Hyundai i30N: New car, new go-faster brand name
Hyundai’s N-brand initiative was established in October 2015, a few months after the arrival of former BMW M Division engineering executive Albert Biermann at the Hyundai-Kia group. The N team now numbers some 120 employees globally, across design, engineering, testing and development departments.
The man in charge at Hyundai’s Nürburgring test centre is Alexander Eichner – an engineer recruited by Biermann in 2016, whose CV includes lengthy stints working with McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche through the connections of his former employer, Bosch.
Eichner is no novice. And for the last fifteen months, he has been assembling an embryonic development team whose specialisms make them worthy of a cult 1980s American TV show. “We have a damping expert, a steering expert, an ESP expert, a bump-stop expert (pity the fool),” Eichner explains.
Through Biermann’s connections, the N brand also hired in consultant suspension experts charged with entirely recommissioning the i30’s running chassis and helping it compete with Europe’s best hot hatches from the get-go.
So the i30N isn’t just another family hatchback that’s been lowered and stiffened, but instead has completely new axles with totally recalibrated suspension kinematics, which bear such little resemblance to those of the standard i30 that Eichner can’t even tell you how the cars’ relative ride heights compare.
The i30N has a rack-mounted power steering system (the standard i30 still uses a less rigid column-mounted one), as well as adaptive dampers, uprated brakes and brake servos and an active locking front differential.
Upper-trim-level ‘performance pack’ cars, such as the one we tried, get a slightly firmer suspension set-up than the standard i30N will, plus 19in alloy wheels and Pirelli P-Zero performance tyres. You’ll even be able to equip items such as a rear strut brace, should you want to.
The car is powered by a development of Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbocharged Theta petrol engine which, in less specialised tune, powers the firm’s Genesis Coupé and Sonata saloon.
Hyundai isn’t ready to talk final power and torque figures yet, but hints to expect somewhere between 260 and 280bhp for the higher-output version of the i30N – all of that being channelled to the car’s front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.
Driving the Hyundai i30N
The i30N gets off to a fine start with a driver’s seat that’s large, comfortable and supportive, plus well-located controls. At idle, the engine sounds gently sporting, becoming more aurally assertive as you cycle through the car’s various drive modes.
The angriest of them, N mode, not only puts the car’s active exhaust into its noisiest setting but also sets the engine ECU to inject unburnt fuel into the exhaust on the overrun, making the twin tail-pipes pop and crackle during fast upshifts. Hyundai, rather cheesily, calls this 'tornado mode’. It’s nothing new, but it’s a welcome extra layer of sonic drama that an otherwise slightly plain-sounding motor could certainly do with.
As you move off, the car’s feelsome, hefty, well-paced steering announces itself to your fingertips. This is a system plainly configured by people who understand how important it is that a hot hatchback’s driver feels intimately in touch with its front contact patches. In terms of tactile involvement, the i30N’s steering is right up there: better than any VW Group product and not far off the feedback level of the last Renault Mégane Renaultsport.