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£24,035 when new
This i30 N Line then. A warm hatch inspired by that Hyundai i30N you rave about so much? Erm, not quite. It’s rude to tease. Sorry. Yes, Hyundai is embarking on a mission to illuminate the slower members of its family with the i30N hot hatchback’s radiant halo. But no, the new Hyundai i30 N Line is not a detuned version of the Nürburgring-honed Megane RS and Seat Leon Cupra rival. Most cars with a jumble of letters and the word ‘line’ bolted to their name constitute a body kit and badging job to pep up the standard car’s kerb appeal. Audi’s S-line, Mercedes’ AMG-line, Ford’s ST-line, Peugeot’s GT-line, Volkswagen’s R-line… it’s fair to say this isn’t Hyundai’s original bright idea.
And lo, the i30 was blessed with the plastic strakes, fake vents and skirts of the i30N. Its pinstripes have been swapped from lairy red to tasteful chrome, and its twin tailpipes are grouped together, rather than bookending the rear to emphasize width, power and greatness. But if this was just an i30 dressed up with spoilers, you wouldn’t be telling me about it… True. Hyundai has potentially tried a bit harder with its N Line than most of the other alphabet soup sporty get-up applied to other hatchbacks. The blurb says, tantalisingly, “In addition to performance styling, the i30 N Line models have also received changes to the mechanical set up of suspension, brakes and engine response in order to enhance the driving experience over the standard i30.” This approach is more in the vein of the new Toyota Yaris GRMN Sport and the Vauxhall Corsa GSi. Namely, apply the sticky tyres and focused suspension of a pucka performance car to a tax-friendly engine that teenagers won’t have to harvest minor organs in order to insure. You had my curiosity, now you have my attention. Good. Here’s what you get. Serious rubber, for a kick-off: Michelin Pilot Sport 4s wrapped around a fresh design of 18-inch alloy. But, after some digging, Hyundai admits there aren’t actually any hardware changes on the i30 N Line. No bigger brakes or lower ride height. It’s all the same hardware as a standard i30, simply with choice tweaks to the ECU and handling calibration. Hmm. Has it made the i30 N Line a dark-horse handling god? It’s fallen into a no-man’s land, that’s what it’s done. It’s been a while since I drove a standard i30 – forgive me for not remembering the experience vividly – but I’d agree with Hyundai, this one does indeed turn in with more zeal, grip more tenaciously and roll over onto its doorhandles less. Well done, chaps. I’m mainly congratulating Michelin there – the PS4 is a top-notch tyre. Keen observers of more-mouth-than-trousers hatchbacks will remember the grippy PS4 is the best thing about the Corsa GSi too. It’s optional there, but standard on the Hyundai. What N-ing the i30 up hasn’t done is elevate it to the same level of chuckability as a Ford Focus or Mazda 3. It’s too firm to breathe with the road like those cars. Its heavy-footed alloys clatter across dodgy surfaces where the Ford in particular makes light work of it. What you end up with is a mildly sharper-cornering version of a hatchback that was never much of a driver’s car to begin with, missing the ride comfort and dexterity of rivals that prioritise the driver out of the box. What about the engine? Any N enhancements are lost on the one I spent 160 miles in: the 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo delivering 138bhp and 178lb ft to the twin-clutch gearbox. The engine’s willing enough but seems smothered by the slurring transmission. Grabbing it by the scruff of the slim, wheel-mounted paddles – surely another BMW M Division bit cribbed by Hyundai fast car boss Albert Biermann – only marginally improves the shift timing. We’re used to DCT boxes carving time off 0-62mph times – which is why they’ve become the de jure transmission for super saloons and hypercars. But Hyundai’s takes a whole extra 0.4sec versus the manual.
So 9/10 for effort, 6/10 for driving then? Pretty much. The interior’s a proper job. ‘N’ detailing on the gear lever whether you opt for the six-speed manual or spend £1,000 on the seven-speed DCT auto, and the i30N’s body-hugging, grippy-fabric seats. And Hyundai didn’t stop at plopping an ‘N’ onto the steering wheel spoke. The wheel itself is the proper i30N’s plump item and – get this – it’s round. Not a flat bottom in sight. Hear that? It’s the sound of every VW, Skoda, Seat and Audi design bod fainting at the thought of a vaguely schporty model without a pointlessly squared-off wheel. So it is worth the money them? Wait, how much? A standard i30 N-line with a manual gearbox is £21,255 – a chunky £1,320 more than a well-kitted out SE Nav trim, and £1,270 less than an i30 in Premium guise. Besides the N-hancements (sorry) it’s only really keyless entry and start that sets it above SE Nav. Above that, you’d got the N line + car we tested, complete with LED lights, electric heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Just the thing for when the driving experience can’t quite get the palms moist. It’s £23,355 mind you, and with the DCT ‘box you shouldn’t have, our test car asked over £25k. Which feels like too much. Because, public service announcement: an i30 ‘Proper N’, as it ought to henceforth be known, starts at £25,760. As our beloved American friends are prone to rhetorically drawling: you do the math. Top Gear maths, you mean. Is the full-fat i30N actually relevant here? Hyundai’s UK CEO says nope. He says “we understand many customers ‘want the show but don’t need the go.’” I’d argue it slightly differently. Think carefully about ‘the show’. Here’s why. We love the i30N, partly because it’s a wicked thing to drive but not least because it’s just so out of character for Hyundai. How the hell did they build something more exciting than (yet just as docile as) a Golf GTI at first attempt? Ford’s never managed that. Hyundais are supposed to be pragmatic, sensible cars with five-year warranties and a bag-for-life full of equipment. So if that’s the side of Hyundai that tickles your pickle, a regular, comfier, cheaper i30 will do you just fine. This N line fills a middle ground we didn’t know needed filling. 6/10
£18,375 – £27,265
Kia improves things yet again. Refinement, styling and interior quality are nearly as good as anything out there. Nearly…
£19,100 – £32,640
The Honda Civic brings some welcome colour to a sensible part of the market. Not perfect, but very interesting.
Sweet-driving, good-looking alternative to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus