by John Carey
SAY hi to high-performance from Hyundai. The new i30 N hot hatch is the debut model from the company's still-young sporty-car division. As with the very first cars from the Korean maker to reach Australia in the mid-1980s - introduced with lame "Say Hi to Hyundai” ads - the i30 N will be affordable. Unlike those early imports, this one is also a good car.
"The i30 N is a whole new era for Hyundai,” says Albert Biermann, the German-born executive leading the company's charge into performance cars.
Biermann worked at BMW for more than 30 years, beginning as a junior engineer and ending up as head of its M division. This is the part of the company that produces quick and desirable models such as the M3 and M5. But he left that all behind to join Hyundai in 2015.
"We changed many things to turn a nice i30 into an i30 N,” Biermann says.
They didn't waste money on brand-name bling, though. For example, the little front-driver doesn't have big brakes from Italian stopping specialists Brembo. Instead the N engineers found brakes from Hyundai's bigger and heavier models could stop the i30N just as well for less money.
The engine of the i30 N is a hot version of the turbocharged and direct fuel-injected 2.0-litre four used in a bunch of models from Hyundai and sister company Kia. The main change is a larger turbo.
In Performance Package form maximum power is 202kW, up from the 184kW of the standard i30 N. The two are mechanically identical; engine control software makes the difference.
At first the i30 N will come only with a Hyundai-made six-speed manual. But it has upgraded internal parts to deliver the "creamy” feel that boss Biermann wanted. N engineers also specified a stronger, more durable clutch.
Being manual-only will restrict the appeal and sales of the i30 N in Australia, but this situation will change in late 2019, when Hyundai will have an auto option ready. It's an eight-speed double-clutch job that should make Hyundai's hot hatch even quicker.
The N also gets different steering from the ordinary i30, with stronger, rack-mounted electric assistance. There are new front suspension strut knuckles, electronically controlled shock absorbers and lower ride. Reinforcing increases the stiffness of the standard i30 body and improved engine mounts are fitted.
The Performance Package also adds an active differential, bigger brakes, a muffler with a valve that can open to unleash some crackle and pop, and 19-inch wheels wearing P Zero tyres specifically developed for the car by Pirelli. The standard i30 N instead has 18-inch wheels wearing Michelin rubber.
Exterior alterations include new bumpers and sills, while the interior features blue stitching on the sports seats and a new steering wheel equipped with a pair of buttons to toggle through the i30 N's drive modes.
As Biermann says, a lot was changed to create the i30 N. But does it work?
Hyundai hired the Autodromo Vallelunga, north of Rome, to present the i30 N to critics from around the world.
Getting there meant driving the car on some really rough roads, every bit as ruined as that great attraction of Italy's capital, the Colosseum, if not quite so ancient.
For a hot hatch, the i30 N rides really smoothly, even on patched and potholed Italian bitumen. Its engine is a good thing, too.
There's plenty of turbo torque on tap for overtaking, with near-instant response when the accelerator is pressed at anything over 3000rpm, and a nice growl from 4750rpm to redline.
The manual shift is good enough to making changing gears a pleasure, not a chore. And the steering is direct and precise.
Around Vallelunga, the i30 N is even more impressive. The Performance Package works well on the road, mainly because its clever differential reduces that tugging feeling through the steering wheel when driving out of tight bends in lower gears.
On the track, the greater grip of the bigger tyres, the fade-free power of its brakes and the extra noise when the valved muffler is uncorked make the Hyundai a fast and fun thing to drive.
Production of the i30 N began in Hyundai's plant in the Czech Republic last month but it will be early 2018 before it goes on sale here. Hyundai Australia says the standard i30 N will cost less than $40,000 and that the desirable Performance Package will add less than $5000.
Compared to what Volkswagen charges for roughly equivalent versions of its respected Golf GTI, the i30 N's promised prices are deadly sharp. And it's anything but a dull drive.
HYUNDAI i30 N
PRICE $43,000 (est)
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 202kW/353Nm (Performance Package)
TRANSMISSION 6-speed man; FWD
THIRST 7.1L/100km (est)
0-100KM/H 6.1 secs