course, that twin-exit exhaust system there is little to tell the world you are at the helm of a South Korean rocket ship. Then again, the i30 N will be infinitely more palatable than the Type R, which is as divisive as Marmite – and only slightly nicer to look at.

Hyundai i30 N Performance rear seat leg room

We also had one instance where some debris must have upset the autonomous emergency braking sensor because the dashboard warned us the system had been deactivated. The next day, the issue had gone.

Of all the i30 N’s faults though, this one is the biggest and it is one that affects the Stinger, too. The Ford Focus, while a bit Cheltenham Averagey, has a loyal following of performance enthusiasts. The Type R is faster and more exciting to drive than anything else and Honda is respected. BMW, meanwhile, sells 1 Series in droves because of badge appeal and affordability. Hyundai is usually driven by people who care little about the journey from A to B and find trips to a garden centre cafe appealing.

The i30 N has picked up fans who have read the many, many glowing reviews (including ours, hopefully), but to many it will still be about as trendy as athlete’s foot. If impressing the neighbours bothers you (and it shouldn’t), go elsewhere.

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: Running costs and practicality?

Hyundai i30 N Performance custom menu settings

You would assume the i30 N Performance is much worse on fuel, but in reality it is rated about the same. 40.4mpg combined is a stretch as we saw around the late twenties during a mixture of driving scenarios, but then it never gets as thirsty as the Type R or Focus RS. CO2, meanwhile, is 163g/km so expect to pay £500 for the first year then £140 every year after that.

Depreciation could be an issue, although positive reviews and relatively trouble-free ownership may improve the situation. There is also the fact that, from what we can see, finance deals will be more expensive than some of its rivals. With that said, the base level spec of the i30 N is above average so the gap disappears once equipment levels are factored in.

As for space, headroom is great. Legroom, not so much, but we managed to seat our six-foot frame without being in pain. Shopping space is generous, too, with only 14 litres lost compared to the standard i30. 381 litres is about what you get in the Golf, slightly more than the 360-litre M140i and considerably more than the 260-litre Focus RS.

Hyundai i30 N Performance review: Should I buy one, then?

Hyundai i30 N Performance cornering fast

Waiting to buy the i30 N could be a wise move because, as things stand, it appears less competitive on finance. However if you can negotiate a competitive deal, you will be the owner of one of the most exciting hatchbacks in a long time. For a first attempt, it is truly impressive and Hyundai should be commended.

With a ‘mere’ 271bhp, it has no right to challenge the very best in its class. But ignoring the Type R, which offers even greater levels of front-wheel drive absurdity, there is hardly anything as involving to drive, nor as brilliant to listen to. Everything feels natural and familiar about the way it drives, which makes it easy to drive fast. And driving fast is when it truly comes alive.

The i30 N Performance really is a sensational car that, even with a dull interior, ticks almost all the boxes it needs to. It may still be a Hyundai and could end up selling in laughably small numbers, but the mission was to wow and that it does exceptionally well.

Specification

Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power271bhp at 6,000rpm
Torque260ft/lb (350Nm) at 1,500 to 4,500rpm
Acceleration0-62mph in 6.1 (top speed 155mph)
Top speed155mph (electronically limited)
Emissions163g/km of CO2
Economy40.4mpg (combined)
PriceFrom £27,995 (£28,430 tested)

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