FIRST FANG Hyundai i30 N
I íM PULLED over on a crumbling road somewhere in outer Rome, Italy. Iím poking at a touchscreen and being asked how Iíd like my dampers. Normal, Sport, or Sport Plus? The bi-modal exhaust needs delegation, too. And then thereís a Ďcorner carvingí differential. Set it to Normal, or have it go for corners like a dog at unguarded snags?
As Iím thumbing away, switching the differential to aggro, exhaust to anti-social, and so on, it takes a while to sink in. The last time I did this was in a BMW M4. This car is not a BMW M4. When this arrives in Oz next year, it will cost less than $50K and wear a Hyundai badge.
Remembering that, tired Korean car jokes start to swirl around in my head. But Seoulís been producing solid cars for some time. After elbowing Japan out of Australiaís top-selling spots, it then dipped its toes in warm-hatch waters. Hyundai began with SR models, which have been good, before Kiaís ProCeed GT showed us what the country can really do.
The difference between these two, of course, was a European influence. The ProCeed GT was designed by Peter Schreyer, ex-Audi guru, and made in eastern Europe. It showed in its sophisticated suspension, dynamics, and style. The writing was on the Hyundai boardroom wall, then, when dreaming up how to build a bona-fide hot-hatch.
So three years ago it went head hunting and found Albert Biermann, four birthdays away from retirement at BMW M divisionís top spot. Rather than capture him with high-powered HR, it cajoled him with an opportunity to write history for Hyundai, and guide its leap from mass-market models to high-performance ones. Once convinced, it installed him at the top of Hyundaiís new ĎNí division, dropped Wolfsburgís evergreen Golf in his cross hairs and gave him the fourthgeneration i30.
He was gifted a team of enthusiastic engineers, some with little to no experience on performance cars, and a body shell. Like the ProCeed, itís built in Slovakia, has multi-link rear suspension, and visited Peter Schreyerís design studio during its inception.
Interestingly, it also has the same 2650mm wheelbase.
Biermann concedes the five-door shell is heavier than competitors, over half of it is made from high strength Hyundai steel, making the i30 N at least 50kg chubbier than a Golf GTI.
The upside to this is body stiffness. Its secret ingredient when combined with new electronically adjustable adaptive dampers. They were pinched from the recently revealed G70 Genesis and fitted with custom valving for the N. Developed by Mando, a company from Hyundaiís myriad subsidiaries, the dampers inject stiffness into the setup when needed and dial it back when not.
This allowed softer springs to be used, specifically 3.8kg/mm front items and 4.7kg/mm rear ones, while high body strength meant the dampers could focus less on body control and more on aiding the softer springs for compliance. As mentioned, they obey three driving modes, like everything else except the differential. But weíll get to these later.
At speed, the suspension allows enough travel to glide over bumps on undulating landscapes, but also enough control to keep an equal spread of weight on the tyres. And itíd want to. Biermannís boys and girls raided the parts bin for larger wheel bearings, installed new aluminium steering knuckles, and beefed up the front subframe.
Youíll find the result is the N relays enough about surfaces that itís informative, but not too much that it becomes tiring. The steering system, too, is the best Korean system weíve sampled. A higher-torque motor now latches onto the rack and is geared by a faster ratio. Itís accurate, well weighted, and linear.
It lacks the outright sharpness and feedback weíve come to expect of a Golf GTI or Focus ST. Oh, and the turning circleís big. However, the i30 N produces enough response, point, and grip from the front-axle to shade not only any Korean car, but put it right in the mix with the rivalís Iíve just mentioned. Besides
some tramlining and torque steer, the ride/handling balance on road is spot on. But whatís it like on a track?
Biermann insists laptimes were never the aim of this car. And thatís benefited its road abilities hugely.
But to be honest, it is not a record smasher... yet. The fact Biermann had to steal the brakes off a Genesis suggests itís been built to a price. And that steel-rich body would need a few extra kilowatts to secure an elite power-to-weight ratio.
He instead focused on making it last a track day.
Which is important when they saved its 2.0-litre turbo four from a life of school runs and Uber duties in a Sonata. On top of redesigning the front and rear turbo piping, the radiator system was repackaged and brake ducts feature in the front bumper.
The driverís meant to last the day, too. Despite almost 60 per cent of the i30 Nís weight on its nose, itís rock-solid under brakes and planted through 160km/h sweepers. With ESP half off, dampers set to their stiffest, engine at its burliest, and differentiallock in the most aggressive mode, youíll find a beast allergic to understeer, but not the full Ďcorner rascalí Hyundai endearingly calls it in the press release.
The stability systems work quietly in the background, keeping you straight if youíre too hot or on the brakes a second too long. If you want to feel weight transfer in the rear, soften off the dampers. But donít expect Megane RS or Focus ST liveliness.
Hyundaiís debuting the N with the standard car as well as a shamelessly named ĎPerformance Packí version. They wear N-specific bumpers, side sills, and a shared rear spoiler. Meanwhile curtains, splitters, and a smooth underside help it produce downforce. Weíll let you decide on the looks.
But the real theatrics are underneath, where the Sonata engineís given a new twin-scroll turbo system.
The result isnít dramatic on paper. Itís only 3kW and 3Nm healthier than a Sonata with 183kW/353Nm. But what the spec sheet doesnít reveal is an overboost function that lathers on another 25Nm for seven seconds during full throttle. Thatís basically all the time. Peak twist arrives as soon as 1400rpm, and then the hairy-chested overboost appears at 1700.
As a result itís happy to stay in higher gears, pulling hard from low until it starts gasping at its 6000rpm power peak.
Handling the grunt is a six-speed manual, before a wet dual-clutcher, which is currently in the works, arrives in 2019. Beefed up synchros and a stronger clutch help it cope, while a fuel-cut function means it will happily bounce off its 6700rpm redline.
Performance Pack cars score a 202kW engine tune, produced at the same rpm, slashing the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.4sec to a launch-control assisted 6.1sec.
For reference, VWís Golf GTI Performance turns 180kW/380Nm into a 6.2sec sprint.
While not the slickest unit around, the transmission shifts accurately with a chunky, solid feel. And the revmatch system is flawless, turning me from a clumsy
BODY 5-door, 5-seat hatch DRIVE front-wheel ENGINE 1998cc 4-cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 86.0 x 86.0mm COMPRESSION 9.5:1 POWER 202kW @ 6000rpm TORQUE 353Nm @ 1450-4700rpm (378Nm with overboost) POWER/WEIGHT 144kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1429kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION (R) multi-link, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4335mm/ 1795mm / 1451mm WHEELBASE 2650mm TRACKS 1556mm/1564mm (f/r) STEERING electrically assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 345mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 314mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 19 x 8.0-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 235/35 R19 (f/r) TYRE Pirelli P-Zero PRICE $43,900 (estimated) PROS Grunt; character; practicality CONS No autoÖ yet; steering refinement STAR RATING 11113
Aussie on the wrong side of the car into a heel-and-toe hero. If you want, you can switch it off. You can also mess with other things like the torque map, rev-match system and steering system through the ĎNí button on the steering wheel. Two prods will allow you to customise all features to your liking, just like an M3. I preferred the dampers in their softest setting, and all else in their sharpest. Or, if youíre lazy, one press will switch everything to kill.
You can toggle through regular Eco, Sport, and Normal drive modes. Thereís no one-touch for the exhaust like there is for the rev-matching system. But the noise is spot-on when set to Ďdisturb the peaceí.
And not just for a Hyundai. A sound-tube plumbs rort from the engine bay into the cabin, while a bi-modal exhaust adds true duality to the experience.
Crackle and pops are part of the package. But only Performance cars score Sport-plus, which unleashes bangs on the overrun that could wake Julius Caesar.
Performance Pack variants also score an in-housedeveloped front LSD. Like VWís GTI Performance, it uses an electronically controlled clutch-pack to vary lock. Matched to Pirelli rubber (10mm wider than standard at 235/35) itís claimed to corner 5 per cent faster than the standard car. Yes, the Performance Pack launches out of corners cleaner and feels sharper on its 19s and, besides a little steering numbness under full power, torque steer is almost banished. Yet, the strut-front suspension still tramlines.
Inside, both carís interiors feel solid. Both the touch screen and LCD dash displays are clear and concise. The touch points are spoton for placement, access, and tactility. Search hard enough, and youíll find a rough edge or two on hidden plastics. However, thatís picking nits when itís hush enough inside to chat at 160km/h on the autostrada. Iíd appreciate more seat bolster for track stuff, but you might be able to fix that yourself with future optional extras.
Itís no Civic Type R basher. But dynamically the i30 N ticks the box. Despite the swathes of grip and composure, it doesnít feel clinical. It feels fun.
Add in a raucous, gutsy engine and close-to-faultless gearbox, and the N stacks up as something youíd look forward to taking for a blat on a Sunday morning. And cop the odd track day with no fuss. Of course, the zestier outputs, bigger brakes, and tricky diff in the Performance Pack make it the real pick. The latter two features add in an extra layer of control and finesse when youíre really hooking in.
Thereís no automatic until 2019, however, the flipside is, VW doesnít currently offer a manual Golf GTI Performance in Oz. If Hyundai can price the i30 N south enough of the GTI, especially in Performance guise, we might have a genuine winner on our hands.
As I trundle along the roads around Rome, itís well and truly sunk in by now. This is a Hyundai, a first hothatch effort. And unlike the roads which it rolls on, itís resolved, refined, and ready to take on the best. M