It’s fair to say that when Hyundai’s i30N hot hatchback was launched last year, it came as a bit of a shock to the car world. Seemingly out of nowhere, a relatively fringe manufacturer produced a car that gave so many of the established hot hatch manufacturers a real run for their money.
Now with the hatchback segment thoroughly shaken up, Hyundai are back with the same basic ingredients, this time in a sleek coupe body. The formula for the new i30 Fastback N is tried and tested, and follows in the steps of cars like the BMW 2 Series. You take an existing hatchback, give it a sleek new side profile, and you’re left with a small, practical coupe.
In this case the result is a good looking 5 door coupe, with a familiar chiseled front end straight off the hot hatch that was so popular last year, and a new rear that feels like a good translation of the original car’s design, with features like the big diffuser and twin exhausts carried across.
Hyundai may be newcomers to the performance car sector, but they’ve certainly been making up for lost time. In motorsport, they’ve taken second place in the World Rally Championship for the last three years running, and they’ve just won the driver and team titles in the World Touring Car Championships – a fact that’s made all the more impressive when you realise that they only created their motorsport division in 2013. From a design and development point of view, they’ve set up a new test centre at the Nurburgring in Germany (one of the reasons an “N” adorns their performance models) as well as hiring the former head of BMW’s M-Division, Albert Biermann. All of this can only mean one thing. This is not just an exercise in badge branding for Hyundai. They are serious about breaking into the performance car world.
With all that in mind, it’s not so surprising that the i30 Fastback N drives well. It’s no slouch, particularly for the sub £30k market it sits in (albeit with only £5 to spare). There are two power options available, but the UK only gets the ultimate N Performance version with 275hp, providing a 0 – 62 time of 6.1 seconds. In a world of sub 5-second AWD super hot hatch cars, it’s very easy to disregard that as slow, but as with all things, it’s relative. Hyundai has to be applauded for being less preoccupied with making the N a Top Trumps winner and focusing more on making the overall package as appealing as possible in its price range. It’s brilliantly balanced, fantastically well equipped and most importantly – fun.
It can’t be overstated just how important that is for a car of this type, but it’s so often overlooked in the search for increasingly impressive numbers. Of course, it’s not an exact science, there’s no “grin measurement scale”, and it’s ultimately subjective. But imagine if you will, meandering down a beautiful winding (closed) coastal road, grabbing second gear with the slick 6 speed manual gearbox on approach to a hairpin bend, turning in to clip the apex, and accelerating away whilst the exhaust fizzes behind you, cracking on every up shift. For any petrol head, that has to be enjoyable.
There are five driver modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom, with each of the first four modes progressively sharpening up the engine response, steering, and dampers, as well as backing off the safety aids to give the driver more control. N Custom lets you programme in bespoke settings and provides an astonishing 1,600 different combinations. That might sound like a bit of a gimmick, but it’s genuinely useful. For example, we drove the car in full Nurburgring-munching “N” mode, but to avoid too much camera wobble whilst filming, we had the suspension in its softest setting. All this can be done literally in seconds from the steering wheel and touchscreen.
The two N modes are also where you can take advantage of the “emotionally enhanced” exhaust, as Hyundai calls it. Put simply, in the more restrained drive modes, the car is throaty, but still refined. “N” and “N custom” changes all that. Suddenly it’s bellowing on acceleration, popping on up-shifts, and burbling on overrun. The fact it can have this sudden Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation mean that of course it’s all mapped into the engine, and is there for artificial. But that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
The interior is carried across from the Hatchback with only some red trim and different coloured mode buttons on the steering wheel to distinguish this from the Hatchback. That is until you look up to the rear view mirror and notice the not-so-good rear visibility. A price you have to pay for that swooping rear end. It feels solid and well put together, with nice materials and switchgear. A huge departure from Hyundai of old. The boot is surprisingly large for this segment, with 436 litres of space, or 1,337 litres if you drop the seats. Slightly more, in fact, than the i30N Hatchback which certainly raised a few eyebrows within the team.
In almost every other respect, the Fastback is identical to the Hatchback, as is to be expected. Some may see the lack of distinguishing features as a disadvantage, but there was a whole lot to like about the original car, so why change it? As an overall car, with everything considered, both the i30 N models make a real case for themselves, whilst having slightly different personalities. It will be interesting to see how potential buyers vary between the two. If you’re curious, go and take a test drive. Forget any stigma that might surround the badge. This is a manufacturer that has probably had one of the fastest rates of product improvement in the last 10 years, and it really shows when you’re behind the wheel.
And remember, this is really their first go at making a car like this. For them to be this comparative from a standing start is simply amazing, and it’s safe to say the competition should be worried about what comes next.
For more, watch our full video review here, including some incredible closed roads in Gran Canaria, Spain.