Hatchbacks are the ‘it’ cars now and the Hyundai i30N is proving to be the hottest choice
(July 15): Everybody loves a hot hatchback. Or, rather, everybody should love them. These pocket rocket cars are so much fun to drive whatever age you are that you need to own at least one in your lifetime. I owned the original hot hatch — the Volkswagen Golf GTI — in the 1990s and it was one of my happiest memories of driving. Since then, most car brands have dabbled in this area with varying success. The latest entrant into the hot hatchback arena is Korean brand Hyundai.
But before we start, just a recap on what the term “hot hatch” means. Technically, it refers to a high-performance version of a mass-produced car, with the VW Golf being a classic example. Some brands have high-performance (or motor sports) divisions that specifically build these cars. Think BMW’s M division or Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. But it is not just Europeans who love building and driving hot hatchbacks; Asians do as well.
Hyundai has been busy in this area and set its sights on its European rivals, hoping to match them in terms of quality, technology and range of models. The latest addition to the popular Korean brand’s growing stable of cars is a hot hatch called the i30N. As this is the brand’s first proper hatchback, and it faces stiff competition from the likes of VW, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Renault, the pressure was on. It was a case of “go big or go home”. So Hyundai went big.
$150,999 including COE
Engine: 1,998cc, 16-valve, turbocharged
Fuel consumption: 7L/100km
0 to 100kph: 6.4 seconds
N is Hyundai’s high-performance sub-brand, joining the likes of Audi’s R and BMW’s M in having a one capital letter moniker. The N stands for Namyang, home to Hyundai’s global R&D centre in South Korea. But interestingly, it also stands for Nürburgring, the famous German race and test track. The i30N was developed and intensely tested on this track. Hyundai has a long history with motorsports and rally cars, so it is no stranger to race tracks.
My test-drive model came in a tasteful light blue colour, but decked out in Hyundai and i30 stickers all over the body, drawing plenty of attention. Clearly, you do not need to go all “rally driver” and can tone it down if you do fall in love with this car. Oh dear, I think I have just spilled the beans and revealed how I feel about the i30N. It all started when I sat in the cabin and rested my left hand on the manual gear lever. Yes, a good, old-fashioned manual gearbox, which means both your left arm and left foot get an unexpected workout.
But it was not just the manual gearbox that won me over. It looks good too, in typical hot hatch tradition, curvy and compact. A manual car means you have to concentrate more on the driving experience as you decide when to shift up and down the gears, and how quickly. Many cars are semi-automatic with cute paddle shifters behind the steering, but in practice very few people use them. A solely manual car forces you to get involved.
It also allows for lots of revving up as you hold back from changing up a gear, and some slick gear changes when you are trying to get from a standing start to 100kph (which Hyundai says can be done in 6.4 seconds — the same as the iconic VW Golf GTI). You can have a lot of fun in this car, and get a good workout at the same time for your left hand and foot.
Hot hatches are personified as having small bodies with big engines. The i30N comes with a two-litre, four-cylinder powerplant that has been turbocharged to squeeze out a healthy dose of 247bhp of power and 353Nm of torque. Yes, this car will appeal to the racers out there, but I feel it has a wider appeal. The i30N doubles as a very comfortable, nippy and smooth-sailing compact car. Just choose a more sedate driving mode — from Eco, Normal, Sport, N or N Custom — and use the six-speed manual gearbox to suit your driving style.
The manual i30N definitely takes you out of your comfort zone, especially if you habitually drive automatic cars of the sport-utility vehicle variety. Motorists are increasingly feeling a little distant from the driving experience with so many onboard gadgets and aids to guide them, along with automatically shifting gears. Driving a manual car gets you back to basics.
But that is not to say the i30N is a basic car. Inside, it comes with plenty of features that drivers take for granted in modern cars. These include a Qi wireless charger, dual-zone air-con and a high-res infotainment system that comes complete with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functions. All in all, Hyundai’s first proper attempt at a hot hatchback is an enormously entertaining car to drive, while being much kinder to the pocket compared with its European rivals.
Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast