Hot hatches may come and go, each one a potential reason to celebrate or regret – but the launch of a new dynasty of them, backed by one of the world’s largest car makers, is quite an occasion. And a brand new performance sub-brand is exactly what Hyundai is about to give us.
Slowly but surely, it has been building a presence in the European motorsport scene – and it’s almost ready to launch its first proper performance road car with which to tempt race and rally fans to invest in a bit of the technology and expertise they see each weekend.
This fast and exciting new breed of driver’s car will come with a capital N in the model name. N stands for Nürburgring (where Hyundai’s new performance car team bases its European development projects) and also for Namyang (Hyundai’s vast R&D hub back on its home turf).
It was to the former where we were invited to get Autocar’s very first taste of what a performance Hyundai might be like to drive, in the form of a disguised prototype version of the new i30N hot hatchback, which is due on the market late this year.
Hyundai i30N: New car, new go-faster brand name
Hyundai’s N-brand initiative was established in October 2015, a few months after the arrival of former BMW M Division engineering executive Albert Biermann at the Hyundai-Kia group. The N team now numbers some 120 employees globally, across design, engineering, testing and development departments.
The man in charge at Hyundai’s Nürburgring test centre is Alexander Eichner – an engineer recruited by Biermann in 2016, whose CV includes lengthy stints working with McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche through the connections of his former employer, Bosch.
Eichner is no novice. And for the last fifteen months, he has been assembling an embryonic development team whose specialisms make them worthy of a cult 1980s American TV show. “We have a damping expert, a steering expert, an ESP expert, a bump-stop expert (pity the fool),” Eichner explains.
Through Biermann’s connections, the N brand also hired in consultant suspension experts charged with entirely recommissioning the i30’s running chassis and helping it compete with Europe’s best hot hatches from the get-go.
So the i30N isn’t just another family hatchback that’s been lowered and stiffened, but instead has completely new axles with totally recalibrated suspension kinematics, which bear such little resemblance to those of the standard i30 that Eichner can’t even tell you how the cars’ relative ride heights compare.