Not too many years ago, a top-flight, thoughtfully engineered and seriously appealing Hyundai hot hatch would have been considered a flight of fancy, but in 2018 the Korean firm rocked perceived wisdom when it launched the i30 N, a sporting version of its smart but sensible i30 family hatchback.
It worked, too. Hyundai’s Volkswagen Golf GTI chaser was deeply impressive and purposeful straight out of the box, with such driver’s delights as electronically controlled suspension, launch control, an automatic rev-matching function and an overboost facility to help with speedy overtaking.
Under its stubby and attractive bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that can be had in two flavours: a standard 247bhp version and a 271bhp Performance variant that’s a fraction faster and gets upgraded brakes, stickier tyres and an electronic limited-slip differential that helps to meter out the power in tight corners. You also get an active exhaust on the more powerful i30 N that sounds great and even emits popping sounds when you lift off the accelerator.
The handling is wonderfully composed, even on rough roads. Every i30 N has adaptive dampers that can be slackened to their most forgiving setting without compromising body control. Even a mid-corner ripple does little to alter the car’s stability. The steering is progressive in Comfort mode and builds weight in a linear manner, while the brakes are strong and give you confidence when tackling a challenging road.
Aside from some purposeful-looking sports seats, there’s little inside the i30 N to differentiate it from its lesser siblings, although at least the infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate and all the controls are logically laid out and everything feels well built. It’s not quite as premium in its feel inside as the Golf GTI, but given that the i30 N costs less, you can forgive this.
H owever, the i30 N isn’t as practical as its rivals, because the boot is on the pokey side and Performance versions have a (removable) chassis brace behind the rear seats that can be an obstruction when you fold the rear bench flat. Rear passengers aren’t treated to quite the same amount of leg room as they are in the Honda Civic Type R, although head room is fine. Those up front will find plenty of room and the driver gets lots of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Electric seats are standard on the Performance, too.