- Our car: Hyundai i30 Fastback N
- List price when new: £29,995 OTR
- Price as tested: £29,995
- Official fuel economy: 34mpg (WLTP Combined)
- Fuel economy on test: 32mpg
It’s funny how a couple of hours behind the wheel during a press launch are no substitute for actually living with a car, even though on that first acquaintance you try every seat position, poke and prod at every part of the interior and drive in as many conditions as you can think of.
Given that this perky N Performance (Hyundai’s sporty sub-brand in the way that M Sport is to BMW) four-door coupé had until recently only been run on wet and cold roads, the speedo error-corrected consumption of 32mpg isn’t too bad, especially as the WLTP Combined fuel consumption is 34mpg. That said, compared with a 44mpg average of my previous long-termer (a Ford Focus Active turbodiesel), it does batter the old wallet a bit.
Appearance: a four door coupé or a mini-shooting brake?
The i30 Fastback bodyshell was launched last year, just 18 months after the first appearance of the N Performance hatchback. It was a smart move, using much the same components but with more curvaceous appearance for those looking for something a bit less "boy racer" than the hatch. I’m not convinced that this is much more than a small shooting brake and there are some pretty good-looking rivals around, including Mercedes-Benz’s CLA Shooting Brake.
All the same, the N Performance i30 in this shell makes a terrific performance bargain. At £29,995, it’s up against some very serious hot family hatchbacks (Honda’s Civic Type R, Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, Ford’s Focus ST), but it has a more mature look and a slightly less frenetic suspension set-up than the hard-riding hatchback version or its rivals.
It’s a good looking car, too, especially with that long curve to the roofline and a pert behind reminiscent of a Porsche or Mercedes C63 coupé. The front is aggressive and low (enough to ground out on steep driveways) and the large diameter (345mm) front brake discs are fed cooling air via slots in the front.
Apart from being a pain to keep clean in murky weather, the white paintwork rather suits it, with the red pinstripes and black grilles that set it off nicely. They’re a nice set of wheels, too, though you get tired pretty quickly of cleaning the red brake calipers.
Inside you’ll find plenty of red stitching and N branding everywhere. All the materials feel of decent quality and it seems well put together, but it can’t quite match the tactile refinement of cars such as the Golf. Those rear seats are pretty cramped and the generous 450 litre boot doesn’t quite compensate for the big tubular steel turret brace, which sits across the rear floor and restricts long loads that you might want to slide in there.
There are most of the connectivity things you’d want with a GT like this and the loudspeakers are pretty good, but the interfaces are tricky and I’ve still not quite worked out how to get the radio playing while also using Apple CarPlay – sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. And while cruise control is standard, intelligent cruise control isn’t.
The drivetrain as much from Germany as South Korea
From the first N Performance hatchback, Hyundai N cars have been rightly praised for their handling precision and powerful drivetrains wrought by a team lead by Albert Biermann, formerly of BMW. The four-cylinder, 2.0-litre ‘Theta’ direct fuel-injection turbo petrol engine musters 271bhp at 6,000rpm and 279lb ft of torque at 1,420rpm on overboost. That’s enough to make the performance if not electrifying at least generously stimulating, overtaking is deliciously easy and the acceleration from rest is brisk enough.
It doesn’t sound fantastic, but there’s a grumpy growl at low speeds and a harsh anger at peak revs. Not that you need to rev it too hard as the turbo gives a great mid-range, seldom requiring more than a single gearchange to get past slower traffic. Top speed is quoted at 155mph with 0-62mph in 6.1sec.
What's it like on the road?
The torque delivery is spiky, though, and too much throttle will have traction control thumping like heavy machine gun fire under the bonnet. It feels quite old school and the gearbox, while direct and mechanical-feeling, doesn’t quite have the creamy precision of Ford’s ST or the Golf. Just as well, too, that there’s a great-sounding rev-matching function on downchanges, because the pedal heights and spacing make it almost impossible to double declutch in the traditional manner. The clutch feels sharp and, with virtually no flywheel effect, the engine is rather easy to stall.
With suspension settings dialled back (softer springs, longer bump stops and thinner anti-roll bars) compared with the i30 N Performance hatchback, the Fastback rides firmly, but more comfortably. It’s a good long distance car and the ride is only occasionally discombobulated over uneven roads where it tosses heads from side to side.
Above all, though, it’s a better car to drive as a result of this gentle softening. There’s a little bit more tip in to corners, you feel the nose lean into the turn, which gives you an idea of where to place the front, while the steering has a bit more feedback as well.
The adaptive dampers are carried over from the hatchback and give myriad steering, suspension and throttle mapping combinations. It’s less confusing than it sounds although given the state of our roads those switches (including the bespoke, more rabid N mode) remained firmly unpressed until spring finally made itself felt.
You get used to this car’s sporting pretensions, although around town the tendency to stall occasionally can catch you out and, at 11.6 metres, the turning circle feels large - and if you apply full lock the wide, 19-inch Pirelli P-Zero tyres scrape across the road rather that turning.
What does Herbie think?
For those following the further adventures of Herbie our new Black Labrador pup, he’s done several journeys to the West Country curled in the passenger footwell from where he can see me, is safe and secure and able to score a few biscuits if he puts his best ears on. He’s growing fast, though, and will soon have to make the big leap across the high rear parcel shelf into the boot.
It’s on these longer journeys where this Czech-made, Daz-white bolide comes into its own. It eats miles comfortably and affordably, is large enough for luggage and dog, but when you turn off the dual carriageway there’s more than enough fun to be had.
It might not quite have the razor-sharp edge of the Honda Civic Type R or Renault’s Megane RS Trophy, but it’s a better all-rounder.
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