2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance Review
Dave Morley’s 2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell Hyundai is feeling bullish…no doubt about it. Mercedes-Benz has its AMG operation and BMW has its M division, and Hyundai is yanking the same chain as the establishment with this, the first product, of its N performance brand. The i30 N promises huge performance in a versatile hatchback format with some important mechanical tweaks to make it work, as well as some Aussie input into how it drives. And all while retaining that other Hyundai cornerstone; value for money. In fact, the i30 N hits showrooms at under 40-grand.
2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance
Pricing From $39,990 to $44,990+ORC Warranty Five years/Unlimited km Safety Not yet tested Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo Power/Torque 202kW/353Nm Transmission Six-speed manual Body 4335mm (long) 1795mm (wide) 1447mm (high) Weight From 1429kg Fuel tank 50 litres Thirst 8.0L/100km combined.
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THE PRACTICALITY and versatility of a roomy hatchback is very hard to argue with. But when you add performance that would shatter a V8 Holden or Ford of just a few years ago and wrap it up in a package that also incorporates Hyundai’s reputation for reliability and value as well as a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, then it simply can’t be ignored. That’s what Hyundai wants you to believe anyway. Certainly it’s why hot hatches rule the performance roost in many parts of the world.
What is the 2018 Hyundai i30 N?
Based on the cooking-model i30, the addition of the letter N brings with it some serious hardware. Even the bodyshell has been fiddled with to make it all work properly, including the addition of under-chassis bracing, a removable brace behind the rear seat and big bold 19-inch alloy rims.
Speaking of wheel and tyres, Pirelli was even convinced to produce a 235/35 19 Zero HN specifically for this car, so the attention to detail is impressive. That extends to the brakes which now feature 345mm front and 314mm rear rotors as well as cooling ducts built into the bodywork.
The i30 SR’s standard MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension is retained but the dampers for the N are now adaptive. Front end geometry has been changed for a zero-scrub radius and the steering knuckle has been switched to a more rigid, aluminium unit. The N also gets an electro-mechanical limited-slip differential (the vehicle remains front-drive) an active exhaust and even launch control function as well as five (count `em) selectable drive models. The five modes (which include a custom mode) range from Economy through Comfort to Sport and Sport Plus, the latter of which allows ESC to be completely switched off. And the various modes affect everything from the severity of the ESC, the dampers, differential, exhaust volume, steering weight and even the rev-matching (which can be turned off for those who learned to drive the old way).
Under the bonnet, the turbocharged four-cylinder gets variable valve timing and an overboost function which can bump the torque figure from 353Nm to 378Nm for a maximum of 18 seconds. A six-speed conventional manual gearbox is the only fitment, underlining Hyundai’s commitment to building a Euro-style hot-hatch.
The engine modifications even extend to sodium-filled exhaust valves, a different piston design to lower compression (now 9.5:1) and the intercooler has grown from a 6.5-litre capacity to 6.8 litres. And – again, as if to prove how serious it is – Hyundai has swapped the conventional i30’s steering column-mounted electric power-steering motor to a new unit that acts directly on the steering rack, allegedly improving feel and feedback.
What’s the interior like?
The basic N package gets cloth sports front seats (suede is included on the $3000 Luxury pack) but you also get a race computer (that shows acceleration, G-force and lap-times) alloy pedals and even shift lights at the top of the dashboard as a nod to Hyundai’s WRC competition cars. Meantime, Hyundai admits that the sound you hear is not just from the active exhaust system, but also via a mechanical chamber that transmits some engine noise into the cabin via the firewall. But, the company is quick to point out, you won’t find a synthesised soundtrack being played through the N’s stereo speakers.
The basic interior features plenty of black plastic, but every move up to the Luxury pack and you get a few splashes of brightwork and some anodised trim panels as well as keyless start.
On the connectivity front, the i30 N gets apple CarPlay, Android Auto and inductive charging for phones in the Luxury Pack. An eight-inch touch-screen is the main interface and digital radio is part of the deal.
The other aspect of the interior worth mentioning is that it’s actually rather huge. As well as lots of room up front, there’s impressive space in every direction in the back, decent luggage space and a great view out thanks to a waistline that bucks the current trend for heading skywards after the B-pillar.
What’s it like to drive?
Even firing up the new i30 N is a bit of an event, especially if you have the active exhaust set for max-racket. There’s a pop and a crackle (Hyundai calls it afterburn) when you rev it and again when you accelerate through first gear and back off for the shift into second. But entertaining as that is, the Hyundai also soon reveals itself to have a pretty sane throttle calibration, meaning that it doesn’t lurch away from you like a big dog on a short lead. Instead, the boost builds in a linear way and while there’s a tiny amount of lag, given the low engine speeds at which maximum boost is reached, that’s hardly a complaint.
Whap it up through the gears and you discover that the engine has genuinely given its best by the time 6000rpm has been reached and the shift lights have turned from orange to red. Hanging on to a lower gear for more simply won’t produce it and the best bet is to sling it another ratio and let torque takes its course.
Hyundai’s claim of 6.1 seconds for the 0-100 dash seems believable, but we’re left wondering if it really is 202kW straining away at the end of the throttle pedal. Doubtless there is, but it just doesn’t seem q-u-i-t-e that perky. Of course, then you take a look at the kerb weight and discover that at 1429kg (a tick over 1500kg with the optional sunroof) the i30 N is a full 100kg heavier than the basic VW Golf GTi package and almost line-ball with the all-wheel-drive Golf R which also has more power. Ah-ha. Of course, once you get used to the way the Hyundai feels, sounds and builds its momentum, it becomes apparent that it’s a rapid hatchback by any measure.
Despite only sixth gear being overdrive (and even fifth is not direct but ever so slightly under-driven) the i30 N is still quite leggy thanks to a tall diff ratio that sees it turning over 2250rpm at an indicated 100km/h. It’ll pull hard up hills in top gear, too, while blink-of-an-eye overtaking is only ever a downshift or two away. And thanks to that mechanical soundscape under the bonnet and the active exhaust, there’s always enough aural engagement to keep things interesting.
The gearshift plays its part by being fairly slick with just a hint of a metallic clickety-click on upshifts. In fact, the first car we drove with only a few hundred kilometres on board was slightly stiff in the shifter, while a second car with closer to 1500km showing had slickened up appreciably with a properly oily feel to the way the cogs were switched around. The clutch has a light feel but a positive take-up point for foolproof shuffling along in traffic.
With as many as 1944 possible ride/steering/diff/exhaust/ESC combinations, defining the N’s overall demeanour is a bit of a crap-shoot. But we reckon it’s best left in Normal mode for the majority of your road miles, simply because that setting provides the best of the things that matter on the move; ride quality and steering feel. The impact harshness improves over the sportier settings in Normal and the ride itself is actually very chilled out for such a focussed car. It’s a quiet car, too, with just a little tyre roar across coarse-chip stuff and virtually no suspension thump entering the cabin at all.
And while there’s no doubt that this is one of the better resolved electric power-steering systems, (it’s certainly Hyundai’s best-yet effort) it remains identifiably an electric motor (rather than hydraulic fluid) doing the work. The point remains, however, that left in Normal, the steering is at its most natural in terms of the feel and feedback it provides.
Flip the mode to N and the ride firms up significantly, the exhaust opens, the diff tightens and the steering gains weight and speed if not actually any more accuracy or tactility. You can make a case for it on the track, but the reality is that the i30 would be just as fast if the N mode left the steering assistance the hell alone. And probably more fun. As it is, the extra weight tends to mask the messages coming back at you as you tip the car in, and you’ seem somehow robbed of the electro-mechanical diff doing its – admittedly excellent – job.
The diff allows you to jump back on the power a lot earlier than you might have expected and the i30 takes a couple of laps around a track like Winton to dial yourself in. But when you do, you realise that the car is actually very neutral and while you can induce a little throttle-off oversteer to rotate the thing, it never really gets too lairy or playful at the tail end. Yes, it will understeer in slower corners if you don’t judge your entry-speed spot on, but it’s hardly on its own there.
And those brakes that look a bit underdone with their old-fashioned sliding-caliper design? No problem coping with multiple laps of a race-track as far as we could see. We did notice a slight increase in pedal pressure after a few laps, but the pedal never went away nor did the actual stopping power fade off as a result.
What about safety features?
Autonomous braking headlines the N’s safety package, although pedestrian recognition is not part of that this time around. Maybe next model.
In the meantime, the AEB system first alerts the driver with an audible alarm before initiating stage two which is to brake as firmly as necessary to avoid a crash. Stage three involves the car applying the full potential braking force in the case of a prang starting to look inevitable.
You also get a driver-alertness monitoring system and lane-keeping assistance. Add the seven air-bags, hill-start assist, a rear-view camera and tyre-pressure monitoring system and you’re looking at a pretty sharp safety package at this price-point. The most glaring omission is a rear cross-traffic alert system.
ANCAP testing has been conducted, but the results are yet to be published. But Hyundai told us it was confidently expecting the i30N to be a five-star performer.
So what do we think?
You need to tear up a few preconceptions to fully appreciate what the i30 N represents. For a start, the N puts to the sword the notion that Brembo brakes and Recaro seats are must-haves for this type of car. Not only is the Hyundai-branded stuff up to the job, but in-house sourcing of these bits is what has kept the price down to a sub-40 number.
Secondly, you can forget what you thought you knew about Hyundai as a maker of exciting cars. Know this: The i30 N is a proper hot-hatch. Yes, it’s a bit more grown up in terms of its presentation and packaging (but that will emerge as a bonus in the longer term, trust us) but when the chips are down, it can truly walk the walk.
The attention to detail in things like the chassis braces and shift lights is impressive and the engine has real-world performance written all over it. Throw in the just-for-us suspension, and the Hyundai sports a few selling points the others don’t. Which, in this look-at-me market, can sometimes be enough.