Dan DeGasperi wrestles with the Hyundai i30 N and Renault Megane RS280 to find out which one’s the hottest hatch.
2018 Hyundai i30 N Specifications
Price $39,990+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder Power 202kW at 6000rpm Torque 353Nm at 1450-4700rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4335mm (L) 1795mm (W) 1447mm (H) 2650mm (WB) Seats five Boot Space 378 litres Weight 1478kg Towing 1600kg (braked) Fuel Tank 50 litres Thirst 8.0L/100km claimed/11.3L/100km tested
2018 Renault Megane RS280 Specifications
Price $44,990+ORC Warranty three-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 1.8-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder Power 205kW at 6000rpm Torque 390Nm at 2400rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4364mm (L) 1875mm (W) 1435mm (H) 2670mm (WB) Seats five Boot Space 434 litres Weight 1397kg Towing NA Fuel Tank 50 litres Thirst 7.4L/100km claimed/10.8L/100km tested
IT IS easy to see why the Hyundai i30 N is a darling of the press right now. A $40K plus on-road costs price for a hot hatch with turbo performance, a limited-slip differential (LSD), switchable active exhaust, three-mode adaptive suspension and a chassis honed by a former BMW M chief engineer, all combined with a five-year warranty, which the brand also covers for ‘non-competition’ track use.
So, let’s call it now. The Hyundai wins.
That might especially be the case given that the new Renault Sport Megane RS280, successor to several hot hatch titans, costs around $5000 more, with similar performance and equipment, but with the French brand’s five-year warranty wound back to three years for RS models – boo hiss; talk about rolling the arm…
The Establishment is on the back foot from the start, so can the Renault come back from there? Meanwhile The Upstart is bringing home a swag of awards, but does that mean i30 N is the one for you? Or, as a long-time hot hatch owner, me?
What Are The Hyundai i30 N and Renault Megane RS280?
The i30 N is South Korea’s first proper hot hatch, priced from $39,990+ORC and standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic on/off headlights, rear parking sensors, rearview camera, 8.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, plus cloth trim and dual-zone climate control.
The Megane RS280 matches all of the above equipment for $44,990+ORC, except it offers a 8.7in screen and exclusively features adaptive cruise control and auto reverse-park assistance unavailable in its rival, in addition to features that are optional with its foe.
In the Hyundai, you have to option a $3000 Luxury Pack to match its rival’s front parking sensors, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, auto on/off wipers, and auto-dim rear-view mirror, but it also adds wireless smartphone charging and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat unavailable in the Renault, plus part-leather and heated seats that are options.
And so the puck slices back across the table, because adding those latter two items requires $1190 in the Megane, and it doesn’t stop there – to match i30’s LSD requires ticking a Cup pack for $1490 that further adds sports (single mode) suspension and beefy brakes. But then it also includes four-wheel steering absent from its rival, to end the tit-for-tat.
In essence, it’s $43,990+ORC N versus $47,670+ORC RS280 for a $4680 difference.
The cheaper hatch uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with 202kW of power and 353Nm of torque (or 378Nm on 18-second full-throttle overboost), linked to a six-speed manual only. But it weighs 1478kg to claim 6.1-second 0-100km/h performance.
The dearer hatch gets a 1.8L of the same configuration, with 205kW at 6000rpm and 390Nm at 2400rpm, tested here with a six-speed manual but optionally available with a dual-clutch automatic for $2500 extra – only not with the LSD/Cup pack, just to be clear. It weighs 1397kg to claim a 5.8sec 0-100km/h. So, then, more powerful, torquier and lighter, with fancy four-wheel steering – maybe let’s just call it a win for the Renault? Well, let’s just see.
What Are Their Interiors Like?
Sit inside each hot hatch and you’ll think the RS280 is worth at least $5K more. That’s the gap covered right here, courtesy of nicer dimpled plastics, soft blue mood lighting and more tactile controls.
The 7.0in colour driver display is slick, and even Renault’s once derided 8.7in portrait screen has been improved since this generation of Megane launched – it’s quicker than before and no longer seems to need a Stylus pen to react to a simple finger press.
Then there’s the deeper and more generous driver’s seat, cushier rear seat and a buxom 434-litre boot volume (versus its rival’s still-impressive 378L).
Swap to the N and it’s a downgrade but not a washout. As with the cool exterior parts – such as the rally-inspired triangular high-mounted brake light – there are some neat touches such as the almost ceramic-feeling, matte-finished Drive Mode tabs on the beaut little steering wheel. And everything is as ergonomic as it is in a $19,990+ORC i30 Go including a slicker, cleaner touchscreen that even bests its rival’s improved effort.
But the Hyundai is also more than a bit base model with its rubbery plastics, especially the all-hard door trims bereft of cloth or leather inserts. Forget the lovely blue mood lighting of the Renault. The front seats are firmer, but supportive, which is appropriate – perhaps those same traits aren’t for the flat rear bench though, which offers similarly average legroom (sans air vents) to its rival.
Even so, neither are four-to-five-seat family car stars, and for the most practical of hot hatch motoring, you’d best look to the Volkswagen Golf GTI all-time all-rounder.
For the driver, though, best read on…
What Are They Like To Drive?
The i30 N delivers far superior low-speed ride comfort, meatier and more natural steering response, a tighter gearshift, a raspier exhaust and in some ways more instantly approachable handling to its rival. Blat to the shops, or up and down a mountain pass, and the honed consistency of this South Korean shines.
Its Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes can be mixed and matched via a Custom setting, in which the driver can select from one of those trio for drivetrain, steering, exhaust and suspension, while activating or deactivating the ‘rev match’ facility for the manual, and switching the electronic stability control (ESC) on, off or to Sport.
And in virtually any of the above, there are nuanced differences that some sports cars twice the price struggle to match. The suspension never becomes floaty nor harsh, and only the steering feels a little too weighty in Normal around town, and stolid in Sport/Sport+ unless at brisk cross-country pace between bends.
Even the LSD locks-up with greater ferocity than its rival, which basically means it sends more power to a loaded outside front wheel when cornering, encouraging extra throttle earlier out of bends, where it slingshots out of them with only the lightest of understeer. In fact it’s the front-end of the Hyundai that is most sterling, with superb brake feel and bite allowing a driver to drill the nose into the tarmac on turn-in to a switchback, for example, to trace a neat and tight arc.
As with is pricing and warranty, the Megane RS280 starts on the back foot on the road. Its urban ride quality is hard. Really hard. Never harsh, but so tight that it feels aggressively motorsport focused. The gearshift is lovely, but the throw is a little longer and the shift a tad grittier, while the steering is lighter yet dartier.
As with its rival, Renault offers Driver Select mix-and-match modes – it calls it Perso – for drivetrain, front differential and exhaust, but not of course suspension, across Normal, Sport and Race choices. Even putting the exhaust in Race, there’s lighter and more distant crackles and pops from the fumes exiting the tailpipe.
Yet with the four-wheel steering twerking the back wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at less than 60km/h, there’s an instantly darty feel in the RS280 around town, matched by a tighter turning circle and an engine with more to give.
Whether in first, second or third gear, the Renault’s 1.8L is an absolute gem of a thing with rampant, even rabid, response everywhere. The chassis might be as tough as a kidney punch, but my word it draws a driver in anywhere and everywhere.
On a twisty road, at above 60km/h, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts to aid stability and it too works a treat. At first, the Megane doesn’t feel as linear and harmonious in its control weightings as the i30. But this is no tech-geek hot hatch with mere party tricks beneath it. Instead it’s a complex, sophisticated model that takes time to learn. And that’s part of the appeal – to extract its best, the driver needs to really explore it.
For example, second gear can be too tall in the RS280, whereas a short second segues to an only slightly less-short third in its rival. Solution? Just approach a corner a bit more enthusiastically. The Frenchie’s Bridgestone Potenza tyres never screech at the sort of corner speed much higher than its rival’s Pirelli P Zero rubber can deal with.
The Renault’s LSD doesn’t lock up as hard, so there can be power understeer if patience isn’t exercised. Yet that rear-steer affect massages all tyres into the surface seemingly evenly, passively helping the nose point and obviously stressing the forward tyres less.
The Hyundai is more straightforward. Drive it through its front axle only, and it can be more impressive. But with a 6800rpm cut-out, second is often too short for a mountain pass, yet third taxes the 2.0L too much. The i30 N just feels weightier and laggier – it’s a simple as that. Where its 1.8L rival steams forward in either of its taller gears, this model can just pause slightly before picking up.
The i30’s urban ride lead also dissipates, if only marginally. It lets its tyre rims jar slightly on rough roads, while the Megane transforms itself to become smooth on the freeway and comfortable and controlled on bouncy roads. It’s sophisticated damping par excellence.
Ultimately the Hyundai just needs to use its rear-end more, as the best hot hatches – and this writer owns a Peugeot 205 GTI – do. The i30 N will move its rear, but in a terser fashion best reserved for racetrack work. What it needs to be doing, instead, is just passively shifting its rump on turn-in to a corner, as its rival expertly does.
Both braking packages are outstanding though, as are the calibrations of their Sport ESC settings. It’s the lighter Megane RS280 that was more economical, though – recording 10.8 litres per 100 kilometres on test, versus 11.3L/100km.
That said, the Renault’s annual or 20,000km servicing intervals comes at a capped-price cost of $1839 to three years or 60,000km, whereas the Hyundai needs annual or 10,000km checks (which is more of a pain) but at a capped-price $1595 over five years or 50,000km.
What Are Their Safety Features Like?
Both score autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard, but the i30 uniquely scores active lane-keep assistance versus the Megane’s awful lane-departure warning buzzer.
However, the Renault turns the tables with a blind-spot monitor and adaptive cruise control, in addition to the front parking sensors optional on the Hyundai. Call it a draw here.
So, Which One Wins And Why?
It’s being Mr Consistency, for all the reasons described in the intro and more, that leads the i30 N to a technical win here.
That’s no faint praise, given that this is no join-the-dots exercise. Its steering and suspension are too good for that, as are its steering and LSD. Especially for track use, Hyundai has your back, and along with the calmer urban ride and cheaper pricetag, it’s tough to go past.
Yet the pricier Renault Sport feels $5000 more expensive inside, with a better back seat to boot. Its engine is stronger, it feels lighter, its tyres gripper, its damping better at speed and along with a masterful – at first unnatural, then supernatural – four-wheel steer system, and it tugs at the driver’s heart strings and gets the heart pumping more than its rival does.
The Megane RS280 is the hotter hot hatchback, the one I’d personally – as opposed to a technical points win – take home. Yet the i30 N is the better new vehicle overall; the multi-disciplined all rounder. The only remaining question is: which one suits you best?