Head to Head: Hyundai i30 N vs Honda Civic Type R
The Hyundai i30 N is launching here in March aimed at the likes of Golf GTI at one end and Civic Type R at the other, we asked our man in Blighty to referee Hyundai i30 N Vs Honda Civic Type R.
2018 Honda Civic Type-R
PRICE $50,990+ORC WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.0L turbo 4cyl petrol POWER 228kW at 6500rpm TORQUE 400Nm at 2500-4500rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual DRIVE front-wheel drive DIMENSIONS 4557mm (L), 1877mm (W EXC MIRRORS), 2076mm (W INC MIRRORS), 1434mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE 11.78m TOWING WEIGHT N/A KERB WEIGHT 1380kg SEATS 4 SPARE No THIRST 6.4L/100km combined cycle FUEL petrol
2018 Hyundai i30 N with N Performance
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 DIMENSIONS 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
THE HOT HATCH has never been in better shape. VW, probably the company that did most to get the ball rolling back in the 1970s, is now offering eight separate souped-up Golfs in Australia. The presence of the two front-drive loonies on this page perhaps shows why. The GTI alone no longer covers all the bases. Hot hatches come in a wider palette of strengths and characters.
The i30 N’s looks and prices (still to be confirmed for Australia, but we believe it’ll be tight with the Golf GTI) and outputs go toe-to-toe with Golf GTIs. So we really need to get them on the same road at the same time to be sure of a meaningful comparison. And you can be sure we will. For our own amusement as much as yours.
But there’s another issue. Is it really worth making the step up from a GTI or i30 N to the apparently much lairier – in looks and performance – Honda Civic Type R? And these two vehicles we could get on the same road at the same time… albeit in Blighty. Australian engineers have tweaked the suspension and steering for Oz, so there will ultimately be some differences in ride and handling between my experience and the local drive.
The i30 N is Hyundai’s first attempt at a serious hot hatch. It’s a seriously committed one. They brought in well-known engineers. For the most part they developed the hot-up parts in-house rather than taking the easy route and conspicuously using off-the-shelf Brembo, Bilstein, or Recaro components.
The front suspension is lightened and strengthened versus the standard car – not just the springs and dampers, but the main chassis parts. There’s also an electronically controlled locking differential, with three driver-selectable strategies.
The dampers are adaptive with a choice of programs too. The ESP thresholds are adjustable. The throttle response and exhaust valve ditto. Steering weight. Downshift auto-blip for the manual gearbox. All those variables are open to independent tweakage via the menu system. This is a car for the geeks. Or is it just gimmicky?
No. The engine is heavily worked over. The brakes drastically emboldened. The wheel and tyre specs duly serious. A brace bar connects the rear suspension mounts across the inside of the boot. The front and rear aero carefully rearranged.
But it still has a strong visual resemblance to the standard i30. That means that it can slip along without onlookers automatically assuming you’re a bit of a nutter. It’s got the same visual civility as a Golf GTI.
The Civic Type R does not. It’s a bit of a track refugee, and looks it. Honda zeroed in on lap times. The bodywork of the standard Civic, already overwrought for many tastes, has abandoned all restraint, growing spoilers on its spoilers, vents in its vents and bulges on its bulges. It has three exhaust tips (though the third isn’t for power but civility, we’re told). Cooling, drag and downforce are obsessively optimised for the Nurburgring assault.
Underneath, the Type R gets a double-axis front strut system to cut torque steer and a limited-slip differential to boost traction out of bends. Its bonnet is aluminium for weight loss.
And under that bonnet snorts 228kW of near-mayhem. The Hyundai contents itself with 202kW. The Hyundai is also likely to be thousands of dollars cheaper when we get full Oz pricing.
So can they really be compared? One the apex of an ancient and epic road-sports dynasty, the Type R. The other a slightly lower-powered Hyundai Jonny-come-lately. But both of them are diligent approaches to hot-hatchery. They should provide proper fun, and we’ll be having some of it further down the review. But first, let’s see if they still work as hatchbacks.
What are the interiors like?
The i30 is basically a regular car. Normal enough dash, a set of sports seats that are comfy without being constricting. The dials are clear, the central screen pretty straightforward. The colours are subdued. It’s modern if generic.
Mind you the N version does have aluminium pedal covers and a new gearknob. It also has more switches on the steering wheel. These are they keys for the bewildering array of drive modes. The wheel itself has a contoured rim for better grip.
The Honda is altogether more memorable. The basic dash architecture, shared with the rest of the Civics, is a riot of zig-zags, clashing (OK, contrasting, to be kind) materials and mismatched typefaces and buttons. Then comes the Type R dress-up: red stripes, red seatbelts, red on the seats and doors and steering wheel for Pete’s sake. The Type R seats are hugely supportive in corners, but a bit hard and uncompromising for highways: no wriggle room.
The Honda’s bulky front seats eat into rear legroom too, but there’s still just enough. Both Hyundai and Honda have split-fold seats. The boots are similar, and pretty competitive. The Hyundai’s bracing bar does impinge on the space, spoiling it for wide boxy loads. But soft bags will squidge around it.
A bigger compromise comes in the Honda. Its lightweight back seat doesn’t have the structure for a central seatbelt or head restraint. This is just a four seater. Still, it’s overall more than 100kg lighter than the Hyundai, and in the end that always shows in the driving.
Both of them have decent infotainment and various apps on the screen. The Honda’s are a pain to use though, with baffling menus and an irritating touch-slider for volume, not a knob. But its sound quality is the better. Both have CarPlay and Android Auto, and inductive charging plates.
What are they like to drive?
The Honda is all about speed, grip, acceleration and braking. The Hyundai trades a little of that for a more colourful drive.
The Honda engine revs higher, and the acceleration isn’t short of vicious at its top end. On the road it’ll pass the legal limit in a scant 5.8 seconds, and at a track it’s still hauling even out of the fastest corners – if you’ve a long enough straight it’ll nudge 270km/h.
Turbo lag does blunt the affair below 4000rpm, but hey you’ve another 3000 to gorge on above that. On the way, the noise is purposeful and hard-edged, though not exactly tuned for music.
The Hyundai’s engine sounds more subdued if you switch out the rude exhaust flaps, but wake that system up and you’ll be taken back to the amusement of playground belching contests. Coming from the underbonnet, there’s a satisfying mix of induction and mechanical harmony.
As to sheer performance in the i30 N, you’re looking at 6.1 sec for the zero-to-century sprint. A deficit over the Honda, but not a crushing one. More than that number, what you notice is that it doesn’t chase the red-line with the same magical urgency as the Honda.
Both their gearlever throws are slick but slightly clunky. If you ever drove one of the naturally aspirated Honda Type Rs, then be aware this isn’t it. That light, zingy, mechanical precision has gone. I’d assume that’s because there’s so much torque to contend with here.
That torque, deployed out of a second-gear corner, is a stern task for the front tyres. But the Honda makes the better job of getting all that force through the tyres and actually pulling you onwards. The i30 doesn’t have so much traction, so it’ll either rein things back with the electronics, or if you’ve turned them off you’ll spin the tyres and run wide. Use your skill and judgment to ease the throttle on your own. It’s part of the engaging process.
The Hyundai fights you on bumpy roads, more than the Honda. There’s erxtra torque steer and the nose wriggles left and right on bumps even if you soften off the damper setting. Not to a killing extent though.
But understeer isn’t the only option the Hyundai gives you. If you pour it into a bend and whip your toe right off the throttle, it’ll tighten your line by tucking in the nose, or if you’re really going for it (and you’ve relaxed the stability control) the tail will swing out. Yup, old-style hot-hatch lift-off oversteer, but in a form that’s easy to manage and won’t bite your hands off. Proper backwoods hilarity is there for the taking.
Put the Civic on a track and it’ll do the same. But in all honesty on the road you’d be a bit of a nutter to be finding out. There’s so much grip, agility and resolve. This Type R is all about force and precision. It’s painful to be using that ghastly old motoring cliché about cornering on rails, but you and I both know what it means so let’s stick with it. Awesome brakes complete the package.
The Honda’s racy seats mount you lower in the car than the Hyundai’s do, and it’s a wider car. Those two things help the Honda’s grip and precision on a track, but on a tight road the narrower Hyundai gives itself more room to operate.
OK, now let’s press some buttons, cancelling the Hyundai’s ‘N’ mode and the Civic’s ‘+R’ setup. This softens off their suspensions and accelerator maps and lightens their steering. And… relax.
The old Civic R (codename FK2) was always rightly criticised for a jarring ride in any circumstance. The new one (FK8) is much more civilised, and even gets a mode called called ‘comfort’, which is named with actual justification. The Hyundai does a similar trick.
But neither the i30 N nor the Civic Type R is as civil on the cruise or in town as a GTI. Tyre noise and firm springs always make themselves felt.
What about the safety features?
Both of them are good at protecting you in a crash. The base i30 and Civic score five-stars in NCAP. The Honda has six airbags, being dual front, front chest-bags, and full length curtain bags. The Hyundai adds a driver knee bag. Both have a modern suite of emergency assist systems too. We’re taking front warning with autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Neither of them have lane departure warning or reversing cross-traffic assist. Both have reversing cameras, and in the Honda’s case that’s just as well given the small rear window and variety of other obstructions. LED headlamps are standard on both too.
So, which one wins and why?
The Honda is awesomely single-minded. There’s something very satisfying about owning a car that was developed by earnest engineers with such an earnest and narrow focus. Nor about being part of the whole Type R legend. Nor, most of all, about owning a car that’s so rabidly fast and hungry for corners.
But. But. It demands a lot of you. Can you stomach that much attention? Can you live with that over-wrought cabin design? The Hyundai is handsome, and people who know cars will respect it – even though Hyundai’s performance heritage is scant. But is doesn’t make you look like a tearaway.
Besides, on the road, there’s a lot to be said for a car that can provide real fun without needing berserk speeds to come alive. Especially on twisty but smooth roads, the Hyundai will put as big a smile on your face as the Honda does.
Another thing about the Honda. If sheer speed is what you crave, won’t you also be looking at the four-wheel drivers, the Focus RS and the Golf R? If the road’s in any way slippery, the Honda will see only no more than tails. For a front driver the Honda doles out extraordinary dry-weather track virtuosity. But that’s a narrow operating window.
The Hyundai is the closer of this pair to the mental hot-hatch template we all carry. It’s a sensible and discreet five-seater when it needs to be. But with a twinkle in its eye it’ll instantly turn into a hilarious, super-engaging back-road companion.