From £25,0107

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

Find Hyundai i30 N deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
From £25,010
Nearly-new car deals
From £18,000
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

You’ve got to hand it to them: with the Hyundai i30 N's arrival, Hyundai is for the first time heading into a hot hatch segment that's currently simmering to a competitive frenzy the likes of which we’ve rarely before witnessed.

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 Seat 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 Hyundai i30 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.

Back to top


Hyundai i30 N front end

Hyundai hasn’t shown a lack of commitment to the performance cause with the specification of the i30 N.

True, many of the components that we’re about to reference here are from companies particular to Hyundai’s own supply chain and lesser known than the names we’re used to – but their very presence is a clear sign of ambition and also that this car is to be taken seriously by keen drivers.

For a Sunday morning blast, I’d take a i30 N over a Golf GTI. There’s a lot more entertainment and character here – but I’d wouldn’t want to deal with all of it every day

That hardware consists of a version of Hyundai’s torque-rich, turbocharged 1998cc Theta GDI petrol engine mated to a six-speed gearbox delivering drive to the front axle alone through an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

Fitted with 19in wheels, the car sits 8mm lower than the standard Hyundai i30 hatch, wears a subdued body kit and uses adaptive suspension configurable through four modes.

Customisability is a central tenet of the i30 N experience. Along with the suspension, the car’s throttle response, rev-matching function, differential, exhaust, steering (electrically assisted, with a rack-mounted motor for additional precision) and stability control are all changeable to some extent, and owners will be able to group their preferences together in a Custom mode. The stability control can also be switched off entirely, a Biermann calling card.

The i30 N’s vital statistics make for encouraging reading but there’s no doubt that they trail those of the very quickest front-drive hot hatches.

Cars such as the Civic Type R now boast more than 300bhp, whereas the Hyundai can muster only 271bhp at 6000rpm with an accompanying 279lb ft between 1500rpm and 4700rpm on overboost (although 260lb ft is the homologated permanent torque figure).

These numbers do better those of the Golf GTI by a considerable margin, but the 1386kg VW is usefully lighter than the 1429kg Hyundai.

All of the above applies to the Performance Package model tested here and likely to be the bigger seller. In its standard fettle, the i30 N does with only an open differential, 247bhp, 18in wheels and no active exhaust.


Hyundai i30 N interior

Hyundai spent large and leveraged the contacts of its former BMW M division executive to the full to produce extensive chassis, suspension, powertrain and steering overhauls for this i30, so it’s no major shock to discover that there must have been little budget left for a performance makeover inside.

The i30 N’s cabin, like that of the regular Hyundai i30, is constructed out of too many monotone plastics to be particularly inviting or exciting.

I can’t think of a race circuit smooth enough anywhere in the world to make sense of a driving mode like N. Even at Silverstone, those damper settings would be too much

The car’s baseline standard on perceived quality is reasonable but there are places where wobbly mouldings and shiny finishes should be improved upon. More conspicuous, though, is the absence of almost anything to lift the ambience above the humdrum.

That problem may have been exacerbated by the optional seats of our test car. The Performance-trim i30 N comes with part-leather electrically adjustable sports seats as standard, but these can be swapped back to the manually adjustable cloth sports seats of the lesser i30 N, should you want to save some weight.

Our test car had the rather plain grey cloth seats, and the difference they make is worth just over 12kg.

The car’s driving position and ergonomic layout are decent but not perfect. You sit in a slightly perched, bent-legged driving position typical of a hatchback, and get plenty of room at the controls, supported fairly well but not brilliantly by the seat bolsters.

Regrettably, there’s too much space between the brake and accelerator pedals for easy bridging during heel-and-toe shifting, should you prefer to take care of it yourself rather than use the standard rev-matching feature.

The restrained shade of pale blue used to illuminate minor switchgear doesn’t look at home in a performance machine and it’s used most notably on the oversized toggle buttons on the steering wheel spokes.

The car has five drive modes – Normal, Sport, Eco, Custom and N – but if you want to access Custom or N, you need to use the toggle button on the right. Quite why one drive mode button for all five modes wouldn’t suffice is a bit bewildering.

The 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system you get as standard in the i30 N has a freestanding tablet-like screen with decent display resolution and clarity and plenty of functionality.

Unlike some, it features shortcut buttons on either side of the screen that make it easy to hop between menus without having to navigate via a home screen, and although it often takes a while to respond to inputs, that fact alone – plus the convenience of anchoring your left arm on the surround of the system before prodding with your thumb – makes it fairly easy to use.

The system has voice recognition that works quite well for certain functions.

It does DAB and smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android handsets and gives you a wireless charging pad for Qi-standard phones, too. None of Hyundai’s competitors are quite that generous with their standard kit tally.

The factory-fit navigation system is clear and easy to follow, although it is a little short on mapping detail and points of interest.


2.0-litre Hyundai i30 N petrol engine

For a sub-£28,000 hot hatchback to record a 0-60mph sprint that’s closer to six seconds than it is to seven should produce exactly the sort of reaction from regular buyers of fast front-drivers that Hyundai was hoping for.

On a greasy track, our test car averaged 6.4sec from rest to 60mph, while clearly struggling for the traction necessary to use full power in either first or second gear.

In the firmer modes, the i30 N is better to leave the traction control engaged to go fast around flat, off-camber bends

On a perfect day and after a perfect start, we wouldn’t rule out shaving several tenths off that showing, although we’d be surprised to see the car go under 6.0sec.

It’s bafflingly rare to see launch control fitted to the powerful, front-driven, manual-transmission hot hatchbacks on which it’d be of more help than on almost any other kind of performance car, but it does appear on the i30 N.

Unfortunately, although it works fairly well, our quickest runs were recorded with the traction and stability aids completely disabled – and they were produced in only a fairly hit-and-miss fashion.

That’s because Hyundai’s engine for this car may have plenty of torque but it’s delivered in a bit of a sudden rush of boost in the middle of the rev range.

It’s very difficult to moderate in the lower gears and can easily disrupt the driven axle’s hold on even dry tarmac if you inadvertently use that little bit too much accelerator.

The engine pulls hard once grip returns but doesn’t have the balanced, linear feel of the 2.0-litre turbo in the Civic Type R and doesn’t rev nearly as keenly above 5000rpm.

The engine sounds nicely venomous, if very induction whoosh dominated, from the outside of the car – but from the inside, your appreciation of it is handicapped by Hyundai’s Active Sound Design engine noise synthesis system. It plays through the audio speakers at a volume you can choose to ignore in certain driving modes but it becomes much too loud and artificial-sounding in others.

Mercifully, though, you can configure the car for enhanced engine response combined with less exhaust noise fakery using the Custom driving mode.

Deserving of much more praise is the shift quality of the i30 N’s six-speed manual gearbox, which has just the right effort level and nicely defined feel, and the brakes, which are powerful and work through a nicely feelsome and progressive pedal.


Hyundai i30 N cornering

There’s plenty of hardcore purpose about much that the i30 N does on the road. If anything, there’s often too much of it, which may be a failing you’re willing to forgive of a company so keen to convince the world that it has made a really serious performance car for the first time.

It’s just a shame that so much of the car’s grungy attitude is of little advantage to it and that the ride and handling simply don’t hang together better in a more coherent, communicative and really rewarding driving experience.

Suspension is a touch noisy but functional over the transmission bumps in Normal mode. Just drive around them if you’re in Sport or N modes

The surprisingly cloying weight in the steering rack is the thing that strikes you first about it: there’s loads of it, even in the Normal drive mode the car defaults to, and yet not quite the level of contact patch feedback that such weight usually gives you access to.

It may be, of course, that Hyundai doesn’t want to expose us to all of the forces going through that front axle, with an electronic locking differential dialling up and down its torque transmission settings. And yet it doesn’t quite seem to protect us from the consequence of that process, either; because while the steering rim as often feels leaden and inert as it does connected and honest, its weight can fluctuate quickly and starkly when you’re giving the chassis a close dynamic examination.

Not as starkly, though, as the i30 N’s ride changes as you switch from Normal through Sport and – if only to fully satisfy your amazement – eventually into the preposterously firm N suspension mode.

In Normal mode, there is useful progressiveness and predictability to the i30 N’s handling; plenty of grip and very respectable body control, combined with a ride that still feels fairly supple; and decent cornering balance that can be tapped into, should you choose, to more deeply immerse yourself in the driving experience.

In Sport mode, the steering weights up a bit; the ride deteriorates for the sake of tighter body control on smooth surfaces but less of it on a typical UK road; and the car’s useful balance of grip and sense of progressiveness both deteriorate with it, for the sake of greater high-speed stability.

In N mode, meanwhile, you’re saddled with a ride that’s unbearably vice-like to be tolerated for more than 10 seconds or so even on averagely surfaced UK tarmac, and that would make the car very hard to drive even on a very smooth circuit to all but a professional racer.

Thusly, the configurability of the i30 N’s driving experience fails to amount to much, as you quickly learn that the car is at its best, both on road and track, before you start dialling up the settings.

At its best, the i30 N handles quite well, if a little untidily and with a hint of unpredictability at times, although it’s always involving. But at it’s worst, it’s the closest thing you’ll find to truly undriveable in a new mainstream series-production car.

The i30 N isn’t the only performance car on the market with a drive mode that’s too aggressive for the Alpine hill test route – but there aren’t many with two modes that feel that way.

Set up in Normal, the car grips hard but also communicates the margins of its grip well enough.

There are times, when the front axle is loaded up, that the steering almost freezes with unhelpful weight but it’s not a frequent occurrence. The fully switchable stability control, meanwhile, allows you to move the car’s rear around a little bit.

Enter Sport mode and the handling adjustability pretty much disappears, though, and the damping becomes restless and overbearing.

In N mode, the point at which grip becomes slip under the front wheels is almost impossible to predict, the steering becomes very physical indeed, and you avoid even small kerbs for fear of making the whole car skip clear of the road surface.


Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai keeps things reasonably simple with the i30 N, so your only big decision is whether to go for the Performance Package.

For £3000 extra, it brings the larger wheels and Pirelli tyres, the limited-slip differential, variable exhaust, a chunk more power and assorted luxuries such as leather seats, so we’d encourage you to beg, steal or borrow if that is what’s required.

Hyundai will hope that, in time, its N badging will command a similar type of reverence as the preceding letter of the alphabet does for a certain German firm

Thus equipped, the Hyundai still undercuts the base Golf GTI, and that’s the remarkable thing about this car, especially as the driving experience is in several aspects superior to the VW’s.

Consider also that wireless phone charging, parking sensors, DAB radio, keyless entry, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and sat-nav delivered through an 8.0in touchscreen are also included.

Residual forecasts for the i30 N have yet to be established but it is likely to trail those of more established rivals.

That leaves prospective buyers in a tricky position: save now and potentially lose more later, or spend bigger, or go for a less-compelling alternative.



3.5 star Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai has big plans and hopes for its N performance brand, so a 3.5-star rating for the i30 N will probably come as a disappointment to the management.

It shouldn’t. A 3.5-star car is, after all, ‘a good car’ by our reckoning. And this is one with some clear shortcomings, but its biggest failing is that the commitment evident in its mechanical make-up wasn’t quite matched to the expert chassis tuning it deserved.

First hot hatch attempt is fast and full-blooded, with rough edges

This is nonetheless a fast, involving and likeable driver’s car – and that it offers so much speed, focus and usability for so little outlay is sure to endear it to really keen drivers still further.

Among comparable performance cars available for £30,000 and below, we’ve ranked the car in our top five contenders and above the current Ford Focus ST, Peugeot 308 GTi and others.

Displacing the current affordable performance offerings of car makers like that is quite an achievement for a brand that has come onto the hot hatch from nowhere – and stands ready to cause a bit of a stir.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Hyundai i30 N First drives