It must be difficult to come up with a new performance brand, now that all the fast-sounding letters have been taken. Anything that sounds like the first letter of a remotely quick suffix has been nabbed.
R and S probably get the best gigs – either together or separately, what with them beginning road, rally, race, sport and so on – through their affiliation with Porsche, Ford and everyone else. However, the GT combo, with or without I, makes a pretty enviable showing, too. Throw in M for motorsport and T for turbo and there’s not a great deal of the fast alphabet remaining.
Oh, there are still letters left over, obviously. Lots of them. But B and H just don’t cut it. W is not a fast-sounding letter, either. Too many syllables. Lexus has put F off limits, E is clean, D is dirty, Z is Nissan and, well, forget the rest. It’s only a wonder no one has gone with an emoji. Audi is closest to taking the inevitable plunge, with the R8 Plus. So maybe we should look forward to the ‘#whoosh’ variant of a mediocre hatchback sometime, or just a peculiar symbol: ‘The performance car formerly known as GTI.’
Anyway, Hyundai has decided to go with N when it launches its performance brand next year. This means its first hot hatchback, the i30N, will arrive sounding for all the world like a mid-range printer.
But there’s logic to N. Aston Martin has dabbled with it. It’s not a particularly fast-sounding letter, but when you put Aston Martin in front of it, that tends not to matter. For Aston, N24 signified its Nürburgring 24 Hours race success.
That may well be why Hyundai has opted for it, too. It has a facility near the Nürburgring, the German race track used as a durability circuit more than a ride and handling track by most manufacturers, while a development i30N was raced in the Nürburgring 24 Hours the other weekend. N’s boss, Albert Biermann, used to work for BMW’s M division, so I suppose, logically, N is one step on from there, too.
But the real intrigue is not in the i30N’s name but how good it will be. Hyundai is already massively successful but it’s nowhere near the end of its ambitions, and it thinks a sporting sub-brand will improve your perception of it. Shifting perceptions upmarket is harder than shifting them down, which is why it’s easier for Audi to sell a £15k hatchback than it is for Hyundai to sell a £50k executive car (like the Genesis G90 pictured above), but the i30N will be tasked with the job.
Insiders say they’re incredibly serious about it and they want the i30N to be as good to drive as any £30,000 hot hatch. If it is, that will be remarkable. And maybe N will start to sound fast after all.