The discreet N badging around the cabin tells the real story of the Hyundai i30 N.
That’s N for the famed Nurburgring – and Namyang.
If the latter is alien to you, it is to Hyundai what the Skunk Works is to Lockheed Martin – a place where seriously potent weapons are developed.
The Germans, longtime Hyundai targets, have been crushing the company in the hot hatch stakes, and the company has had nothing to hit back with but with a stable of sedans, MPVs and SUVs.
What better way to beat the Germans – than to hire a German?
That thinking resulted in erstwhile BMW M head Albert Biermann being spirited away from Bavaria to help the Koreans conduct their own blitzkrieg.
The competition is fierce. Volkswagen has its finessed GTI, Honda’s Civic Type R wipes the floor with its 306hp monster of a VTEC engine and the Renault Megane RS is a bewitching drive.
But the i30 N’s $140,999 price tag makes it a compelling value proposition at nearly $30k-40k less, and its 247hp is nothing to sniff at either.
It’s striking in trademark baby blue, but I reckon it looks better in white with red accents and blacked-out wheels.
Low profile 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports and (somewhat questionable) stripey decals on our test car complete the aggressive look.
Sporty touches sparsely dot the rather plain cabin – two blue mode buttons and a ball-type shift knob are basically all the eye candy you get.
What you do get lots of is lightness: there are no electrically adjustable seats or rear air-con blowers.
Prison cell? Not really: passengers in the front and rear will still be comfortable thanks to supportive bucket seats and USB charging ports.
You can change the ferocity of nearly every aspect of the drivetrain through the central touchscreen, a Biermann hallmark.
That means you thankfully don’t have to endure the spine-crushingly stiff setup in N mode – you can set everything up in their tautest settings and leave the suspension in normal for fewer trips to the chiropractor.
It’s clear that Hyundai’s engineers are on the right track with their first proper N offering.
On the road in Normal mode, the i30 N’s ride is softer than in Sport or Sport+, and is unsettled only by the largest bumps.
Sport mode would be the ideal setting for sporty driving.
Though weighty, its steering is not difficult to manouevre around town, which lends predictability to the car’s handling.
If you find yourself on a twisty stretch of tarmac, that’s when you push the magic blue button to engage N mode.
Rev to 5000rpm, obey the flashing dashboard shift lights by swiftly swapping gears, and the exhausts become cannons, popping and banging as if you were in one of Hyundai’s rally cars.
(Side note: my inner child really enjoyed doing that every chance I got, neighbours be damned.)
Handling is quick and responsive through the tactile steering, and you’re always sure of what the front wheels are doing.
Take corners at speed and the i30 N tenaciously grips the tarmac, the sticky Michelins joining forces with the torque-rich engine to pull you forward.
But put too much power down mid-corner and the car squirms underneath you if you encounter a bump, so stiffly sprung the car is.
The i30 N’s 6-speed manual is a great supporting act in this ensemble. It shifts slickly and neatly, bringing an engagement that paddle shift gearboxes simply can’t provide.
The brakes, despite being in-house parts, never faded even after repeated stomps.
It’s a shame local models don’t get the limited-slip differential, variable exhaust and larger wheels as part of the Performance pack. Even thusly equipped, the i30 N should still undercut its rivals by a fair margin.
With the i30 N, warfare has been truly brought to the doorsteps of hot hatches everywhere.
Keen drivers will appreciate its involving and focused drive, which should worry other established hot hatches.
Ignore the “first try” label many ascribe to Hyundai’s maiden hot hatch: sand down some rough edges in the next generation and the i30 N will be spectacular.