Yes, you have read that correctly! It is with some surprise that I scribble such a title as for most readers, placing ‘Hyundai’ and ‘track test’ in the same sentence is something that will never have been thought possible…until now!
Thanks to Daly’s Garage in Belfast, we got to experience an all-new hot-hatch from Hyundai, the first of the ‘N’ cars to be released from the Korean manufacturer and a car that has arrived in a very busy and well established segment.
So what are we talking about?
Think along the lines of VW’s Golf GTi, Honda’s Civic Type R and Renault’s Megane RS as pretty good comparisons for what the Hyundai i30N has been developed to challenge – and challenge it does!
The last time I remember a Hyundai being worth a track test was when they developed a couple of reasonably potent Coupe models for the road, during their time of campaigning said car in the F2 category of rallying.
Today, though, things are different. Hyundai have not only improved their range ten-fold, making their cars an attractive, well-built and affordable option, but over the last few years Hyundai have devoted millions of pounds into its World Rally Championship programme.
A campaign which has put the brand in front of the world and proved itself tremendously via several podiums with the likelihood of an outright championship looming in their i20 Coupe World Rally Car. Via this, the bosses in Korea over several Soju’s decided a hot-hatch was required and a plan was put together to make it work.
Having no shortage of finances, they approached the now former head of BMW’s M-Division, Albert Biermann, to come to Korea and develop the i30N at the Namyang research and development centre before being honed on the Nürburgring – hence the N…
From what I can gather, Albert will be in Korea until retirement and is one of the most passionate men to fill the role of developing the car. Simply put, for him to put his name against something, he wants a car that works perfectly in the segment and will tweak every single area until it does work, no shortcuts and no nonsense.
Coming in five-door only, the i30N maybe doesn’t look quite as sporty as others in the class such as the Megane or Civic but what it lacks in standing out from the crowd, it makes up for in functionality with front and rear splitters and diffusers as well as rear spoiler to aid down force.
Being a brand that is not at all known for producing anything sporty in recent years, I quite adore the fact that the i30N blends in, in a sneaky street sleeper kind of way. A few colour options are on offer with WRC inspired ‘Performance Blue’ being the only real choice for me.
The boot is one of the biggest around for this size of car and will suit family life without issue as well as doubling up as a means of carrying fuel, tools and spare wheels for those wishing to enjoy the i30N on track. To entice this, there is a meaningful strut brace running across the rear seat-back, between the strut towers, which you can see every time you open the boot.
Inside – the i30N features super comfy, yet very supportive electric sports seats with the cabin being of decent quality and well put together as expected the Korean manufacturer in recent years. If the seating and blue stitching isn’t enough to remind you of what you are in, then the two, light blue mode buttons added to the steering wheel, will.
Coming with keyless entry, front and rear parking assists with reverse camera and dual climate control – the i30N also receives luxuries such as DAB Radio, Sat Nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via the improved 8” touch-screen along with wireless phone charging and USB connectivity and charging.
With such spec, there isn’t much you would need to add – meaning the Hyundai is much more affordable than its rivals of similar spec, starting at just £24,995. For me though, the only model to go for is £27,995 and is known as the ‘i30N Performance’.
It is the i30N Performance that we put through its paces at a sub-zero Kirkistown Racing Circuit on a track that was just about thawed out, thanks to Donal and Keith from TrackSkills who arrived before first light to melt an ideal racing line around the blustery circuit, situated by the Irish Sea.
The i30N is equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine which is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It puts power to the ground via the front wheels and in Performance spec, produces 271bhp with 260/b/ft of torque seeing the i30N to 62mph in a mere 6.1 seconds when using the launch control system.
A top speed of 155mph is possible but the i30N isn’t about boasting big figures, it is a car that is designed to excel on the road as one that is refined, yet incredibly capable and one that is rewarding to drive.
With the Performance spec, you get 19” wheels wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero rubber, rubber than was developed specifically for the i30N Performance as well as an electronic limited slip differential and an active variable exhaust system – active, electronic suspension features as standard and a rev matching ‘blip’ on downshift if a great feature of Hyundai’s primary hot-hatch.
Variable driving modes allow pre-selection of set modes, or the set-up of an individual mode to best suit your driving needs at any one time, these are as follows: Eco | Normal | Sport | N | Custom, all of which vary the damping stiffness, exhaust note, electronic stability program and throttle maps as well as the settings of the electronic differential.
On track – the i30N is incredibly comfortable, despite being in its most aggressive setting with the exhaust popping and banging on overrun – it’s a surprisingly refined placed to be and feels fully at home around the County Down circuit.
Being no stranger to the venue over the years and having driven more miles around Kirkistown than I would dare to admit – it was Donal who had the task of refining my rusty mannerisms on track and after a couple of laps, I soon settled into a nice rhythm thanks to his expert tuition.
The i30N will not set the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention with sheer speed, as it simply doesn’t have vast amounts of speed, but what it has, is the perfect balance of power and chassis dynamics.
So much so that I feel any more power, to match the likes of the Civic could damage the charm and characteristics of this Korean gem that should never be hidden. The way this Hyundai corners is nothing short of thought-provoking and the grip on offer is mind-boggling.
On an incredibly cold track with a very slight drying line, I pass the start line and lift-off for a second with some jovial pops from the exhaust as I turn into Debtors Dip at just over 100mph, before pressing the loud pedal and using the full track on exit.
Most cars, at this point would be fighting for grip, but not the Hyundai – what the i30N does, is exactly what you ask of it via the steering wheel as the limited slip diff works its magic to pull through the bend as if on rails.
After Debtors Dip is Colonial Bend and a few laps later, at just over 110mph on braking into Colonial, the back end got a little skittish – I was being brave and the i30N became a little unsettled but I continued into the bend, a little deeper than planned and with a grimace on my face.
However, the grimace was not required – as soon as I touched the throttle just before the apex of the bend, the Hyundai pulled itself together and powered towards Fisherman’s Corner as if nothing had ever happened – a true eye opener as to what this engine, drivetrain and chassis can really offer.
With a 5 year unlimited mileage warranty, 5 year roadside assistance and 5 year annual vehicle health-checks the i30N really is the thinking person’s hot-hatch that doesn’t feel the need to latch onto the snobbery of other brands of badges with a stigma attached!
This segment of the market has never been more alive – so for Hyundai to enter it, and enter it so late has required cahoonas, seriously large cahoonas at that – but they have nailed it, and Hyundai’s i30N, in performance pack guise, is a valiant effort!
I found the i30N far more enjoyable that what VW can offer, much less race orientated than Honda’s offering and miles ahead of the Ford and Renault in my opinion. OK, on track I guess the Honda would always stand out, but for me the i30N offers the best package and is most certainly where my bum would be – especially when it comes to a hard charge on our undulating roads.
Keep an eye in about 18 months time for a highly anticipated all-wheel-drive version.
Words and Photos: Graham Curry
[images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]