2018 Hyundai i30 N Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Hyundai i30 N Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Hyundai’s first serious attempt at a hot hatch has turned out a cracker, with real character and a feeling of solid enthusiast engineering.
2018 Hyundai i30 N with N Performance (European spec)
PRICE $NA + orc WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.0l turbo 4cyl petrol POWER 202kW at 6000rpm TORQUE 353Nm at 1500-4700rpm; 378Nm with overboost TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual DRIVE front-wheel drive BODY 4335mm (l); 1795mm (w exc mirrors); n/a (w inc mirrors); 1447mm (h) TURNING CIRCLE 11.6m TOWING WEIGHT 1600kg (braked), 700kg (unbraked) KERB WEIGHT 1490kg SEATS 5 FUEL TANK 55 litres SPARE Space saver THIRST 7.1 l/100km combined cycle FUEL Petrol
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IF YOU CAN make a great eggs benedict, then I’d be confident you wouldn’t make a hash of boiled egg and soldiers. Hyundai has launched a hot hatch version of the i30, called the i30 N. Like eggs benedict, hot hatches are hard to do well. If the i30 N comes good out of the kitchen, it’ll boost everyones’ confidence in the soft-boiled i30s.
So Hyundai is launching against some of the best-established hot-hatches, from the Golf GTI to the brilliant Civic Type R. Hot hatchery is about culture as well as competence, and Hyundai has no heritage or image. So the i30 N isn’t going to sell many copies. It’s a halo car.
In Europe, its position is interesting. It costs as much as the Golf GTI, but has more power, but it’s less money and power than the Civic Type R. Yet when you look at the level of detail engineering, it’s obvious they were aiming for a Civic-like experience.
It’s a lot, lot more than a power’n’stickers job. Serious work has gone on.
What is the Hyundai i30 N?
The engine is an existing Hyundai-Kia 2.0-litre unit but diligent internal modding lifts the power to 184kW as standard, with an extra N Performance package version that runs 202kW, and 378Nm torque in overboost. Overboost means pretty well all the time, because it lasts 18 seconds, and when do you ever keep the throttle of a fast car pinned to the floor for 18 seconds? OK, there’s also an exhaust temperature restriction, so on a track day in summer the period might be shorter.
The N Performance pack (let’s just say NP) adds both an electronic sound generator to amp-up the better notes of the engine’s voice. More important, also an exhaust with user-variable silencer-valve settings: quiet, fun if mildly anti-social, and just plain naughty.
The base body shell has been stiffened, and in the case of the NP version even gets a removable bracing bar low down behind the rear seats. That all helps the suspension operate with more precision.
The suspension itself is lowered and given stiffer springs and dampers by far than the standard i30. That’s just the start. A big-scale re-engineering of the front axle takes weight off and adds lateral stiffness for better steering precision. The dampers are adaptive. High-performance brakes that are claimed to be durable enough for track days. The NP is lowered again and gets 19-inch wheels instead of 18s, fitted with yet bigger brakes than the ‘regular’ i30 N.
Even more serious, the NP has a electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential, and the programming of that diff can be altered through the driving menus. If it’s more relaxed you get lighter steering, but you can wind up the aggression to keep the inner wheel pulling hard through tight bends.
Recognise it by the front splitter and rear spoiler, which both combat lift, and have red lines on them because we all know red lines are worth half a second a lap. A bigger-mouthed front end adds to the drama. Otherwise though, it’s not a very aggressive car on the outside. More a brother to the Golf GTI than a member of the Civic Type R fancy-dress club.
What’s the interior like?
It’s vital that a good drivers’ car meets your body in the right way. The i30 N does. The seat drops low to the floor, and the steering wheel is widely adjustable, the pedals grippy and well-placed. The seat itself is OK but a bit flat in the cushion.
Against the base i30s, the N has a special instrument cluster. That includes a shift-up lights, 280km/h speedo, and a rev counter whose yellow and red lines are LEDs which change according to engine oil temperature. Yes, like a BMW M car. No coincidence, probably, as the head of performance cars at Hyundai/Kia is Albert Biermann, who used to be chief of BMW M.
Extra buttonry festoons the steering wheel, because – again like a BMW M car – there are mode choices. Many mode choices. On the left spoke is one that cycles through normal, sport and eco. They alter engine throttle response, sound, downshift rev matching, e-diff setting, damping programme, and steering weight.
On the right spoke resides a similar button marked with a chequered flag. Those are the N modes. Hit that and you get every one of the above settings taken a stage harder, plus a looser ESP setting.
But even that isn’t all. Hit the flag button again and you’re in a custom mode. This one stores whatever combo you like from among the powertrain and suspension parameters. I absolutely guarantee you won’t try everything because there are such a ridiculous number of possibilities – 1944 combinations. But with some educated guessing it is possible to get something that suits your mood and roads. I like softish damping on lumpy roads, and I don’t want over-sharp throttle either, but I do want sporty sounds and the tighter diff programme and looser ESP.
Like any other Hyundai or Kia, the infotainment is reasonably comprehensive and easily mastered, if not exactly delicious in its graphics. For the N, they’ve added any number of real-time performance readouts. I didn’t use them. Prefer to watch the road.
You can use CarPlay or Auto with you Apple or Android device, and there’s an inductive charging pad. Nothing special about the stereo. It’s only got six speakers and has to work hard above the general kerfuffle this car kicks up.
The visuals are livened up by striped seats, alloy pedals, a smart gear knob, and that steering wheel. But look past them and the rest of the trim materials are neatly enough constructed, but their design is a bit dull and it’s all a sea of black plastic – see the door casings especially. A Golf GTI is better trimmed.
Back seat room is a bit less than a normal i30 because the seats are bulkier. Same with the boot – that bracing bar takes up a bit of space.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s up for a scrap with any road you throw it at. It claws its way along, bouncing and tugging and gripping, mounting strong forces in every direction, and usually several directions at once.
The engine uses its assets well. Forward surge swells as the revs rise, so you’re encouraged to be busy with the gearshift and keep it in a low ratio, with the needle swinging to the top of the dial. it might be fairly subdued if you switch it to the quieter mode, but when the exhaust is opened it’s one of the best sounding hot-hatch engines around.
It’s also seriously quick. Quick for a hot-hatch anyway. Trouble is there are now hatches – the Civic Type R for one – that challenge some mid-range sports cars for riotous poke. But honestly the Hyundai is plenty fast enough for pretty well any bit of road driving.
I say that because there’s a vivid connection between the engine, the chassis and the driver. It’s not one of those cars that tries to disguise its speed. The steering wheel tugs in your hands, the nose bounces from side to side a bit as you nail it down a bumpy road. It’s a bombardment.
The clever differential stops the inside wheel wasting power and is an asset in the dry, pulling you towards the apex. But as it transfers power to the outside, understeer under big power out of tight wet corners is always on the cards. In fact on a slippery or wet surface (or even just when the bitumen is cold) you’ll get straight-line wheelspin in second gear when the boost arrives.
But really it’s a car that gives you lots of options in a corner. If you lift off, the back end will nudge wide. In fact the ESP in its looser mode will let things get pretty lairy. It lets you really get to work with the car’s quick-witted and precise reactions. There’s a full-off ESP mode beyond that, but you’d need to be a bit of a loony to choose that on a road.
I used the softest damper setting as I was on some pretty lumpy roads. When it’s smoother, the sharper dampers make things even tauter. The N doesn’t roll much, even as the bog Pirelli P Zeros cling like crazy. That said, they are a track-biased tyre and they don’t like cold or greasy roads.
I suspect softer suspension might have improved the traction, as this is a firm car. Not uncomfortable, but certainly very taut even in the softest damper mode. Use the Sport + mode on a lumpy rural road and you’ll just be hopping along with the tyres making only occasional acquaintance with the surface.
The brakes never give pause for doubt. It’s a nice firm progressive pedal, and it’s a good pivot for heel-and-toe shifts. So I turned off the rev-matching. Driving a car with a manual gearbox is a real joy, and I wasn’t about to reduce my part in the procedure.
And yes, that lever itself is another asset. The shifts are short and precise. Among front-drive cars, only a Honda Type R is memorably better. And that’s not the current Civic Type R (which also has a robust shift, presumably to handle the torque) but the old naturally aspirated Civics and Integras.
What about safety features?
The i30 base model is a performer scorer in ANCAP tests, scoring 14.80 for the frontal impact tests and a clean 16 for the side pole test, both out of a maximum of 16. Seven airbags are: dual frontal, side chest-bags in front seats, and side curtain head-bags for front and rear, plus a driver knee-bag.
Support systems include front warning with autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning and lane keeping assist.
For vision, there’s a rear camera for low-speed manoeuvring. For big speeds at night, you’ll be well off with the standard LED headlamps.
In Europe as in Oz, the regular i30 can be had with rear cross-traffic warning and blind-spot warning. They’re not on the list for the N.
So, what do we think?
The i30 N demands you drive it. You can spend ages setting it up to suit you, and then you’ve got a manual transmission, busy engine and lively attention-grabbing chassis to keep you on your game. Obviously, if you want a quick but refined and calm fast-car experience, look elsewhere.