Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Let’s start with the engine. The i30N and i30N Performance use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine but in different states of tune: 247bhp and 271bhp respectively. Both have the same amount of maximum torque (or low-rev muscle), though, and there's an overboost function to increase it for up to 18sec for a bit more kick when overtaking.
It’s worth noting, however, that while the i30N hatchback is available in both forms, the sleeker Fastback comes as the Performance only, and you’d be hard-pressed to discern the Performance’s extra poke on the road.
While both models feel every bit as quick as the likes of the Ford Focus ST, even the Performance model falls short of matching the monster straight-line pace of more powerful rivals such as the 316bhp Honda Civic Type R. Don’t take that to mean the i30N feels sluggish, though – it really doesn't. In fact, the I30N beats the Type R for crispness of accelerator response, and with plenty of oomph from 1500rpm and a willingness to rev to the limit sweetly and freely, both versions feel punchy and exciting.
They sound good, too, particularly the Performance model, with its standard switchable sports exhaust. It growls menacingly like an angry mobster when you accelerate hard, and the spits and bangs that erupt from its twin rear tailpipes when you back off are enough to prompt reports of machine gun fire.
The six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no automatic option – is a sweet thing to use, too. It doesn't have quite the mechanical immediacy of the Civic Type R’s, but it’s slicker than the manual 'box in the Renault Megane RS. This, plus the crisp clutch bite point and the 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 into a corner and feel how quickly it reacts to your steering inputs. Even with the N’s switchable drive modes in the softest Comfort setting, the steering weights up nicely and telegraphs little sensations through the rim that give you a real feel for how much grip the car has on the Tarmac. True, it gets a little too heavy in the racier modes but, unlike many rivals (including the Civic Type R), you can mix and match the settings to achieve the set-up you desire. For instance, 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 has been lowered by up to 8mm and fitted with adaptive dampers whose firmness can also be tailored in the drive modes. If that sounds like a pretty racey set-up, that’s because it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s uncivilised. In fact, with the latest i30 N hatchback adopting a suspension tune that’s closer to the softer setup previously reserved for the Fastback version, the i30N feels perfectly at one with the road and can traverse awkward mid-corner bumps without losing its composure. Granted, it’s still not quite as calm as a Civic Type R, but it’s more pliant than a Renault Megane RS.
The standard i30N gets 18in wheels shod with regular tyres, while the Performance model has 19in rims with grippier rubber that was specifically designed for the car. The more powerful model also gets an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which 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.
Of course, those looking for the ultimate hot hatch experience will still find more to like about the stunningly good Civic Type R, but the i30N Performance possesses so much traction and grip that you’ll have to try very hard to reach its limits on the road. In some ways, though, the slightly lower limits of the standard i30N make it even more playful and fun.
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