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Car review: Hyundai i30 Fastback N, a car to revive any jaded hack

Sean O'Grady

Sometimes a carmaker will go to all the trouble of engineering and building a car just for the sake of a few motoring journalists. The media, somehow, convince the firm’s top management to do strange things. As a global community of hacks, albeit not officially connected by any formal lobbying network, they’re often to be found demanding that workaday hatches or SUVs are transformed into convertibles or performance machines. They sometimes thoughtfully suggest making a version with six square wheels or with just the one door, just to see what would happen.

It doesn’t always work, but when it does, ungrateful sods as they tend to be, the cadre of motoring correspondents then rubbish the thing and ridicule the company for entertaining such deluded ideas. Whoever thought of marketing a six-wheeled family hatch with one door?

The spec

Hyundai i30 Fastback N

Price: £29,995

Engine capacity: 2.0-litre petrol; 4-cylinder; 6-speed manual

Power output (PS@rpm): 275@6,000

Top speed (mph): 155

0-60mph (seconds): 6.1

Fuel economy (mpg, WLTP): 36.2

CO2 emissions (g/km, NEDC): 178

The most tragic example of the phenomenon came a couple of decades ago, when Jaguar finally acceded to the media’s calls for a new smaller Jaguar saloon that emulated the gorgeous Inspector Morse Mark 2 saloons of the 1960s. When Jaguar unveiled their retro S-type, it was richly ridiculed by the very people who’d spent the last few years advocating it in print and suggesting it over dinners with Jaguar execs. The S-type sold OK, but the firm’s reputation was hardly enhanced.

Hyundai hasn’t bungled its first proper hot fastback (Hyundai)

So I did fear for Hyundai. For years, the journalists have been begging for a proper Hyundai hot hatch (which also helps train you not to drop your aitches). Not so very long ago they were knocking out some pretty uninspiring stuff, but, as ever, the hacks were badgering them to produce a “halo” model, a Golf GTi-beater that would prove the emerging company’s credentials. It was win-win for the hacks. If Hyundai mucked it up and gave birth to a gargoyle on wheels – all very good copy for us. Or else Hyundai succeeded and we got to have a go in a press demonstrator that was actually entertaining.

Well, Hyundai didn’t bungle its first proper hot fastback, the i30 N. Indeed, the Hyundai i30 Fastback N is a match for the Golf GTi, and most of the rest of the competition too. It’s also, in this newly designed bodywork, the best looking of a crowded field.

Disabling some of the chassis control software allows you to drift (Hyundai)

Those looks are striking, if maybe a bit derivative. The fastback styling and the “ducktail” back end are quite reminiscent of the better-looking bits of the Mercedes-Benz range (such as the CLA four-door coupe). The car’s “face”, on the other hand, with the trapezoidal grille, is identikit Audi. If you squint you can quite easily think it is a next-generation Audi A3.

There’s a bit of fussy detailing around the place, though, with the “N” badging, and I’m not sure anyone will get the point about why Hyundai calls its sportier models “N”. So here is the full, official, explanation: “The ‘N’ in Hyundai N stands for Namyang, home to Hyundai Motor’s global R&D centre in Korea since 1995, where the idea was born, and for the Nürburgring, home to Hyundai Motor’s European Test Centre, where the i30 N was further developed and tested. The close connection between Namyang and the Nürburgring created the foundation for N, aiming to build on the company’s motorsport experience to bring thrilling winding road fun to customers who love cars. The ‘N’ logo itself embodies this idea, as it symbolises a chicane.”

As I say, I’m sceptical the nomenclature will catch on.

There’s a choice of driving styles – from economy to lunacy (Hyundai)

Anyway, the i30 Fastback N (and its shorter conventional five-door hatch sibling, which is not ever to be called “slowback”) also owes something to a third famous German brand – BMW. For the company has been busily poaching a number of designers and engineers from BMW’s famous Motorsport division, and they have made a fine job of the i30 N. Though only front-wheel drive, and thus at a fundamental disadvantage, they’ve managed to make sure that the massive 275 horsepower is delivered safely and confidently, and the car’s capabilities will usually outrun those of its driver. Unless you are being deliberately reckless, in other words, it’ll do as it’s told. If you switch the i30 to full on sport mode it will partly disable some of the chassis control software, so you can go drifting if that’s your thing. It gives you the choice of driving styles from economy to lunacy. It goes as well as anything in its league with the exception of the most powerful Cupra R variants of the Seat Leon, the Renault Megane RS and the Honda Civic Type R, which, with its massive spoiler and Batmobile styling kit, is the loudest contender in every sense of the word.

This car offers a multi-sensational experience (Hyundai)

The Hyundai does, though, have some aural excitements of its own. It grumbles like Nigel Farage being asked questions about Arron Banks when it’s idling, but goes into a full-on Corbyn-style ranty barking fit when it’s pressed into a tight corner.

The seats are exceptionally comfortable (Hyundai)

So I loved it, this multi-sensational experience. There are more prosaic bonuses too. The touch screen works intuitively. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, with an adjustable squab to add support under your knees. The longer fastback styling gives you a bigger boot, a little of which is taken up with what looks like a scaffolding pole – a stout racing cross-member that stops the bodyshell from flexing too much, giving it more stable handling.

The i30 Fastback N features front-wheel drive (Hyundai)

Best of all, though, is the value for money. For between £1,000 and £10,000 less than its main rivals, it matches them for performance and practicality, and is the most handsome of the lot. So this time I’m glad that Hyundai listened to people like me. They got it right.