Hyundai i30 N: Performance measured in BPM rather than RPM
Hyundai is squaring up to hot hatch royalty with its new i30 N
HYUNDAI cars have many virtues - sturdily-built, reliable, well-equipped - but I think it is fair to say that no-one has ever bought one because it is faster, more exciting and better to drive than any one of a number of alternatives, writes William Scholes.
That is set to change, however, thanks to cars like this, the i30 N.
Think of it as Hyundai's answer to cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Peugeot 308 GTI and Ford Focus ST; proper, quick hot hatches, with decades of know-how behind them, in other words.
There is far more to making a credible performance car than simply bolting a bigger engine under the bonnet or cranking up the boost on the turbo.
If it is to make the grade, a car like the N needs to brake, steer and feel special.
The i30 N, on paper at least, could be in with a great chance of upsetting the traditional front-wheel-drive European hot hatch hierarchy.
It has been engineered by a chap called Albert Biermann, who is best known in the industry as the guy who developed some of BMW's best M cars.
Determined to inject some vigour and proper driving fun into its cars, Biermann was poached by Hyundai and its sister company Kia and reputedly given a freer rein than just about any other engineer in a similar role at a mainstream car company.
The upcoming rear-drive Stinger GT will showcase the first fruits of Biermann's input at Kia, while at Hyundai the focus has been on the development of the N sub-brand.
In this case, N stands for the famed German race track at the Nürburgring - where else? - and also Namyang, which is where Hyundai's research and development is based.
"The Hyundai i30 N has been developed for no other purpose than to deliver maximum driving fun to our customers in an accessible high-performance package," explains Biermann.
"With the high-performance N models we will enhance our brand's appeal with emotional products that cater to the needs of people who love to have a smile on their face when they drive their car on a winding road and listen to the sound of the engine.
"That's why we measure high-performance in BPM, heart beats per minute instead of only RPM."
The i30 N's exhaust even has an 'after fire' feature to make it really sound like a race or rally car...
The i30 N's on-paper specification is highly promising.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with up to 271bhp and 260lb.ft and elsewhere the N has been lavished with goodies such as an electronic limited slip differential, electronic controlled suspension, rev matching, launch control, high performance tyres and even a lap timer.
There are also five different drive modes, to take you from school run to race track with different throttle, steering and suspension settings, and a lot of effort has been devoted to giving the N an exhaust with an "emotional sound". It even has an 'after fire' feature to make it really sound like a race or rally car...
Styling enhancements are of the subtle Golf GTI and 308 GTI variety rather than the shoutier approach of something like a Honda Civic Type R.
Still, beefed up bumpers, spoilers and wheels help add a useful amount of visual aggression to the otherwise rather tidy and tame-looking standard i30.
"The i30 N loves corners," explain the nice people from Hyundai.
"The N logo symbolises a chicane, the ultimate part of the track where the i30 N achieves maximum traction, precision and feeling."
The car's stability control systems can be fully switched off, to allow the driver to be fully in control.
A bar has even been installed between the rear seats to boost stiffness and as part of its development programme, the car has already taken part - twice - in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.
The N team also spent time tuning the car's chassis on British roads, which should help it feel 'keyed-in' to Northern Ireland's peculiar road surfaces.
The Hyundai i30 N has been developed for no other purpose than to deliver maximum driving fun
Two versions will be marketed - a 247bhp standard car and an upgraded 271bhp 'performance package' version.
Peugeot adopted a similar tactic with the 308 GTI but quickly dropped the less powerful version. Volkswagen sells the Golf GTI with a 'performance pack', though the power boost is more modest.
The standard i30 N completes the 0-62mph sprint in 6.4 seconds, with the performance package dropping that to 6.1 seconds. Both cars are limited to a top speed of 155mph.
The i30N is due to go on sale at the end of the year. Prices have yet to be announced, but expect it to sit around the £30k territory that the Golf GTI inhabits.
The specification and Biermann's involvement promise much - if it can live up to the weight of expectation, the Hyundai i30 N could be a very special car indeed.