Hyundai's hot i30N hatch you can enjoy driving daily
NOW that Australia's golden age of homegrown, affordable V8 performance cars is over - RIP Commodore SS and Falcon XR8, we miss you already - the hot hatch is set to become a more familiar sight on our roads.
Hyundai's first crack at the class, the i30N, has been hyped to the max before its arrival, a dangerous thing to do if the walk doesn't match the talk.
The first product of Hyundai's N performance division, it's the creation of Albert Biermann, formerly engineering chief of BMW's M operation.
He was hired in 2014 to deliver the i30 N as an immediate hitter in a game of tough, established players, including VW's Golf GTI and R, Honda's Civic Type R, Ford's Focus ST and RS, Renault's Megane RS and the ageing but still loveable Subaru WRX and STI.
Biermann has done the job with style, giving the i30N a premium Euro-flavour and BMW-inspired cohesion in the way it drives.
Had he stayed in Munich to build the first front-wheel drive M car, it would probably be a lot like this one - N, after all, follows M and Hyundai's choice of nomenclature is surely no coincidence.
At $39,990, the i30N is the best value in the class no matter which way you look at it. Its
2.0-litre turbo four produces 202kW and up to 378Nm on overboost, so it has the longstanding hot hatch value measure - bang for your bucks - well covered against rivals at the $40K pricepoint.
It's a Hyundai, so you also get a class-leading warranty (including coverage for non-competition track days), bankable quality and reliability and low servicing costs.
Specific performance N hardware includes 19-inch alloys with 235/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber, an adjustable electromechanical limited-slip diff, multilink rear end (the regular i30 has a torsion beam), adjustable dampers all around, larger brakes, extra bracing and sports exhaust.
Apart from a few discreet N logos, blue stitching, dark rooflining and a fat-rimmed
M-style steering wheel, the cabin differs little from a shopping trolley i30.
Our car's $3000 Luxury Pack option includes heavily bolstered, heated and power adjustable Recaro look-alike front seats, upholstered in suede and leather, that provide great support when cornering and all-day comfort when cruising.
The footwell is shallow but there's plenty of seat and wheel adjustment, so most drivers can get comfortable. Rear legroom is tight for a car of this size.
Again, it's basic i30 spec here, with a camera, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring and automatic headlights.
Biermann has followed BMW M practice in giving the driver a vast palette of adjustability, easily accessed via the steering wheel or the infotainment touchscreen.
You can set engine responsiveness, rev-matching, diff operation, exhaust sound, damping, steering weight and stability control intervention to any combination you like in Custom mode. If it's all too hard, just tap the N mode paddle for full monty everything.
Daily drive modes include Eco (which, of course, nobody will use), Normal and Sport.
The 2.0-litre is a touch lazy at low revs but at 2000rpm the solid turbo shove arrives and continues unabated to 6250rpm. Sequential shift lights on the instrument panel tell you when it's time to grab another gear.
Motoring colleague Joshua Dowling clocked the N at 6.4 seconds from 0-100km/h, the same as a Golf GTI.
Looser and longer of throw than the best Euro manuals (there's no automatic as yet), Hyundai's gearbox is acceptably slick in action.
Rev matching works nicely if you're no heel-and-toe hero; downshifts are accompanied by loud, menacing staccato bursts of machine gun-like fire from the exhaust, guaranteed to get you a chat with your friendly highway patrol officer if he's within earshot.
A mechanical limited-slip diff is a must on a performance front-driver. In tandem with the adhesive Pirellis, it ensures that even on full throttle the N gets clean, strong drive out of corners. It turns in quickly and accurately, with a tight, flat attitude, though the Hyundai is also quite nose heavy, so you work fairly hard on a tight, winding road.
The steering itself is M-style meaty and communicative; there's inevitable torque steer, too, but it's not excessive. Brakes - humble twin piston jobs at each corner - are powerful and fade-free.
On forgiving suspension settings the ride is firm, quiet and compliant, though less absorbent than the Golf. Overall refinement is such that you can comfortably and enjoyably cover long distances in the N.
I've always wanted a performance car but been a bit scared that it might be hard to live with and cost me a fortune. Hyundais aren't like that.
This has one of the best engineering pedigrees in the business, it's a Hyundai so it will be a no-grief, low-cost ownership proposition and the price is impossible to go past.
FORD FOCUS ST FROM $38,990
Ageing but still competitive with a 2.0-litre turbo (184kW/340Nm) and six-speed manual, the German-built Focus is a highly capable, engaging drive. Looks sharp, too.
VW GOLF GTi FROM $37,490
Less sporty than the Hyundai but for many buyers there is no other hot hatch. It packs a 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre/six-speed manual;
six-speed DSG transmission adds $2500.
They got it right first time. A beautifully sorted, premium performance hatch with a killer price and just enough compromises to make it a viable everyday drive. Expect podium appearances when car of the year gongs are handed out.