What: Hyundai's updated hot hatch
Where: Winton Raceway Victoria
Conditions: Mixed, overcast
What is it?
Hyundai's original hot hatch has officially reached middle age, receiving a raft of updates in 2021 including a refreshed look, more powerful engine, tweaked suspension and an all-new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Why does it deserve a track test?
Because Hyundai has billed the i30 N as a capable track day car and actively encourages its owners to tack them to the track to experience them. Not only does the i30 N come with a ‘track warranty' that covers all non-competitive track usage, but Hyundai Australia runs several track-based events for owners during the year.
It was at one of these – the 2021 N Festival at Winton Raceway – that we were able to hit the track in the i30 N. Importantly though, we were able to sample both the hatchback i30 N as well as the i30 Sedan N, which allowed us to compare both back-to-back.
What's it like inside?
Hyundai clearly prioritised performance over styling with the i30 N, with the cabin feeling fairly conventional in comparison to some of its hot hatch rivals. Obviously there's the kind of touches you expect in a hot hatch – thick-rimmed steering wheel, extra ‘N' buttons and sportier seats – but nothing that really jumps out as special.
For the updated model the i30 N Premium gets the new N Light seats, which are 2.2kg lighter than the usual seats, offer more support and look a bit more special.
However, the key performance details you need are all still there, including Hyundai's excellent N Mode system that not only allows you to adjust each of the main parameters of the dynamic characteristics – engine response, exhaust note as well as diff, suspension and steering settings – but also has a track data system.
All of this is controlled via the infotainment touchscreen and includes track maps and live telemetry. The system is able to learn new tracks using the GPS system, which means the lap timer can work automatically if it knows the circuit start-finish point.
Hyundai Australia is busy adding more local circuits to the system that already includes Sydney Motorsport Park and will offer a download of more tracks – likely to include at least one in each state – by the end of the year. Hyundai isn't saying which tracks just yet, but it's likely to include Wakefield Park, Winton, Phillip Island, The Bend and possibly even Symmons Plains and Hidden Valley.
How's it go down the straights?
Hyundai used the mid-life update to add a new turbocharger and intercooler, which boosted power and torque from 202kW353Nm to 206kW/392Nm. Not a huge leap but more is more, but even better than that, Hyundai's engineers re-tuned the engine to create what it calls a “flat-power” tune. This delivers the torque more broadly across the rev range which makes it feel stronger and more consistent as you accelerate hard.
This is particularly noticeable on the track, especially at Winton, with the long back straight approached from a relatively slow left-hand corner. The i30 N pulls hard as you keep your foot buried and it hauls down the straight with plenty of punch.
It helps that it's matched to the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which provides slick shifts and with more ratios you can keep the engine in its sweet spot as you navigate the short blasts between Winton's many corners.
What's it like in the bends?
One of the key characteristics that immediately leapt out when the original i30 N landed was its playful nature. Building a fast hot hatch is easy – it really only requires a powerful engine – but making one that's fun and engaging to drive is the real challenge.
It was a challenge Hyundai passed with flying colours, so the decision to make some tweaks to the handling package was a bold one.
Thankfully they are only ‘tweaks' rather than any wholesale changes, and have been primarily driven by the move to new 19-inch forged alloy wheels that cut 3.6kg of unsprung mass per corner. This allowed Hyundai's engineers to add more camber, introduce a new damper tune, revise the spring rates and widen the front track.
Fortunately, none of these changes spoil that playful nature of the original and that makes the i30 N a really enjoyable car on the track.
Each element of the handling package feels well sorted – steering, brakes, suspension – and they work well together to allow you to really push the car to its limits.
One of the interesting things we were able to do at Winton was drive the hatch back-to-back with the i30 Sedan N and compare the similarities and differences. The sedan sits on a slightly newer platform and it feels tauter, more responsive and a little sharper than the hatch. But if driving enjoyment rather than ultimate lap time is your priority, then the hatch is the pick.
Is it a front-runner or backmarker?
It's definitely a front-runner, in fact it would be the best hot hatch to take to a track day in this reviewer's opinion… except the i30 Sedan N is probably a fraction better. Or, to be really accurate, the sedan is a faster, more responsive vehicle but the hatch is the more playful and engaging model to drive.
Either way, Hyundai's onto a good thing with its i30 N duo, with the updates making small but meaningful changes to its performance on the track.
2022 Hyundai i30 N price and specifications
|From $44,500 plus on-road costs
|2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
|206kW at 6000rpm
|392Nm at 2100-4700rpm
|6-spd manual or 8-spd DCT, front-wheel drive
|285/40 ZR23 (front), 325/35 ZR23 (rear)
|1447kg (man)/1480kg (DCT)
|5.4 seconds (N-DCT claim)