Car reviews - Hyundai - i30 - Sedan N
Fantastic looks, brilliant to drive, great interior space
Room for improvement
No wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity
Final model in the i30 range scores the N treatment
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16 Dec 2021
HOT HATCHES have been a staple marketing tool for brands since Volkswagen – arguably – invented the concept. The Golf GTI is now in its eighth (technically ninth) generation and is still the conceptual if not dynamic benchmark for the sub-genre. Few challengers have really taken it to the Golf in the way Hyundai’s i30 N has.
Launched in 2019, the hatch has conquered once and for all the perception that Hyundais aren’t as good as anything else out there, an idea that has taken a decade to kill after the brand got serious about engineering in the late noughties.
This year has brought few good things, but as far as Hyundai is concerned, the arrival of the eight-speed automatic in the form of the Korean giant’s wet-clutch DCT gearbox was a great thing.
Sales have surged on the back of the two-pedal version and Hyundai has, in quick succession, introduced the i30-based Kona N SUV, the i20 N light hatch, and now the final piece in the small car range, the $49,000 i30 Sedan N. Whether you choose the new DCT or stick with manual, you’ll pay the same price and get the same five-year warranty all other Hyundais enjoy.
Obviously, apart from the i20 N, none of these cars is particularly small. The hatch is doing extremely good business, buoyed by the DCT’s introduction and a comprehensive mid-life upgrade to the chassis and cabin technology.
The i30 Sedan has been part of the Hyundai range for about 18 months, replacing the Elantra. It’s not technically an i30 – it rides on a different platform, with a significant increase in wheelbase to accommodate rear seat passengers more comfortably and a much bigger boot.
The interior architecture is quite different from the hatch, with a different cabin design, lower roof (courtesy of a swoopy coupe design) and a huge boot. The longer wheelbase delivers so much more rear space that it’s clear this car might behave quite differently to the hatch.
If it wasn’t for an extravagant exterior design by ex-Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke, an N version would perhaps be a bridge too far. Mazda’s 3 sedan is the more conservative of the range, but Hyundai pulled out rather more stops than it did with the hatch, delivering a striking design with geometric themes reminiscent of its designer’s time at Lamborghini.
The sedan’s N additions complement the already exciting sheetmetal. A new grille and front bumper, 19-inch wheels with machined finish, side skirts and a deeper rear bumper. The only misstep is possibly the rear wing, which looks like an afterthought. Its three-post design is said to reduce deformation at high speed, and one imagines it serves a useful drag reduction purpose.
As with the hatch, the sedan takes many of the facelift’s N-specific modifications. The front brakes measure 55mm more than the standard car’s at 360mm and a brake pre-fill function ensures you have a confidence-inspiring firm pedal once you lift off the throttle. You can also flick a switch in the ESC to stop it interfering with you left-foot braking.
Adaptive damping, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, and underbody bracing (increasing torsional rigidity by 29 per cent) all conspire to deliver a more purposeful chassis.
An interesting change for the sedan is the fitment of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. The hatch still ships with HN-stamped Pirelli P-Zero rubber. Spend any time talking to a group of N owners and they’ll tell you that the first thing to go are the Pirellis which are prone to axle tramp. Hyundai says the Michelins have stiffer sidewalls and it’s not a stretch to suggest that they’re quieter than P-Zeros, which are notoriously loud.
An interesting detail is the inclusion of the Integrated Drive Axle (IDA) which Hyundai says is a flow-on from its WRC program. The IDA reduces the number of parts required, is more compact and reduces unsprung weight at each corner by 1.7kg and allows for a larger wheel bearing.
Hyundai is serious about these cars and they’re a step above most rivals as far as detail engineering goes.
The launch program was split into two distinct parts. The first day was a long loop through Sydney’s north-west and into the Hawkesbury. Its length meant just about every kind of sealed road surface, corner type and speed zone were covered. Added to that Sydney’s recent run of hideous weather ensured a few surprises around a few corners in the form of potholes or fallen trees. While the day itself was clear and sunny, the effect of the previous few weeks’ rain was evident.
The i30 Sedan N basically shrugged it all off. While the car is definitely noisier – tyre noise is elevated compared to the i30 N Line and the exhaust pops and bangs when you switch into N mode – it’s not uncomfortably so. Highways and fast B-roads in Comfort mode are perfectly agreeable and you’ve got plenty to keep you entertained by way of wired Apple Carplay and Android Auto as well as DAB.
And who can forget Hyundai’s never not funny Sounds of Nature function in the 10.25-inch touchscreen’s media system?
The drive route was more concerned, as is only right and proper, on opportunities for more dynamic driving, the kind of roads hot hatch enthusiasts seek even if they’re driving a small sedan. In all but the stiffest mode, the suspension is compliant and remained comfortable on the bumpy, pothole-strewn country roads.
The sedan’s impressive change of direction belies its longer wheelbase and while the steering’s weight can feel a touch artificial, it never lies to you. The nose obediently follows instructions unless you’ve done something extremely silly or, more accurately, have arrived at a corner at a speed most cars would struggle to deal with.
It did extremely well and even with the length of the program, the excellently bolstered front seats did their job, staying comfortable and on a hot day, ventilated (and if you’re cold or that way inclined, heated).
The second day of the drive program was a day at Sydney Motorsport Park (aka Eastern Creek). While a track launch is often a way to dodge criticism of a car’s on-road performance, that had already been sorted by the first day’s drive.
Bringing the i30 Sedan N to the track is something that many owners do and that’s because Hyundai honours the warranty should something go wrong (as long as some simple conditions are met). Such has been the popularity of track excursions, Hyundai will in 2022 release a range of approved upgrade parts to go with sanctioned track days.
To cut a long and extremely entertaining story short, this is an excellent track car straight out of the box. The cars took a pounding all day, both in manual and DCT guise. The cars were sent out in five lap runs and at no stage did any of them give up the ghost, with the only real drama being running out of tyres or talent.
The tyres need no introduction and lasted most of the day, with just hotter part of the afternoon proving a challenge. The brakes would start to feel a little spongey at the end of each run, but a cooling lap and a short stop in the pits and they were right as rain to go again for another five laps.
Through the track’s fearsome turn one, the car cheerfully and confidently swept through at speeds in excess of 160km/h. The lateral grip from the tyres and the suspension’s two stiffest settings is hugely impressive. Moving back 100m from the corner, a good entry on to the straight saw the i30 reach 215km/h before a firm brake application, small amount of pitch and a single roll of the wrist to pitch the car into the turn with no understeer even at that high speed.
It’s quite adjustable in the slower corners, too. Turn two’s long uphill hairpin was a place to play with the throttle to reduce the inevitable understeer, the nose tightening and with a big enough lift, the tail would also move into line to help get you straightened up.
The broad, flat torque curve also meant that a short-shift wasn’t the penalty it might be in a peakier car, hauling out of slower corners and quickly building speed. Its limits are so high yet it’s very forgiving if you cross them.
There aren’t many cars that can take you to the track and then home again after a hard day, but that’s exactly what the i30 N did. Ten minutes after setting the fastest lap of the day, it was stuck in traffic on Wallgrove Road, the climate control keeping the driver cool and the transmission in Normal mode smoothly shifting up and down with no ill effects.
The i30 Sedan N is an exuberant-looking and performing car. It makes much more expensive (and not much more powerful) German competition look a bit amateurish on the track and more than matches them on the road. Added to that the sedan’s larger cabin with a lot more occupant and cargo space and a more comfortable ride, its price looks ever more reasonable.
It’s also a worthy addition to the N range – it may not have the ultimate dynamic edge of the shorter wheelbase hatch, but in the real world it’s unlikely to be any slower while delivering on comfort and practicality.
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