Car Advice

Hyundai i30 N: sports car vs motorsports car vs racing car

Robert Pepper has recently track-tested the Hyundai i30 N and surmises that it’s not purely a sportscar, but a motorsports car built for track days.

WHAT YOU WANT from your sports car is emotional involvement. You want it to look good, feel good, drive in a way that’s enjoyable, and generally deliver an ownership experience that alternately thrills, satisfies and pleasures… and then you’ll feel good. You’ll drive your sports car perhaps every day, or perhaps on special occasions, and on the road, maybe even the occasional track day too.
A motorsports car is a certain type of sports car which is all of the above but also designed for motorsports. That means a lot of track driving, motorkhanas, autocross, even a little stunt driving like j-turns, 360s, drifting and handbrake turns.
And a race car is different again – it is designed purely for going fast, nothing about looks or enjoyment… the enjoyment comes from winning the race, any pleasure of the actual drive is incidental.
But back to motorsports cars and sports cars. Any sports car will survive a spirited road drive, and maybe two or three laps of a circuit at a medium pace. But as you go quicker, and do more track work, you find the sports cars falling away with overheated engines, transmissions, differentials, eventually cowering in the pits, dribbling fluids in terror. That’s because not all sports cars are designed for motorsports. Other times the car is fine that day, but quickly needs expensive items replaced such as transmission components.
A motorsports car is, by contrast, happily blasting around the track, needing only the usual consumables changed like brake pads, oil, and tyres. A motorsports car won’t usually have a monumental (and race-ending) engine blow-up or need thousands of dollars in modifications before you can drive it hard and often.
Hyundai i30 N track racing test
Aside from mechanical robustness, a motorsports car has motorsports features. It will have a nicely bolstered seat. The electronic stability control will be able to be turned completely off. The park brake will be a hand brake operating on the rear wheels so you can handbrake-turn. There will be little touches like reversible headrests for helmets, and easy bolt-in of cages. There will usually be a limited-slip differential of some sort.  Ideally, there will be configurable settings so you can set it just the way you want it. And hopefully, there will be lots of aftermarket support so you can find modifications such as harness bar, replacement brake pads, camera mounts and whatever else you need for your motorsports adventures. Oh, and by the way, a red tab at the top of a flat-bottom steering wheel does not a motorsports car make.
How do you know which are the motorsports cars and which are merely sports cars? Time is the only true answer, as you need many enthusiasts to motorsport their cars year after year. But you can make an educated guess earlier. For example, it’s too early to be absolutely sure, but I think the Hyundai N vehicles are motorsports cars for a few reasons.
First, there is a (currently) seven-year unlimited road warranty, and then there is a five-year unlimited track warranty. Most other manufacturers dance around the idea of a track warranty… Hyundai literally has it in highlight on their website. And seven years… for a car in the under $50k bracket! Just to be clear, what isn’t covered is a “timing race or competition”. Normal track days may be timed or untimed, but if they are timed there are no prizes. Sprint days are timed, and there are prizes for the fastest times.
Hyundai also very much gives the impression the N is a serious motorsports car, and they know their investment would be massively damaged if they made claims they couldn’t back up. Everything they’ve done and said reinforces this claim. For example, running the N Festival day for owners. And when I wrote to Hyundai asking to track test an N, the immediate reply was “we’ve booked you in”, not the usual back and forth about how and why. To me, that’s confidence in the product.
I’ve also trawled the N forums and found no evidence of ongoing issues when people track their cars. And my own experience of two track events was perfect, reliable performance – and immediately after both events I drove the car for 700km interstate. No warning lights, no signs of looseness, amazingly not even brake fade which I’d be prepared to forgive as it’s easily fixed. And of course, the N can have its electronic stability control entirely disabled and is nicely configurable.
So yes, I think the N is not just a sports car, but a motorsports car. If I was in the market for a hot hatch for use around town and track, it’d be the one I’d pick for sure, and I’d spend the savings compared to the others on going to Bathurst again.
Other examples of cars I’d be happy to recommend as motorsports cars are the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX-5, any Porsche 911, Boxster or Cayman, BMW M1 to M4, Subaru WRX STi, any Ford Performance hot hatchback, the faster Renault Meganes, and anything made by Lotus – there are more, but that’s my experience.
I would steer well clear of anything with a CVT transmission, and treat very cautiously cars weighing over 1600kg with powerful engines because heavy and fast is not a combination that ends well for reliability, far less running costs.
So what do you think, sports car or motorsports car? Which do you own, or want to own?
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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper