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Hyundai’s N performance brand opens for business and aims for hot hatch fame, starting with the i30

You’ve got to hand it to Hyundai: at a time when the hot hatch segment is simmering to a competitive frenzy the likes of which we’ve rarely before witnessed, it decides to wade into the maelstrom for the very first time.

Volkswagen’s Golf GTI is the most finessed and compelling it has ever been; Seat has the financial proposition nailed with its now enormously powerful iterations of the Leon Cupra; we’ve just witnessed the introduction of the best Honda Civic Type R in decades; and with the upcoming Mégane, Renault Sport is aiming to follow on from arguably the most finely honed performance car in its illustrious history. And those are merely the front-driven cars.

Red pinstripes are the hallmark of a certain, more illustrious rival, but the i30 N borrows the idea unashamedly and uses it to good effect

So why now, Hyundai? Hot hatches, after all, are not volume sellers integral to the bottom line of a car company, and there’s an element of reputational risk involved should the product fall dramatically short of what rivals can offer.

The first thing to note here is that the company is very wealthy and keen to build up its reputation. It has also lured top talent from European marques, most notably Peter Schreyer(formerly senior design boss at the VW Group) and Albert Biermann (erstwhile engineering head of BMW M), and if you can build a good-looking car that drives enjoyably, well, you’re most of the way there.

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Perhaps, though, it’s just the right time. Hyundai has a respectable reputation in Europe thanks to it offering a five-year warranty and excellent value, but it longs to be regarded in same the breath as more luxurious, sporting rivals and has launched a performance arm to help achieve that.

Indeed, fans of the World Rally Championship already know of the N sub-brand, the letter adorning the i20 Coupés of Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and others.

Those cars have done the business on the arduous gravel and asphalt special stages of the WRC.

In the i30 N, though, Hyundai is attempting to translate that success to the wet B-roads, monotonous motorways and tight city streets of the public domain, which is no mean feat.

First drives