Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - N
Looks hotter than ever; multi-faceted personality; excellent sports buckets; gratuitous exhaust crackle; superb handling poise and driver involvement; limited-slip-diff smarts
Room for improvement
Considerable tyre noise; rear-seat backrest feels slightly odd; no premium stereo option; no adaptive cruise
Focused mid-life update for i30 N broadens both all-round ability and model choice
20 Aug 2021
JUST five years ago, the concept of a Hyundai ‘N’ performance model line would’ve sounded a bit like the product of a marketing, ahem, ‘exercise’. Yet the notion of that not just becoming a reality but also a raging success – both critically and commercially – would’ve been even more wacko.
We’d experienced a few semi-decent hottish Hyundais up to that point – the moderately entertaining Veloster SR Turbo and the mixed-blessing i30 SR – though 2017’s third-generation i30 and Elantra SR Turbo showed that deep inside Namyang (and at Hyundai Motor Company Australia), someone knew what they were doing.
But not even the most enthusiastic i30 fan could have imagined that 2018’s i30 N would be such a cracking hot hatch, for such a great price. Guided by some of the world’s finest automotive engineers, finally Hyundai had nailed it.
So it’s with much anticipation that we approach the first product from ‘phase two’ of Hyundai’s N roll-out – the facelifted 2021 i30 N hatch.
On the outside, the new i30 N hatch is similar but better. The former model’s goggle-eyed headlights and friendly grille have morphed into something more sinister, with edgy new black-bezel LED headlights animated by V-shaped DRLs and angled towards a more aggressive grille and air intakes.
Unless you choose Engine Red, there’s a crimson keyline that highlights the lower splitter and traces the rear diffuser. The rear end also gets new LED lights with the same V-shaped signature as the front, plus a bespoke bumper with larger circular exhaust outlets, and there’s a gloss-black rear hatch spoiler with triangular brake light.
Externally, sunroof apart, all five MY21 i30 N hatch models look the same. That includes new matte-charcoal 19-inch forged alloy wheels, each weighing 3.6kg less than before (for an overall weight saving of 14.4kg) with sticky 235/35R19 Pirelli P Zero tyres, and an uprated braking package with larger 360mm front disc rotors (up 15mm).
All up, it has a look of confidence that defines where N sits for Hyundai in 2021.
Inside is where differences start to occur, even though most of it is unchanged. All updated i30 N models get keyless entry and push-button start, power-folding mirrors, wireless phone charging and a much larger 10.25-inch multimedia screen with sat-nav that includes expanded ‘N Grin Control’ functions, plus a cleverly rejigged layout with large central volume dial (rejoice!).
There’s also neat metal-look inserts in each air vent to add a touch of glamour, and a new ‘N Grin Shift’ button on the steering wheel (marked ‘NGS’) that provides 20 seconds of max-attack drivetrain programming.
The base i30 N gets the original N seats trimmed in cloth, whereas the Premium models score all-new ‘N Light Seats’ – a wing-backed Alcantara/leather bucket that’s 2.2kg lighter and noticeably superior to the previous electric seats (which sat a touch higher than their manual equivalents), providing you don’t mind doing all the positioning yourself (via crank-handle height adjustment and an infinite backrest dial).
Finally to safety gear. The MY21 i30 N now features lane-following assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and on DCT versions, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist and blind-spot collision avoidance assist.
But the most important changes are to the engine and suspension – modest in theory but extensive when you consider just how many pieces of hardware have been tweaked, with the intention of broadening the i30 N’s repertoire while also finessing its considerable capabilities.
For the first time since its June 2017 unveiling, the i30 N is now available with a Golf GTI-rivalling dual-clutch transmission, and that’s the car we’re testing here.
It’s Hyundai’s in-house-developed eight-speed ‘wet clutch’ DCT and is expected to account for at least 70 per cent of Australian i30 N volume.
Among its various smarts (which include being an all-round excellent transmission, without the laggy inertia and lack of positive mechanical connection than can cripple the drive feel of a dual-clutch ’box), the eight-speed DCT has one Porsche-style ace up its sleeve – the ‘NGS’ button on the wheel spoke.
When you press it, ‘N Grin Shift’ instantly amps everything to max attack – engine response, shift speed, exhaust blare – and starts a 20-second timer in the instrument pack for ultimate overtaking punch on the road, or on the track.
The eight-speed DCT also features ‘N Power Shift’, which nudges you forward with each urgent upshift when chasing maximum acceleration instead of the ignition-cut exhaust braaaping and imperceptible upshifting it usually performs. And there’s ‘N Track Sense Shift’, that recognises track driving (or full-pelt road attacking) and optimises shift timing to suit.
Our test i30 N is an N Premium, meaning the new lightweight bucket seats are also part of the package and they’re great!
Huggy without being grabby and beautifully trimmed in an Alcantara/leather combo (with illuminated N backrest logos, ala BMW M), they combine with the bedazzled air vents and classier multimedia screen to make the ’21 N’s cabin feel more special.
The engine itself has undergone a significant level of tweaking to bolster its power and torque curves – swelling outputs from just above 1500rpm to beyond 6000rpm. Hyundai calls it a ‘flat-power’ tune and the result is 206kW at 6000rpm (up 4kW) and 392Nm from 2100-4700rpm (up 39Nm).
There’s a redesigned turbo with a 59mm compressor (up 3mm), 52mm turbine (up 5mm), 12.5 square millimetre scroll area (up 2.5), a 6.8-litre intercooler (up 0.3L), revised piston shapes and new flow paths. Even the block has been made stronger via new machining for greater durability.
Combined with the DCT’s eight ratios, the MY21 i30 N is more of a blast than ever. If you enable launch control, the DCT can hit 100km/h in a claimed 5.4 seconds, which is Civic Type-R quick, but it’s the outstanding all-round driveability and the different personalities achievable via the i30 N’s five drive modes that matters most – particularly the infectiously gratuitous exhaust crackle.
Using ‘Custom’, my chosen setting was engine in Sport+, exhaust in Sport+, transmission in Sport, the eLSD in Sport, stability control in ESC Sport, steering in Normal and suspension (adaptive damping) in Normal.
The fact you can alter all these parameters individually means you can enjoy the N’s delicious exhaust theatrics without having your bones shaken, yet even in Normal, the meaty steering and disciplined chassis are more than sporting enough.
Suspension alterations for 2021 include increased front spring rates (by 5.7 per cent), increased front camber (to -1.7 degrees), redesigned front knuckles and lower control arms, teamed with revised rear toe-arm construction, increased rear spring rates (by 4.2 per cent), retuned front and rear dampers and a “localised ECS logic tune”, meaning the drive-mode separation.
The result is a firmly suspended and clearly focused hot hatch, but also one with a delightful level of dynamic depth and, in Normal mode, ultimate suspension suppleness.
Even tipping into roundabouts, the i30 N’s superb driver engagement is immediately rammed home. This is a precise car, but also an involving one – transferring its cornering load evenly across both front and rear ends, every corner, every time.
Indeed, the i30 N is so keen to hit apex targets that it’ll surprise you with just how much front-end point it has, and how effortlessly it obeys rapid changes of direction.
The more steering lock you add, the greater the sense of the chassis pivoting into a beautifully poised position, hunkering down into a stance that seems focused purely on one thing – getting to the next corner in the most composed, yet also the most rewarding fashion possible.
The ’21 i30 N is both planted and playful, and it’s this finessing of its dynamic outer edges that has expanded its hot-hatch goodness.
Icing the cake here is its electronic limited-slip front diff. Sure, it’ll still torque steer out of off-camber corners and demand some throttle control but that also makes the i30 N feel alive. And then there’s all the other times where the eLSD proves to be so frigging brilliant at hooking the nose into a corner and transferring grunt to those grippy Pirellis – even exiting T-junctions – that you start to formulate thoughts and prayers to the N gods hoping that no one ever numbs this car by making it AWD.
The fact the forthcoming Kona N is also front-drive suggests that Albert Biermann and his engineering crew know exactly why this car is the way it is – lightness, simplicity, personality, involvement.
It’s rare for a motoring journo to come away from a road test and go ‘now that’s a car I’d pay money for’ because the vehicle at hand is so bloody good. We suspected that about the i30 N in 2018, and the lasting impression of the polished and finessed 2021 version rams that home even harder.
Involving enough to yearn for, yet liveable enough to easily tackle the day-to-day, and egalitarian enough not to have tickets on itself, aside from simply being good. Astoundingly good.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 20 August 2021
All car reviews
Click to share