As any true petrol-head will know, a hot-hatch is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. The lure of sports car-rivalling thrills for a mere modicum of the price of a grand tourer is simply too great to ignore for many of us. This rings especially true given the fact a hot-hatch affords enough room to sling several bags of groceries in the boot and ‘carefully insert’ up to three kids in the back, all without any of the rear passengers spending long journeys nibbling their own knees.
In fact, far more difficult than deciding to invest in a performance hatchback is the head-scratching conundrum of precisely which little tearaway to opt for. Assuming you do need that little bit of extra space, the Ford Focus ST will clearly be uppermost in your thoughts – unless of course your thirst for velocity draws you inexorably to the 0-62mph-gobbling Audi S3 or Merecedes-AMG A45.
Traditionally, hot-hatches from Asia have been led by one outstanding and experienced campaigner in the frightening form of the Honda Civic Type R – arguably the hot-hatch for rubber-churning purists. Now, the Type R has company. Dipping its toes into the shark pool for the first time, Hyundai is on the hot-hatch trail with the new i30 N.
Despite being the first production car to wear the ‘N’ stamp, fans of the World Rally Championship will no doubt already be familiar with Hyundai’s synonymous performance arm. Since first joining the world’s premier off-road motorsport series in 2014, Hyundai Motorsport’s i20 rally cars have been developed by the company’s ‘N’ division. Now, after a lengthy incubation period, Hyundai are ready to transfer the mechanical nous that’s seen them bag five WRC victories on to the road. Transplanting the i20 WRC’s rally-honed hardware on to the body of the latest generation i30 hatchback, this is the fruit of their labours.
As with its class contemporaries, the i30 N certainly looks the part. It shrugs off any hint of humdrum family hatchback by adding a bucket load of sporty refinements to its exterior repertoire. Lower slung than its standard stablemate, the racier i30 proudly sports the N insignia across its front cascading grill, red brake callipers and 18 or 19-inch wheels. Double front air intakes perform the dual role of cooling the brakes and funnelling air around the wheel arches in the most expedient way possible. Plucked straight from pages of World Rally Car design 101, airflow is further enhanced by air curtains hidden behind the front grille plus a downforce-inducing front splitter and the rear wing. Visually, black means aggression on a car of this ilk, testified by the i30 N’s glossy side sills, double muffler exhaust and spoiler which houses a distinctive new triangular brake light.
Having been put through its paces on the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit, there shouldn’t be any doubt over the new, hotter i30’s genuine performance credentials. The interior certainly delivers the goodies expected of any self-respecting hot-hatch contender, with a shift time indicator joining the rev-counter and speedo on the new look electronic instrument cluster. Settle into the sports seats, and a 5.0 or 8.0-inch touch screen feeds through live data on BHP, torque and turbo boost as well as lap and acceleration times. That’s all on top of the usual satnav and infotainment features which now includes a wireless mobile phone charging pad.
A glance to the right of the N-embossed sports steering wheel reveals the chequered flag N button. Hit this conspicuous toggle to trigger N-mode and prepare to get down to some serious hot-hatchery. From the touch screen menu, N-mode lets the driver loose with a series of customisable settings for the engine, suspension, transmission and more. Launch Control, rev-matching and electronic stability control are all hallmarks of the i30 N’s Nürburgring apprenticeship, whilst the hot-hatch’s electronic steering assist is good for track day driving and specially calibrated to squeeze the best out of competition-spec tyres.
Whether you like it or not, the inescapable truth is that even today’s hot-hatches are beginning to resemble computerised rocket ships. The tech wizardry doesn’t stop at the i30 N’s acoustics either. Even the car’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine gets its decibels artificially enhanced by an on-board electronic sound generator, nestling at the base of the windscreen. Not a new innovation by any means, the purists will nevertheless screw up their faces in scorn whilst F1 fans around the world look on longingly. If the turbo howl still leaves your eardrums wanting more, you can even create your own chords by opening or closing the variable exhaust valve as part of the Performance Package.
That 2.0-litre engine itself comes in two power guises. The standard unit will deliver 247bhp and 260lb-ft torque, propelling the i30 N past the 62mph mark in 6.4 seconds. Fitted with the Performance Package, however, Hyundai’s debut hot-hatch will grant you an extra 24bhp, cutting the 0-62mph sprint time to 6.1 seconds. That puts it more or less in the crosshairs of established hot-hatch royalty like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST. Regardless of its output, the front-wheel drive i30 N gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. Find a stretch of track that’s long enough, and it’ll redline at 155mph.
We’ll know more about pricing for the new Hyundai i30 N in due course, with UK deliveries set to commence later this summer. There’ll be more to come from Hyundai’s N lab too, with the logical next step a dehomologated road version of the Korean brand’s i20 WRC title challenger. Watch this space.