Driven: Hyundai i30 Fastback N

The Hyundai i30 N is one of our favourite cars of the last few years, but has its transformation to a Fastback taken the edge off? Yes, but that’s on purpose…

Every sportscar seemingly goes through a testing process that involves setting a fast lap around the Nurburgring. It makes for great headlines in the motoring press but the reality is that it often ends up producing a car that’s far less fun than you’d hope for.

The Hyundai i30 N Fastback mellows the i30 N experience.

The Honda Civic Type R, for example, is a magnificent bit of kit, but the suspension has been tuned for the track and is so firm that I’d imagine there’s been a boom in people studying to become chiropractors. Yes, it’s insanely quick (for the record, it’ll lap the 113-corner circuit in 7min 43.8sec) but British roads don’t lend themselves to blasting around at three-digit speeds.

This is where the Hyundai i30 N steps in. The 2.0-litre petrol engine produces ‘only’ 275hp, which is well short of its more powerful rivals, but Hyundai isn’t worried about numbers. The i30 N is less about lapping the Nurburgring as fast as possible, and more about grinning all the way around it.

Red brake calipers highlight the Hyundai i30 Fastback N as being the performance model.

The basics are as you’d expect from any of the myriad hot hatches around; it’s front-wheel drive, there’s a six-speed manual gearbox, the sticky tyres sit on sizeable 19-inch rims, and the suspension has been lowered. There’s also an electronic differential to tame the power, which is handy when it’s damp, and that suspension is adjustable.

So is, seemingly, everything else. Prod at the infotainment touchscreen and you’ll find a menu that allows you to adjust the suspension, steering, engine, rev-matching system, exhaust noise, stability control and a lot more. It’s overwhelming initially, but take some time to programme things as you like them and you can assign that setup to a steering-wheel-mounted ‘N+’ button. If you’re feeling brave, anything that could be switched off can be, there’s no nanny state here.

Use the launch control system and it’ll hit 62mph in 6.1 seconds, but it gets better when you find corners. The steering is direct and sharp, with those grippy tyres biting the surface hard. It feeds back information from the road through the steering wheel, allowing you to feel what’s going on underneath the car, and revel in the confidence it gives you. Hyundai’s worked hard to ensure the N isn’t too lairy though, with that front differential ensuring there’s little wheelspin and nothing as uncouth as understeer. The rear end is tied down tight too, so the car ends up following the prescribed line.

There are some popping and burbling noises from the exhaust, but they seem a little muted. That’s part of the move from Hyundai i30 N to i30 Fastback N – the long, swept roofline leads to a sharply raked boot lid that comes to a stop with a ducktail spoiler. It looks good and is a more practical proposition than the regular i30 hatchback. A bigger boot (albeit one with a strut brace across it that holds the suspension firm) and slightly softer suspension than the hatch makes it a more grown-up car, and the quieter exhaust and more subtle engine note is something that appeals to my 40-something years.

That goes for the heated seats too, and the Android Auto integration, navigation, climate control, cubby holes, and so on. There’s plenty of space and some lovely sports seats but, despite that, the cabin is a little boring. In Comfort mode especially, it’s a relaxing and sensible car to own.

But you can’t ignore that N+ button on the steering wheel, the button that unlocks all of the fun. Press that and the Hyundai i30 Fastback N wakes up, but it never quite fizzes in the same way the hatchback does. If the hatch has been turned up to 11, the Fastback’s a still-pleasing 10, but I was left wanting that little extra bit of personality.

A clunky suspension brace reduces usability of the Hyundai i30 Fastback N boot.

For the money though, it tops the Volkswagen Golf GTi. Granted, the Golf is probably a little more desirable, but it can’t hold a candle to the i30 N’s engagement. It also gets perilously close in price to the Honda Civic Type R, and there’s no doubt that the Japanese car has more power, more performance, more grip, more… well, everything. The Civic can’t do a normal, comfortable drive to the office though. It’s all or nothing.

All of which leaves the i30 Fastback N in an almost unique position of managing to be both hero and villain in the same car, choosing between them as easy as a single press of a button. The hatchback version is just a little bit naughtier, though.

This button brings the Hyundai i30 Fastback N to life.
Model Tested: Hyundai i30 Fastback N Performance
Price: £29,995
Range: £17,355 – £29,995
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 275 PS (271 bhp)
Torque: 378 Nm (279 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £410
Official economy: 34.0 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 178 g/km
Car Tax: £145
Insurance group: 29E

* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36-month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.