Hyundai discovers its sporty side with the new i30 N. Picture: SUPPLIED
Hyundai discovers its sporty side with the new i30 N. Picture: SUPPLIED

Hyundai’s long-awaited i30 N has touched down in SA to light up the hot-hatch wars.

Here are five things you need to know about the Korean carmaker’s first attempt at taking on the high-performance establishment:

1. N is for Nurburgring

As the first product from Hyundai’s high-performance N division, the company spent 10,000km of testing and honing the i30 N at the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack in Germany to get the handling right.

The N also stands for Namyang, Hyundai Motor's global research and development centre in Korea. The N badge has featured on Hyundai’s i20 world rally car which scooped the manufacturers’ title in last year’s championship. The Korean firm has also built a track racing version of the i30N, which won last year’s FIA World Touring Car Cup.

The production i30N is a front-wheel drive car that uses a limited-slip differential to improve traction, and it works. The launch drive included some racetrack driving, and on the handling limits the i30N understeers less than it should for a car with so much power going through the front wheels, allowing you to jump on the throttle earlier out of corners.

It also has a six-speed manual transmission, which some driving purists will prefer to the auto gearboxes that dominate the league. There will be a dual-clutch automatic i30N version arriving at a later stage.

2. It’s fast, but not the fastest

The i30N sticks to the hot-hatch formula of a turbocharged 2.0l engine — the same as most cars in this league.

Its outputs of 202kW and 353Nm trail most of the opposition including the VW Golf R (228kW/400Nm), Audi S3 Sportback (228kW/400Nm), BMW M135i (225kW/450Nm), Honda Civic Type R (228kW/400Nm), Renault Megane RS (205kW/390Nm), and Mercedes AMG A35 (225kW/400Nm). It outguns the VW Golf GTI (169kW/350Nm).

The Hyundai has an overboost function that temporarily increases torque to 378Nm for up to 18 seconds under maximum acceleration. Its top speed is 250km/h and with the aid of launch control it scoots from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.1 seconds.

That’s far off the Golf R’s claimed 4.6 seconds, but whatever the numbers say, the i30N felt entertainingly fast on public roads and racetrack at last week’s launch in the Western Cape.

At sea level the engine spools up nice and quick, and revs freely up to its nearly 7,000rpm red line. There will be more lag felt at high altitudes no doubt, but this is easily remedied in a manual car by regulating the clutch.

In an age of mostly automatic cars, the i30N makes for a refreshingly involving drive by getting your left limbs in on the action. The six-speed shifter is slick and precise, so that wrong-slotting gears isn’t common when hustling the car through a twisty mountain pass.

3. Mild to wild modes

Rather than making the i30 N the most powerful car in its league, Hyundai has focused on trying to make it the most fun to drive. To this end there’s an “N” button on the steering wheel which sharpens the steering, stiffens the electronically controlled suspension, and also heightens the response of the engine, the limited-slip differential and stability control.

It also makes the exhaust crackle and pop like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, and has a rev-matching function that automatically blips the throttle when downshifting gears.

There are five modes which change the driving character from mild to wild. Picture: SUPPLIED
There are five modes which change the driving character from mild to wild. Picture: SUPPLIED

There are also Sport, Normal and Eco modes which progressively dial down the anger and make the i30N a more comfortable daily driver. A Custom mode allows you to mix and match the different settings to your heart’s content.

In some cars there’s not much difference between modes but the “N” setting makes this Hyundai adopt a noticeably angrier, more dynamic personality that gets the adrenaline flowing. The firm ride is too harsh for normal driving and threatens to dislodge teeth fillings, but in its softer settings the i30N wafts along comfortably enough to be a daily commuter.

It’s an entertaining driver’s car and a solid effort for the Korean brand’s debut in the hot-hatch class.

4. Styling

The Hyundai i30N looks relatively understated compared to Honda’s flamboyant Civic Type R (what doesn’t?) but gets some “war paint” to distinguish it from regular i30s in the range.

This includes a boot spoiler, 19-inch mags with Pirelli P-Zero high-performance tyres, red striping on the bumper lips, black headlamp surrounds, more aggressive bumpers with larger air intakes, glossy black door mirrors, and red brake calipers.

The i30N comes with the exclusive Performance Blue paint, a nod to Hyundai Motor’s motorsport heritage, though it’s also available in white, grey, black or red.

Inside, the cabin is subtly glammed up with sports bucket seats and metallic accents, an exclusive "N" steering wheel, and an electronic instrument cluster with a shift timing indicator.

The sports bucket seats are stylish and supportive. Picture: SUPPLIED
The sports bucket seats are stylish and supportive. Picture: SUPPLIED

5. Ahem, that price

As a company with no heritage in the hot-hatch market segment, the R679,900 price tag is a bold move given that it’s just R4,500 less than the much quicker and all-wheel drive Golf R — a car that’s established a solid reputation in this league.

The i30N is also priced R111,000 more than the iconic front-wheel drive Golf GTI, a car that despite its power deficit has very similar performance (0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 248km/h). That makes the sporty Hyundai a hard sell in terms of hard numbers.

But the i30N is a full-specced car brimming with features, some of which — for instance a parking camera, wireless phone charging and electrically adjustable seats — are only extra-cost options in most of the competition. It also comes standard with items like front heated seats, heated steering wheel, tyre pressure monitor, cruise control, keyless entry and start, sunroof, touchscreen infotainment, ABS brakes, hill-start assist and seven airbags.

It’s sold with Hyundai’s standard five-year/150,000km warranty, additional two-year/50,000km drivetrain warranty and five-year/75,000km service plan.

The i30N is being sold from a selected network of 15 Hyundai dealers with specialist training in the car, although all Hyundai dealers will be able to service it.

It’s a niche car and Hyundai expects to sell about 10 to 15 a month in SA.

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