For a company that had never sold a hot hatch until 2018 the i30 N has been a boon for Hyundai. And now you can get one with an auto: read our 2021 Hyundai i30 N Review.
Genuine substance has seen it warmly received against such icons as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS and Honda Civic Type R.
But there’s one thing it has been lacking until now: the choice of an automatic transmission.
In ushering in the 2021 update for the five-door hatch (the sleeker Fastback is only making an appearance as a limited edition) Hyundai has addressed that issue. There will also be an i30 N sedan by the end of the year.
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It’s also thrown a few more kilowatts in for good measure, as well as extra equipment and a design refresh.
New headlights, bumper and grille make for more aggression on the nose and combine with the now-forged 19-inch alloys for a sporty look. Just like the original Subaru WRX went from being a basic hot hatch to a fully-fledged performance car, the i30 N appears to have taken a similar path.
The i30 N also gets the freshened interior from the i30 that was updated late in 2020, including a larger 10.25-inch screen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Additional features include a wireless charging pad, smart key entry, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot warning.
It’s the auto transmission that’s the big news for the i30 N because, until now, there hasn’t been one.
The six-speed manual continues, but there’s now an eight-speed twin-clutch auto (or DCT) that brings a $3000 premium.
While there’s also more punch from the engine (we’ll get to that…) the transmission has had the biggest impact on performance.
The manual darts to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds (0.2 seconds quicker than the original i30 N) whereas the auto does it in 5.4 seconds.
The closer spread of ratios obviously helps, allowing the engine to deliver its peak power more frequently.
But it’s the slick shifts that have a bigger influence, swiftly slotting into the next ratio.
Dial up N mode and there’s added fury to those shifts, with a mild jolt as it punches into the next gear.
You can get the same result by pressing the NGS button, which denotes N Grin Shift.
Silly name aside, it does good things, instantly bringing engine revs up and engaging the most aggressive drive mode. You’ve got 20 seconds of NGS goodness, the exhaust crackling and rumbling and gear shifts noticeably sharper.
While most of it can be achieved by selecting N mode, the button gives a quick way to access some of that hot hatch flavour momentarily.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo gets a bigger turbo and intercooler to step up the outputs.
Power now peaks at 206kW, up from 202kW.
Torque has copped a bigger boost, jumping from 353Nm to 392Nm and engineers have also worked to flatten the torque curve.
All of which results in better tractability low in the rev range.
Whereas previously the N might have jumped down a gear, it’s now just as likely to get that turbo huffing harder while dishing up loads of pull.
Things are more exciting at high revs, the engine maintaining its energy and strength beyond 6000rpm.
There’s also a launch control system with the new DCT auto. It’s not as simply as some to activate; dial up the N Custom mode on the central screen (with G force meters, turbo boost and other customisable parameters) and activate it, provided certain conditions are met (including being in N mode). You can then set the launch revs anywhere between 2500rpm and 3500rpm.
We tried both and found both to have a similar issue: traction.
Being a front-driver and with a fair bit of thrust heading forward both scenarios quickly led to a slip and slide as the electronics tried to sort things out before it was torque, torque, power and noise.
The noise is terrific in N mode: a bit more bass and lashings of crackles and pops on the overrun. It’s not politically PC in the suburbs, but adds to the theatre on the right piece of road. And you can quickly take it back to calm by going back to Normal.
While we didn’t stick any official timing equipment on it, we’d be prepared to wager there wouldn’t be enormous gains in activating launch control compared with simply planting your foot and watching revs rise.
In either situation, it’s brisk and it’s front-end traction that’s the limiting factor with the initial take-off.
The i30 N is also pushing the limits of what a front-drive hot hatch can achieve. Traction out of corners is surprisingly good, although unleashing all 392Nm occasionally induces torque steer. It pays to have two hands on the wheel.
That said, traction generally is a (very) strong suit of the i30 N.
There are 19-inch Pirelli P Zeros that provide ample turn-in bite and the sort of mid-corner confidence to allow you to explore the high limits of the i30 N.
With a lot of weight over the nose it’s understeer that takes hold when you really push on, although there’s enough point and grip to ensure loads of playfulness and pace below its extreme.
N mode is a tad too focused, at least from the suspension side of the equation. With the adaptive dampers in their most aggressive setting it makes for a stiff setup.
While we didn’t get to try it, it’s got that rigidity that suggests it’ll be terrific setting up for a 200km/h corner on a race track … but it’s less useful in dealing with the ripples and ridges Aussie councils do so well when laying bitumen.
Things can get pretty wild and bumpy, to the point where we inevitably reverted to Custom mode, in turn dialing back the stiffness but maintaining the go-fast rage. Our prime setup was Custom mode with all the drivetrain aggro of N mode but the adaptive dampers stepped back a notch or two.
Larger front brakes – with those all-important red calipers – do a great job of keeping things in check. Good modulation, too.
Strap yourself in
As well as raw performance, the i30 N dishes up a decent feast of tech.
The N screen allows various choices relating to performance, and there’s other buttons that can impact the car’s reactions and sound. Blue buttons on the steering wheel dial up the various drive modes, the right chequered flag one the more serious of the two. The NGS button also gets things revving and popping (see above).
All of which adds to the experience.
Choose the Premium and you also pick up nicely-supportive race-inspired bucket seats. They look the biz, are also claimed to save a few kilograms and do a great job of keeping you comfy and located.
One area it’s gone backwards with practicality is when loading big things into the boot. With the seats folded the strut brace joining the left and right suspension towers makes it trickier to get some items in.
It’s a small price to pay for a car with such an intense focus on fun and excitement.
Besides, all hot hatches compromise in some area, and often it’s a lot bigger trade-off than that.
There have been plenty of ballistic and exciting hot hatches that revel in a track thrash but are less welcoming during daily duties. The Renault Megane RS and Honda Civic Type R slot nicely into that category.
It’s an important consideration. As much as we’d all love to blast off into the sunset on a snaking strip of blacktop, the reality is we’re often staring at the tail lights of hundreds of other cars and dealing with school zones.
And the reality is the i30 N manages that split personality beautifully.
In Normal mode it’s relatively sedate aurally and the suspension, while taut, doesn’t jar. It’s a thoroughly liveable blend that reinforces the efforts engineers have gone to to ensure it’s up to the shops and the school run as much as a fang around Phillip Island or Mount Panorama.
Hot, rewarding and fun
All of which adds up to a car that nails its brief of packaging in small hatchback space and liveability with the sort of pace and dynamics that was once reserved for far fancier badges.
It’s a hot hatch that rewards with its enthusiasm and raw talent.
Yet it does so while maintaining plenty of everyday sensibilities.
That it does so for around $50K cements the i30 N as a seriously tempting hot hatch, one that has stepped up the pace and accessibility with the addition of a great twin-clutch transmission.
Make sure you spend time acclimatising, though. Apart from the driving quirks it’s also a car with what is bordering on too many electronic controls and buttons.
Hyundai i30 N pricing and specifications
Price: $44,500/$47,500 (N man/auto), $47,500 (N Premium, man only), $49,000/$52,000 (N Premium with sunroof man/auto)
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo
Power/torque: 206kW at 6000rpm, 392Nm at 2100-4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed DCT auto
0-100km/h: 5.9 seconds (manual), 5.4 seconds (DCT auto)
Fuel use: 8.5L/100km