DRIVEN | Hyundai has launched its highly-anticipated i30N in SA, but is it worth R680 000?
The Hyundai i30N may have been on sale in Europe since 2017, but the South African market had to wait a few years for this hot hatch to make its debut on local soil.
Finally, after an almost three-year wait, Hyundai brought the car to market and invited media to sample their latest offering.
The Boland, in the Western Cape, played host to the launch. This area is primarily known for its ungodly heat and unforgiving sun, but little could deter the excitement of driving one of the most anticipated sports cars this year.
The i30N is Hyundai’s first foray in the hot hatch segment, especially locally, so the automaker had to come out guns blazing to stake their claim.
The car, lauded by European media for what it offers, has to convince both local consumers and the motoring fraternity of its capabilities. And that it has what it takes to take on highly-established rivals such Volkswagen's Golf R, the Honda Civic Type R, and Renault's Megane R.S.
The driving modes
For the i30N to stake its claim against its rivals, including the venerable VW GTI, the car has to offer a multifaceted ride quality. To achieve this, five driving modes are on offer, each one offering a unique touch to the car’s dynamism.
It must be noted, however, that even in the softest setting, the car offers a fair amount of jolt. This is mainly due to the corrugated road surfaces South Africa is faced with.
Normal and Eco modes do what’s expected of them by delivering a somewhat subdued ride quality. These are mainly for when you are in traffic and want to save fuel. Sport ups the ante a bit, but not to the point that you’d want to grab the bit between the teeth. N, however, does what the R-button does to the Civic Type R. It changes the car’s character entirely and brings forth a machine that is rearing to go.
Throttle inputs become a lot more sensitive, gear changes more direct, and the exhaust note becomes more profound and louder. It is fair to assume that most owners will drive around in N mode, regardless of traffic conditions, because a loud crackle and pop accompany every lift off the throttle. It’s addictive, might we add…
Users can also set up the car to their liking via the Custom setting.
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
Under the skin
Like many of the contenders in the segment, Hyundai opted to fit its i30N with a 2.0-litre petrol engine. Thanks to turbocharging, the engine develops a decent amount of power: 202kW and 353Nm. The torque figure, however, can increase by 8% to 378Nm for a maximum of 18 seconds on overboost. This comes in handy when one needs to overtake quickly or exit your favourite bend without wasting too much time.
The engine is connected to a brilliant short-throw six-speed manual gearbox that is operated by a weighty clutch. To some, it may feel as if the clutch offers too much resistance, but it merely adds to the car’s personality. It works, and the shifting actions that accompany it play into its strengths.
The front-wheels drive machine is fitted with an electronically limited slip differential, traction control, and stability control (ESC). With the right settings activated to engage launch control, the car will see 100km/h from standstill in 6.2 seconds, while top speed is rated at 250km/h.
The i3N’s exhaust system also allows for the system to change its sound. As alluded to earlier, in Normal and Eco modes, the car sounds standard, without many theatricals. Whereas in Sport and N modes, the character and sound changes completely. This is because Hyundai placed a valve in the exhaust system that alters the note with each driving mode.
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
Hyundai South Africa also arranged for media to drive the i30N on a private racetrack. The short and twisty track gave ample scope for the new hatchback to both stretch its legs and put its cornering ability to the test.
In N mode, the car tightens up, steering becomes more weighted, and throttle responses more sensitive. Hyundai Motorsport calls the i30N a ‘corner rascal’ because of how the car reacts to steering inputs. The track played into those strengths. While some corners required a slower entry, others allowed the car to carry its speed throughout. In one sequence of turns, the i30N kept its speed of over 120km/h, all the while staying stable and not wobbling about.
Hyundai stressed that it gave ample attention to body control and rigidity, in so doing, allowing the car to be tauter and more direct. On the track, one can position the car where you want it, and the feedback through the steering rack generates enough confidence to trust what the car will do next.
On the road
Following the track experience, the i30N hit the open road. A variety of conditions would form part of the experience, all purposed to test the i30N.
Throughout the drive, the driving modes were explored, and each one gave a notable impression. Normal and Eco, to start with, offers a more compliant ride quality. Yes, our roads do little to mask the sports setup of the suspension, but the demeanour of the car is far less… intense.
In Sport and N modes, the car’s character changes. Now one feels every nook and cranny of the road, and the slightest imperfection will make its presence felt. The car is more immediate to both steering and throttle inputs, but it comes at a small price: on-road comfort. Unlike on the track, with its smooth surface, national roads could hamper the overall driving experience if you’re in Sport or N. Especially if you are driving on a B-road.
Where the did shine, however, was on the proving grounds that is the Franschhoek Pass. The twists and turns allowed N mode to be explored to its full extent, and give a glimpse into what potential owners may do with their cars. Scaling the pass, the engine found its rhythm as the redline is chased, while the hard braking sections proved that the brakes can handle rigorous driving.
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
At R679 900, the Hyundai i30N finds itself in a predicament. It has to do battle against the likes of the Golf GTI (R568 600) and Megane R.S. (R589 900), but it is priced closer to the all-wheel-drive Golf R (R684 400). It’s not an ideal position, but the car has to appeal to quite a broad audience when pricing comes into the equation.
As such, following the comprehensive launch program, one is left feeling that the car offers more than enough to take the fight to both ends of its price range.
In terms of the package, the i30N is a refreshing machine in a segment dominated by automatic transmissions. The manual gearbox brings both man and machine together for a genuinely subversive experience. The interior could have been slightly sportier, but there are enough hints scattered around that this car is not playing.
The Hyundai i30N is good. It’s really good.