What Car? says...
The Hyundai i30 N was Hyundai's first crack at building a proper hot hatch so it's had to work hard to earn the respect of its peers.
And that's good news for potential buyers, because it means that to make the i30 N competitive, the South Korean car maker has done far more than simply take a regular Hyundai i30 and add extra exhaust pipes, a set of fatter bumpers and a tuned engine.
On top of boosted power and improved aerodynamics, the i30 N has electronically controlled suspension (to improve handling), launch control (for the fastest possible getaways), automatic rev-matching (for smoother gearshifts), an overboost function (to help with overtaking) and a lap timer (for, well, timing laps).
Better still, the i30 N – which is available as a hatchback or Fastback (saloon) – was upgraded in 2021. Modifications to its nose improved its aerodynamics and cooling, and power was increased. The previous entry-level engine was dropped, leaving only the N Performance, which gains 5bhp for 276bhp in all. All good news for hot hatch fans.
So, has Hyundai done enough to hold its head up high among the most entertaining hot hatches out there – including the Audi RS3, the Ford Focus ST, the Honda Civic Type R, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and the VW Golf GTI? That's what this review will tell you.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Let’s start with the engine. The Hyundai i30 N has a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 276bhp and plenty of torque (or low-rev muscle) to pull you up hills and through bends. There's also an overboost function to increase performance for up to 20 seconds for a bit more kick when overtaking.
The result, with launch control engaged, is a car that can sprint from 0-62mph faster than both the Focus ST and the Golf GTI – 5.4 seconds compared with 5.7-5.8 seconds and 6.2 seconds respectively.
True, very hot hatches like the Audi RS3 and the Mercedes-AMG A45 S Plus will get to 62mph in less than four seconds, but they cost almost double the price and it’s not like the i30 N feels slow. Oh no, it feels very eager indeed, with a crisp accelerator response, plenty of oomph from 1500rpm and a willingness to rev to the limit sweetly and freely.
It sounds purposeful, too, especially when the switchable sports exhaust is set to its more extreme Sport or Sport+ mode. It growls menacingly like an angry mobster when you accelerate hard, then when you back off, spits and bangs erupt from its twin rear tailpipes like machine gun fire.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a sweet thing to use. It doesn’t quite have the mechanical immediacy of the Honda Civic Type R’s, but the bite point is crisp and it feels slicker than the Focus ST’s as you click into each gear.
There’s also the option of an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic which generally works really well, but is not perfect. You see, it occasionally hesitates to change down a gear when you stamp on the accelerator, and combined with the time it can take the turbo to build up power if you catch it off guard, it can be a bit frustrating. Fortunately, you can use it in manual mode with shift pedals behind the steering wheel. When you do, it flicks through the gears quickly.
No matter whether you go for the manual or auto, every i30 N comes with a progressive-feeling brake pedal and plenty of stopping force, adding to the sense that the i30 N is a properly sorted car. That's confirmed the minute you launch it into a corner and feel how quickly it reacts to your steering inputs.
Even with the switchable drive modes in the softest Comfort setting, the steering weights up nicely and gives you a fantastic sense of how much grip the car has on the tarmac. It gets a little too heavy in the racier modes, but you can mix and match the settings to achieve the set-up you desire. For example, the sweeter Comfort steering setting can be matched with the fierce accelerator response of the wildest N mode.
To keep everything tied down, the N's suspension is up to 8mm lower than that of regular i30's, and is fitted with adaptive dampers which are adjustable for firmness using the drive modes.
If that sounds like a pretty racy set-up, it is – but that doesn’t mean it’s uncivilised. It feels perfectly at one with the road and can traverse awkward mid-corner bumps without losing its composure.
The i30N wears lightweight 19in wheels shod with tyres specifically designed for the car, and they offer a prodigious amount of grip to keep you stuck to the bends. There’s also a standard electronically controlled limited-slip differential (LSD) like you’ll find in a Golf GTI. The LSD meters the power more effectively to the front wheels to drag you out of tight turns with a minimum of wheel scrabble – an effect that is especially noticeable in wet conditions.
Those looking for the ultimate hot hatch will find more to like about the grin-inducing and stunningly good Civic Type R, but the i30 N possesses so much traction and grip that you’ll have to try very hard to reach its limits on the road.
Strengths Quick in a straight line; lots of grip through corners; great sense of theatre from exhaust
Weaknesses Automatic gearbox can be slow; steering is a bit heavy in the sportiest modes
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Hyundai i30 N follows the regular i30 format inside, with little in the way of sporty visual fanfare. So, while the sports seats are bespoke, it doesn’t look particularly special.
In fairness, it’s the same story with the Focus ST’s interior, and neither can match the drama of the Civic Type R’s interior. While the i30 N feels just as well made as the Type R, it’s no match for the BMW M135i or the Mercedes-AMG A35.
Better news is that the i30 N’s driving position is terrific, with sports seats that grip you securely around the midriff and shoulders. They’re electrically operated, with lumbar support among the list of adjustments possible. Together with well-positioned pedals and plenty of height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, you’ll quickly feel right at home.
You get plenty of physical buttons and switches easily within reach, and even the 10.25in touchscreen infotainment system has touch-sensitive shortcut buttons that work well.
The system itself is simple to use and reacts quickly to your prods as you navigate its menus. It gets plenty of standard features, too, including sat-nav, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. There's also online connectivity for live traffic, weather and speed camera reports.
There are some specific additions to the N models that will appeal to the PlayStation generation. A performance display lets you keep tabs on the engine’s power and torque output, and if you venture on to a track, you can even choose to be informed how much G-force you’re pulling through corners.
Strengths Comfortable driving position; great sports seats
Weaknesses Interior doesn’t feel special
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even hot-hatch fans who are tall should be able to get comfortable in the front of the Hyundai i30 N, thanks to plenty of head and leg room.
However, there isn't a vast amount of space inside for rear-seat passengers. Head room in the back isn’t a problem, but knee room is much tighter than in the Focus ST. It is far more accommodating than the smaller Hyundai i20 N though, and also the Abarth 595 (which has limited head room and no rear doors).
The i30 N has a 381-litre boot, which is slightly larger than the one you’ll find in the Focus ST (although you can get a more practical Focus ST estate car). The i30 N gives you enough space for a couple of large suitcases without resorting to dropping the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats.
Be aware that there’s a step in the floor when you fold them down, and a rear suspension strut brace runs widthways across the floor and gets in the way. If you need a bit more space, the Fastback (saloon) version has a larger boot.
Strengths Decent amount of space in the front; rear doors make access easier
Weaknesses Tight rear knee room
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Hyundai i30 N looks good value compared with all its rivals. Indeed, it’ll cost you slightly less as a cash purchase than the Focus ST and much less than the Audi RS3, the Mercedes-AMG A35 and A45 S, the VW Golf GTI or the Honda Civic Type R. Better still, it should also hold its value fairly well, depreciating at around the same rate as the Focus ST and Golf GTI.
There’s only one i30 N trim level but it comes with plenty of standard equipment, including automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a wireless charging pad, 19in alloy wheels and other kit.
On top of that, you get plenty of standard safety features, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assist, lane-follow assist, blind-spot monitoring and automatic speed-limit recognition. The regular i30 was awarded five stars out of five for safety when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2017.
Official fuel economy comes up a little short compared with the Golf GTI, but the figures of 35.3mpg for the manual and 33.6mpg for the auto are better than or the same as the other rivals. Relatively high CO2 emissions will make this an expensive company car choice, but that’s true of all hot hatches, unless you’re considering a plug-in hybrid such as the Cupra Leon or the Skoda Octavia vRS.
In terms of reliability, Hyundai as a brand claimed seventh position out of the 32 manufacturers in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey. Hyundai offers a generous five-year/unlimited-mileage standard warranty.
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Strengths Lots of standard equipment; great value price tag; Hyundai’s reliability record
Weaknesses High CO2 rating; less fuel efficient than a Golf GTI
With a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the i30 N puts 276bhp at the mercy of your right foot. The result is pretty potent and the i30 N certainly feels quick.