Hyundai hatch best of both worlds

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On the move, and even in its most comfortable settings, the N does feel much harder and far more on edge than any regular i30. Photo: Hyundai

Were cars able to talk, what language would the i30 N speak in?

It doesn't seem such a crazy question once you've driven Hyundai's first seriously hot hatch. Clearly Korean by badge and elemental design, the N is much less so by dynamic expression.

There's a patently European feel to how it delivers the goods; if you had to drill down all the more, you'd say it had some of the characteristics you expect of cars from one country in particular.

That's not surprising. N is shorthand for two centres of excellence half a world apart. Design of the i30 N fell to Hyundai's Namyang research and development facility in South Korea. Fettling occurred at another factory-operated skunkworks at the place renowned as the sign-off test for virtually all the world's performance cars, the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe circuit in Germany.

The latter was nicely located for the dynamic development team members _ many being native to this area. They already knew the place when working alongside their team leader, back in the days when he headed a better-known operation. The one running under (would you believe) the BMW M mantle.
Albert Biermann's single-letter shift from BMW to a Korean make with no performance car history sent seismic waves through the industry.

His achievements before the move then included one of the world's most successful and famous tin-top race cars, the E30 M3, the second-generation of the X5 and the cult classic 1 Series M Coupe, which emerged three years after he took over the M Division in 2008.

Now, the German's CV has new, just as impressive achievements. This raced-up i30 is one. Kia's extraordinary Stinger is another.

How many more performance vehicles Kia has to come is not known; for Hyundai's part, it has been made clear that the N family will broaden considerably over time.

As things stand, we're still awaiting the i30 N being the first here. Yes, the car on test was driven on New Zealand roads. But it is still undergoing evaluation for sale and at time of writing the i30 N was still officially listed as `coming soon' rather than actually here.

It'll be niche, of course, with sales potential limited through only coming with a manual transmission, at least at first.

Still, risk be blowed _ of course they should sell it. It's a stunning drive.

Don't sweat that the stated 0-100kmh time of 6.1 seconds is not best in class. The real attraction from this turbo two-litre is the torque; among all relevant local market rivals, just the Honda Civic R and Renault Megane RS deliver more. And it revs like there is no tomorrow all the way to its 6700rpm redline.

The engine is no wallflower in respect to its soundtrack, either. Kicking into life with barking feistiness then settling into a burbling idle, it lends no chance of a quiet getaway. And that's just in the standard driving mode. Go into the extreme setting and it entertains with evil pops and crackles on the overrun.

Assuming Hyundai New Zealand sticks to a previously stated plan to deliver just the highest-end format to market, you can expect the N to provide more standard equipment than its competitors.

This isn't just a case of finding some flash wheels, a few stickers and delivering it in a bespoke hero colour (the same base hue featuring on the works Hyundai WRC rally car).

A dual-mode electronically-actuated mechanical differential is a decent treat. Beyond that is a whole lot more serious top-shelf stuff: a high-capacity rack-mounted steering motor; an active and electronically-enhanced exhaust system; switchable rev-matching function, short-stroke clutch; active aerodynamics and brake cooling ducts.

There's also a lowered front and multi-link rear suspension system with adaptive dampers, and athletic 345mm front and 314mm rear disc rotors clamped by meaty performance calipers, painted red just as the WRC cars' are. The 19-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in bespoke (hence the HN designation) Pirelli P Zero tyres.

There's facility to personalise the engine, rev-matching, launch control, suspension, steering, differential, stability control and exhaust sound settings through a total of 1944 possible combinations.

Arguably, despite aero adornments, lowered ride and those large rims, the i30 N still looks a little conservative. But in some respects it's an advantage to have Q-ship anonymity in a modern hot hatch. The interior could also do with a bit more work. Sports seats sensational, by the way _ and a chunkier steering wheel aside, there's not a massive amount of change.

On the move, and even in its most comfortable settings, the N does feel much harder and far more on edge than any regular i30. Turn every dial to extreme and, yes, the brand's point about those settings being best reserved for race track days seems warranted.

Suspension yield minimises to the point of lumpiness, the engine sounds louder and feels just that little bit more boisterous and throttle and brake sensitivity increases. If passengers complain, try re-setting the dampers in their softest setting and leave all else in their sharpest. If they still say it's too feral? Well, best invite them to walk. Because, c'mon, it's a hot hatch, right?

But it's not ruinously flavoured. Biermann's blokes have got everything about just right and nailed the dynamic element particularly well. It delivers an impressive level precision and intuitiveness that is well above the norm. The response to all your inputs is just so perfect you feel you can place it safely and precisely and revel in the experience. Hyundai builds good cars, no question, but this one _ well, in my experience, they've never previously had anything like it.

Hyundai hatch best of both worlds
At a Glance


Overall: *****
Design and styling: ****+
Interior: ****
Performance: *****
Ride and handling: ****+
Safety: *****
Environmental: ***+

For: Massively enjoyable to drive, well-kitted, snappy soundtrack
Against: Could look a bit racier inside and out, no DSG alternate to manual
Verdict: Incredibly impressive first foray into hallowed territory

Price: TBA
Engine: 1998cc turbo petrol four-cylinder, maximum power 202kW@6000rpm, 353Nm@1450-4700rpm (378Nm@1750-4200rpm overboost)
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, TCS, EBD, BA
Safety: Five-star NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 235/35 R19 tyres
Fuel and economy: 8.0 litres per 100km on standard cycle, capacity 50 litres
Emissions: CO2 186g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions (mm): Length 4335, width 1795, height 1447