02 HYUNDAI i30 FASTBACK N

Longer and lower version of hot i30 N hatch

BY•TIM ROBSON

THIS IS THE HYUNDAI i30 Fastback N. No, not the Hyundai i30 N Fastback. Yeah, I know, I know… Begat from the much-praised loins of the i30 N hatchback, the Fastback is all but identical, apart from the obvious differences from the C-pillar back.

THE FASTBACK FEELS MORE LITHE AND SINUOUS THAN THE HATCH IN THE ‘OLD’ TUNE

It’s an odd ’un in a few ways, the Fastback. First, it represents the one and only fastback - think coupe-esque four-door with a big hatch for a bootlid, basically - that will ever appear in the local i30 line-up, thanks to the expense for Hyundai of sourcing them out of its European plant.

Secondly, while you’d reasonably think that it would be a shoo-in for some sort of self-shifting transmission, no dice... it’s manual only. “The dual-clutch gearbox is coming this year,” smiles Hyundai through clenched teeth, but it knows it’s handing away plenty of sales by not offering a two-pedal version of either this or the i30 N hatch.

Speaking of, those two cars are all but the same in every area you’d care to name except, of course, in size. The Fastback is 120mm longer (it’s all in the rear overhang) and it’s 28mm lower in overall height. It also gets more luggage space - 436 litres with the seats up - and it’s 12kg heavier.

The front-end is a straight lift from the hatch, while the rear-end gets a bespoke bobtail spoiler for the tailgate, a triangular foggie and a diffuser to go with the N-esque bumper.

The 19-inch rims are the same, the bespoke Pirelli P Zero tyres, the rear multi-link/front MacPherson suspension layout with adaptive damping is the same, the electronically locking front diff is the same, and the 202kW, 353Nm turbocharged two-litre four-potter is the same.

The body-in-white has been tweaked, too, with stronger front shock mounts and 29 extra spot welds to give it a little bit of extra stiffness where it really counts. Front-to-rear weight balance is somewhat better in the Fastback thanks to that extra 12kg hanging over the rear end, too.

The suspension set-up has been refined again, too, with a softer front tune via longer, softer bump stops and small helper springs above the main spring at the front. The main springs themselves are slightly softer, and the front anti-roll bar is also slightly thinner.

A new tubular steel rear camber arm is designed to ensure the rear wheels hold their camber measurements more accurately under load, and both the suspension and steering electronics have been thoroughly made over.

Now, we’re not all that fussed on rear-seat room usually, but it’s worth mentioning that while toe room isn’t terrific, head room is surprisingly decent - at least without a sunroof fitted. As with the hatch, the Fastback has a removable brace across the cargo area, but the high suspension towers create a narrow aperture for the stowage of stuff like track-day wheels.

Dynamically, you’re not going to be surprised to read that the Fastback and the hatch are not a million miles apart in feel or pace… but there certainly are subtle differences between the two.

The new front-end rejig, too, means that the current hatch and the new Fastback will feel different underhand.

Different how? Well, the local suspension team felt that the front-end feel on the hatch - already softer than the original Albert Biermann-approved tune - could be made a little softer again to give it a little more bite. To me, ‘softer’ isn’t quite the right word… it feels more fluid and active over repeated small-frequency stuff, like it’s been polished with Mr Sheen.

The difference between the adaptive damper’s softest and firmest modes is still very discernible, and it’s still my preference to leave them in their softest setting via the unchanged N mode setting screen while turning everything (except that silly throttle blip management) up to 11.

The Fastback feels keener to load up its outside tyre than the hatch, but it doesn’t come at the expense of grip on the other side of the car. It’s also possible to feel the electromechanical diff doing its thang in longer sweepers, such is the level of interaction through your fingertips, while I reckon there’s a bit more brake feel there, too.

Overall, the Fastback feels more lithe and sinuous than the hatch in the ‘old’ tune, but there’s a playfulness to the current hatch that these front-end changes - as dialled and effective as they are - may have taken away. Sure, we all have to grow up at some point, but the larrikin spirit of the i30 N hatch is a large part of its appeal.

So what does the Fastback N bring to the party? More critical mass for the N brand, but it also opens up Hyundai’s hot front-driver to a wider, more discerning audience… and I bet they’re missing that dual-clutch ’box.