New Hyundai i30 N prototype review

Hyundai’s 290bhp i30 N hot hatch is taking shape, and we’ve been for an early drive

Verdict

The Hyundai i30 N has the potential to deliver Ford Focus RS levels of driver involvement for less than the price of a regular VW Golf GTI. Having spent one fascinating, privileged day in the i30 N prototype, we’re convinced that Hyundai has a potential winner on its hands with this car. In fact, if this early version is anything to go by, it could well be one of the most surprising performance models of next year. And just think – in Mr Biermann’s words, this is only the beginning…

Until the end of 2014, Albert Biermann was happy with his life as boss of BMW’s M Division. The 59-year-old had masterminded all sorts of cars. He had no reason not to stay for the rest of his career.

And then he got a call from Hyundai, who offered him an enticing deal to go and work in Korea – in order to oversee the firm’s top-secret new N-car project. That was early in 2015, and since then Biermann has been working flat-out at Hyundai, with the i30 N occupying much of his time.

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The car arrives in the UK next year, and the heavy disguise in our pictures belies the fact it’s a surprisingly hardcore, front-drive hot hatch with a 290bhp 2.0-litre turbo. It has a six-speed manual gearbox, electronic dampers and an electronic diff, and it’ll hit 0-62mph in six seconds.

Think Renaultsport Megane Trophy with previous-generation Ford Focus RS mixed in, and you’re close. It won’t be quite as aggressive as the Focus, but flared arches and beefed-up bumpers will mark it out.

In time there’ll be a whole series of N cars, in much the same way that there are ranges of Mercedes-AMG and Audi RS models. The N refers to Hyundai’s Namyang proving ground in Korea, but also stands for Nurburgring, where development work has taken place.

To ensure the i30 N rides and handles as well as it should, Biermann invited us to test a prototype in the UK – a market that could lead the way for global sales. We met on a road near Beachy Head, just outside Eastbourne, East Sussex.

It’s a challenging piece of tarmac, so it was just the right place to try out a prototype. And apart from minor points concerning the length of throw on the gearchange (too long), the seats (not supportive enough) and the exhaust note (not loud enough at full chat), the i30 N is fundamentally where it needs to be to work well on a UK B-road. In fact, we were amazed by how good it was, and by how composed and fast it felt over this most evil of roads.

Maybe the best thing of all is that you can tailor each component to suit your mood. Smooth roads equal a stiffer electronic damper setting, a more aggressive throttle map and as little intervention from the traction control as possible, whereas on bumpy stretches you’d dial in the exact opposite. You do the whole lot via an ‘N’ button on the steering wheel.

“When you turn off the traction control, it stays off,” says Biermann “I hate it when you think you’ve turned something off but you haven’t. I refused to have a system like that. When it’s off, it’s off, and the rest is down to the driver.”

Key specs

  • Model: Hyundai i30 N
  • Price: £25,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power/torque: 290bhp/390Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 6.0 seconds (est)
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Economy/CO2: 35mpg (est)/N/A
  • On sale: January 2018