This is the Hyundai i30 Fastback N. Crucially, though, not the Hyundai i30 N Fastback, even though that might feel like the more natural way to say it. The difference might not seem significant on the surface, but there’s a reason for it.
You see, Hyundai would like to suggest that this is a hot version of the i30 Fastback, rather than a Fastback version of the existing i30 hot hatchback. So to speak. In other words, where the Fastback is targeted at a subtly different clientele to the standard i30, so it goes with the Fastback N. And that’s why Hyundai now has two Golf-sized hot hatches in its range, rather than just the one.
Think of it like this: the i30 N’s squared-off tail makes it a more natural rival to buyers turned on by the charms of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renaultsport Megane and Peugeot 308 GTi. By contrast, the more flowing – and more commodious – rear quarters of the Fastback N push it into competition with the Honda Civic Type R and Skoda Octavia vRS.
But the differences are more than skin deep. The Fastback N comes with a subtly more compliant suspension set-up, courtesy of longer and softer bump stops, fractionally less aggressive spring rates, and a slimmer anti-roll bar, the better to make it feel like a more mature alternative to the boy-racer i30 N.
That doesn’t make this a limper version of the same car, mind you. In fact, the Fastback N comes as standard with the Performance pack that’s available only as an option on the ‘normal’ N. That means bigger wheels and brakes, a limited-slip differential and 271bhp – more than enough to make this a serious hot hatch contender, on paper at least.
You also get a welter of toys; the extensive equipment list includes dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, cruise control, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, parking sensors galore, and an eight-inch central screen with sat-nav and smartphone mirroring.
That touchscreen is pretty good, too; it’s sharp, crisp and easy to read, and the software behind it is snappy and intuitive, while the shortcut buttons down the sides give easy access to each function.
The rest of the dashboard is a touch underwhelming, mind you – there are some fairly hefty swathes of dark grey plastic that mean the i30’s interior doesn’t quite match up to those of the Golf and Civic. But the thin red bezels on the outer air vents do at least add a flash of colour, and it’s hard to fault the quality of the materials, the rather satisfying blue instrument illumination, or the slick feel of the switchgear.
The steering wheel is a little bit labyrinthine, mind you, though with patient study you’ll get the hang of it. Not only will you find controls for the cruise control, trip computer and entertainment here, but there are also two big buttons you can easily hit with your thumbs. One is marked ‘Drive Mode’, and switches the Fastback N between Comfort, Sport and Eco modes. The other is emblazoned simply with a chequered flag, and flicks you into ‘N’ – a hardcore setup with track driving in mind – or Custom.
This wealth of choice might sound off-putting at first – especially if you like your driving thrills pure and simple – but once you’ve dialled in your own personalised Custom set-up it becomes second-nature to flick between Comfort on the motorway, Sport on back roads and Custom everywhere else, all using the big thumb-buttons on the wheel.
Space is impressive too; you’ll find acres of room in the front and some fabulous seats that hold you in place tightly while still feeling comfortable. And while there’s a little less headroom in the rear than in the standard i30 N, only the very tallest adults will find that that fact actually affects them.
The boot, meanwhile, aces both the standard i30 and the Honda Civic Type R for space, and that makes it one of the largest boots you’ll find on any hot hatch – beaten only by the voluminous Skoda Octavia vRS. You’ll have to stress your back to lift items over the high load lip and into the boot, mind you, and rear visibility is a trifle compromised as a result of that sloping roofline – though at least your view out isn’t rent in twain by a vast spoiler like the Civic’s.
Press the big starter button and the i30 fires up to a rasping, bassy idle, yet a long, feelsome clutch bite and light controls make it easy-going on the move. The ride in Comfort mode is stiff, for sure, but no more so than any of its hot hatch brethren; indeed, it’s probably a fraction more tolerable than some, and while you’ll notice larger potholes, for the most part the Fastback N remains the right side of comfortable.
In fact, but for the firmer ride and farty exhaust his could be just another i30 Fastback when you’re simply bimbling along; on the motorway, there’s a bit of tyre noise to contend with but otherwise the Fastback N is civilised and well-mannered.
Indeed, you might be wondering what all the fuss surrounding Hyundai’s new N cars is all about. Until, that is, you find yourself a ribbon of Tarmac to have a spot of fun on.
Flick the Fastback into Sport, or even ‘N’ mode, and you’ll be pleased to note its ride doesn’t suddenly go to pieces. Yes, it grows firmer, but not back-breakingly so, enabling it to absorb all but the worst mid-corner bumps without snatching at the wheel.
The steering itself is sweet and beautifully weighted; perhaps a trifle lacking in feel, but with a chassis this deft you probably won’t miss what’s not there. And it’s barely corrupted when you pile on the power mid-bend; a slightly gentler differential means the Fastback N doesn’t claw at the road as angrily as the Honda Civic Type R, and while that means ultimately it feels softer and less urgent, it also makes it a fraction more friendly and easier to drive quickly.
And if you want to tighten your line, there’s just enough mobility in the chassis for you to easing off the throttle and tuck the nose in mid-bend, the tail shifting gently on its springs but never feeling as though it’s about to break out into full-blown oversteer.
The engine note, meanwhile, grows pleasingly harder-edged in Sport mode; not quite as overt as the synthesised systems you’ll find in some hot hatches, but so much the better for that. And if you really drive the Fastback N hard and get the exhaust good and hot, you’ll be rewarded with some crisp, delicate and authentic-sounding pops on the overrun.
If there’s one failing, it would be the gearshift, whose throw is long and not as tactile as you’d like to find in a performance car. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t snick from ratio to ratio as sweetly as that of the Civic Type R. The brakes could be stronger, too; while they scrub off speed impressively at first, a few miles of hard use will cause them to start to fade, which does as good a job of scrubbing off your confidence in them.
Mind you, these flaws will be pretty inconsequential for most who are in the market. Unless you’re planning on using your hyper hatch on the track, don’t be put off. What makes the i30 N so good is what a fabulous all-rounder it is. Indeed, it’s only beaten on space and practicality – the day-to-day bread and butter of a hot hatch – by the Octavia, a car to which it is vastly superior in terms of dynamics.
Does that make this the best hot hatch on sale today? Well, the Civic Type R, widely acknowledged as the best of the current crop, is undoubtedly harder-edged, more vivid, and consequently, more rewarding when you really grab it by the scruff of the neck. If you wanted the wildest, most exciting hot hatch money could buy, it’d have to be the Civic, and given it’s hardly a chore to live with, it’s probably still the pack leader.
However, were the larger boot, the vastly better touchscreen, the more reserved styling and, most importantly of all, the two years of additional warranty that the i30 Fastback N bring to the party more important to you than ultimate dynamic prowess, you’d find it to be just as rewarding a choice – perhaps even more so. Even if it does mean learning to say its name in the right order first.
Hyundai i30 Fastback N
TESTED 1,998cc four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £29,995/now
POWER/TORQUE 271bhp @ 6,000rpm, 260lb ft @ 1,500-4,700rpm
TOP SPEED 155mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 6.1sec
FUEL ECONOMY 34.0mpg (WLTP Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 178g/km (NEDC)
VED £855 first year, then £140
VERDICT The i30 Fastback N is perhaps the most convincing of Hyundai’s hot hatch crop, with its larger boot and more refined ride making it a seriously tempting alternative to the wild Honda Civic Type R, even if it isn’t quite as visceral. The five-year warranty only adds to its appeal.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Honda Civic Type R, from £31,550
Not much extra cash for so much more power than the i30, and that extra bite to the driving experience makes the Civic, on balance, the better hot hatch. But if its awful infotainment and mad styling aren’t for you, the Fastback N is a superb alternative.
Renault Megane R.S. 280, from £27,835
Not quite the class-leader in terms of feel and involvement it once was, and the Megane’s slightly cheap-feeling interior lets it down a little. But this is still a fabulously exciting car, and a handsome one, too – and surprisingly comfortable for a hot hatch.
Skoda Octavia vRS 245, from £27,640
The Octavia vRS has fallen toward the back of the class thanks to its slightly weak power figure and less involving handling, but it’s still the most practical car of its kind. If what you want is a capable family hauler with a sporting streak, it might fit the bill.
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