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The Top Gear car review: Hyundai i30N
For:A total scamp to drive, yet so easy to live with
Against:A weeny bit rough around the edges
What is it?
This is the first proper Hyundai performance car. There have been efforts before – mildly hot hatches and big-bumpered F2 editions of the pretty ’90s Hyundai Coupe – but nothing with circa 300bhp and a development programme overseen by a former BMW M boss.
Which is what you’re looking at here. The i30N has been developed at a depth far beyond any quick Hyundai before it, and you’ll tell before the wheels have turned an inch. An illuminated rev counter whose redline shifts as the engine warms up, the ability to channel your favourite mix of chassis settings into one button press, a manual gearbox and handbrake… this is a car that’s been honed by bona fide driving enthusiasts without yielding to the needs of marketing departments and the like.
The churlish among you might point out many of those nods are nicked wholesale from BMW M cars of the last decade. We’d respond by pointing out there are worse places to take inspiration from, and that Hyundai’s N boss Albert Biermann – as a former M Division chief – is perfectly entitled to bring the best bits of his old workplace across to his new one. Rumours he also took a bagful of Sharpies and file dividers from the stationary cupboard on the way out? Neither confirmed nor denied.
So, the i30N’s spec. It won’t win a game of Top Trumps, but in an increasingly mad hot hatchback market, there’s lots to like about that. Its 2.0-litre turbo engine drives the front wheels only, through a six-speed manual gearbox only in early cars. Upon launch, you had a choice of two specs – a base car with 247bhp, sports seats and a full suite of adjustable driving modes with launch control, with another three grand adding a Performance Pack with a rowdy sports exhaust, a limited-slip differential for more precise handling and 19in wheels with stickier tyres, as well as another 24bhp.
It proved such good value, that for the i30N’s mid-life update, Hyundai’s ditched the base model in the UK. It’s also boosted the remaining model’s power (now 276bhp), stripped a bit of weight, given it stronger brakes and new tyres and added the option of – shock! – an eight-speed paddleshift gearbox. The new head and taillights and larger exhaust pipes seem almost token when the rest of the facelift’s been so heavily thought about.
Oh, and if a sensible old five-door isn’t quite your style, the i30N also comes in Fastback form, pictured here in grey. It’s still a hatchback, but is designed to resemble a saloon car. It’s Hyundai’s attempt at cracking the Mercedes CLA market, and adds £500 to the asking price, but brings more boot space with it.