Good: brilliant chassis, powerful engine, high quality
Not so good: very firm on the road
Here at CompleteCar.ie, we work hard, all hours, all week long to bring you up to date content and test drives, etc. Unlike some in the industry, this is our full-time job. And, as much as we love it (and boy, do we?), we also enjoy time off. For me personally, that means keeping weekends free of work to spend with my family.
Why am I telling you this and how is it relevant to an Irish review of the new Hyundai i30 N? Because it will help you understand what a big deal it was for me to spend most of the daylight hours of a Sunday out driving Hyundai's first proper hot hatch, just for the sake of it. Sure, I could convince myself it was work (and yes, the photographs were needed), but on returning home several hours later, buzzing from the excitement of this car, it's only myself I'd be kidding.
In fairness, I love driving, and hot hatches hold a special place in my heart, but few examples of the genre endear themselves to the driver in quite the intimate way the i30 N does. Sure, there are better all-rounders (hello Volkswagen Golf GTI), and a few all-wheel-drive monsters that are more capable again, but the i30 N stands up to comparison with them all. What's more, the bare technical specifications don't reveal the secret, as Hyundai hasn't strayed too far from the contemporary template. So, there's a feisty turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, producing a useful (but hardly ground-breaking) 275hp and up to 378Nm of torque on overboost. Depending on driving mode, its exhaust burbles and pops on the overrun in an entertaining manner, and it's always audible, distancing this car from more prosaic examples of the Hyundai i30.
A snappy six-speed manual gearbox is bolted to the back of the engine and it feeds power to the front wheels. Notably, there's an electronically controlled differential included, hinting that the i30 N might be more about driving than posing. Hyundai also includes adaptive damping as standard, which means the driver can tweak the settings depending on the road surface and how committed they're feeling.
On that memorable Sunday morning, my drive began early in the Burren in Co. Clare. The sun was out, but the air temperature hovered just above zero and the roads were more than a little damp. Anyone that knows the Burren will also know how bumpy the road surface is. Hence, I didn't find much use for the Sport Plus damping mode, but within minutes I was smitten with the car. Yes, it's fast, yes it has loads of mechanical grip, yes it sounds good when you're pushing on and yes, it's stable, but all that isn't what makes this car such a brilliant hot hatch. It's all to do with how the driver interacts with it. The steering is good, the pedals weighted and spaced perfectly and response to all your inputs is just perfect, meaning you can place the car safely and precisely regardless of the conditions and revel in the experience. Then you'll get to the end of the road and turn around and do it all again.
The things we do for you, dear reader...