Hyundai's transformation into a market-leading brand continues with the launch of the N-enhanced version of the i30 Fastback. Following on from our drive of the prototype, we can confirm that this remains one of the best hot hatchbacks on sale today.
In the metal
Now we can see the 2019 Hyundai i30 Fastback N in its undisguised form, we can deduce that, unsurprisingly (but not disappointingly), it takes many of its styling cues from its i30 N hatchback sibling. It has the same big front grilles and splitter, the same attractive 19-inch alloys (the Fastback N comes as the 275hp 'Performance' model only, with no 250hp variant) and pretty much the same choice of matte-effect paintjobs, including the signature Performance Blue - but there's also a new colour, specific to the Fastback N, called Shadow Grey, which is one of those chalky, 'Audi Nardo-esque' finishes that are all the rage right now. And then, of course, at the rear is the sloping Fastback hatch, plus the transformation of the triangular high-level brake light of the hatch to a low-mounted fog light on the Fastback, while there's a broad reflector strip detail above the diffuser too. The final touch is a neat little black-accented ducktail spoiler on the lip of the boot.
You lose some rear headroom and gain some boot space, then, but the choice between N hatch and N Fastback is going to be a purely aesthetic one; some find the Fastback awkward from some angles, some will think the i30 hatch a touch too derivative in the styling stakes. For what it's worth, we love them both - the Fastback i30 has never looked better than in full N trim with the Shadow warpaint - but we think the hatchback is ever-so-marginally preferable to behold. Anyway, the Fastback N has some technical differences to the equivalent hatchback, such as a 0.8mm thinner front anti-roll bar (at 22.2mm) that's five per cent softer, 6mm-longer bump stops with 10 per cent less stiff responses and a rear camber control arm, all of which are designed to reduce on-the-limit understeer - and all of which will filter onto the 2019MY i30 N hatchbacks, too. The differences that can't be transferred over to the regular i30 N relate to the slippery shape of the Fastback, which results in a marginally better coefficient of drag number (0.297) than the hatch and also slightly better weight distribution, an additional 12kg over the back axle moving the ratio to 60:40 front/rear, instead of 61:39.
All of the alterations outlined above do not matter one iota, though, because the i30 Fastback N is every bit as sensational to drive as the hatchback (and vice versa). Honestly, there's precious little about it we'd change. The pedals are perhaps a bit too widely spaced for heel-and-toe downshifts, the engine note is a little overwhelmed by the fabulous histrionics of the exhaust (disclaimer: any complaints about the noise of the i30 Fastback N are purely for the purposes of critical thoroughness and, otherwise, it remains one of the best-sounding turbocharged four-cylinder vehicles you'll encounter) and some of the interior finishing can seem like it's a bit behind cutting-edge European stuff, but that's really about it.
If anything, the Fastback does drive a tiny bit more sweetly than the i30 hatch, with more of a feeling of rear-end movement during well-timed lifts of the throttle and less of a sensation that it wants to push on into understeer when grip is at a premium. However, these traits will come to the hatchback when it gains the updates we listed earlier, so it's really a case of which one of the two rapid i30s tickles your fancy more in the showroom. Either way you go, you're going to get the only performance five-door in the C-segment (premium or otherwise) that can stand genuine, dynamic comparison with the storming Honda Civic Type R.
Everything about the i30 Fastback N is perfectly in sync with everything else. Its steering is just so. Its brakes are just so. Its damping is just so. Its body control is just so. It's simply lovely to drive, either smoothly and swiftly on a flowing, open road, or right on the ragged edge of adhesion while on track, because you know precisely what it is going to do at any given moment and you also know exactly how to counter any unintentional movements. This is thanks to a wealth of useful feedback coming through the wheel and seats, which makes the i30 Fastback N utterly faithful at all speeds, without being in the slightest bit boring. It further means you build rapport with the Hyundai from day one - and you only positively develop this relationship from thereon in. Special commendation, too, for that 2.0-litre T-GDi engine; it has both muscle and reach, meaning you can surf around in one gear on its ample torque or cane it out to the redline, enjoying the pops and bangs of the exhaust, watching the white, yellow and red shift lights in the cluster. Enjoyable? And then some. It's sublime.
What you get for your money
Hyundai Ireland does not currently plan to introduce the i30 Fastback N, though that may change in time of course.
Porting the i30 N Performance running gear into the i30 Fastback was an inevitable move on the part of Hyundai, as it looks to evolve its fledgling performance brand moving forward. However, the changes wrought to the suspension are a most worthwhile update and also make it feel like Hyundai N has the brightest of futures. Kona N? i20 N? i10 N? The impending N halo model? Bring them on. If they're all only half as brilliant as this i30 Fastback N, we motoring fans are in for a good time indeed.