Let’s start with the engine. Both the i30N and i30N Performance use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine but in different states of tune, accounting for their differing power outputs of 247bhp and 271bhp. They have the same torque at 260lb ft and there’s an overboost function that increases this to 279lb ft for up to 18 seconds of full throttle, giving a bit more kick for overtaking.
In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to discern the Performance version’s extra poke on the road. This means that, while both models feel every bit as quick as – if not quicker than – warmer hatches such as the Focus ST, even the Performance model lacks the monster straight-line pace of more powerful rivals such as the 316bhp Civic Type R and 345bhp Focus RS.
Don’t take that to mean the i30N feels slow, mind; it doesn't. With a relatively crisp accelerator response for their turbocharged engines (the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R, for example, have more lag), plenty of guts from 1500rpm onwards and a willingness to rev out with gusto, both versions feel punchy and exciting.
They sound good, too, particularly the Performance model, with its standard switchable sports exhaust. Under acceleration, it growls menacingly like an angry mobster, and when you back off spits and bangs erupt from its twin rear tailpipes like reports of Tommy gun fire.
The six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no automatic option – is a sweet thing to use. It hasn’t quite the mechanical delectability of the Civic Type R’s, but it’s not far off. This, and the crisp clutch bite point and meaty, progressive brake pedal, add to the sense that the i30N is a properly sorted car.
And this is confirmed the minute you launch it in to a corner and feel the immediacy with which it reacts then settles mid-bend. The i30N has a heavily revised, quicker steering rack than the regular i30 and, if you keep the drive modes in the softest Comfort setting, it weights up nicely and telegraphs little sensations through the rim to give you a feel for the grip beneath you. It gets a little too heavy in the racier modes but, unlike many competitors, you can mix and match the settings to achieve the set-up you desire. For instance, the nicer Comfort steering can be combined with the fiercer accelerator response of the wildest N mode.
This includes tailoring the dampers’ stiffness as well. To keep everything tied down, the suspension has been lowered by up to 8mm and fitted with adaptive dampers. Even in the dampers' softest setting, body lean is kept to a minimum; they simply get tighter the stiffer you make them. And because the damping and spring rates are so well judged, the wheels can traverse awkward bumps without the i30N losing its composure. It’s a satisfying and confidence-inspiring car that’ll make driving enthusiasts smile.
The standard i30N gets 18in wheels shod with regular tyres, while the Performance model comes on 19in rims with grippier rubber specifically designed for the car. The more powerful car also gets an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which meters the power much more effectively to the front wheels, dragging you out of tight turns with less wheel scrabble.
Those looking for the ultimate hot hatch experience should still focus on the stunningly good Civic Type R, but the i30N still posses enough traction and grip that you’ll have to go very fast to reach its limits on the road. In some ways, this makes the standard i30N, with its slightly lower limits, more playful and fun.
With the dampers set at their softest, the ride is way better than the consistently bouncy Focus RS, if not quite as calm as the Civic Type R. This makes the i30N a hot hatch that you can use every day with ease.