Tested: 2022 Hyundai i30 N

What do a first date, family holiday and this new Hyundai i30 N have in common? Easy. Like most complicated things in life, they are best enjoyed when you manage everyone’s expectations…

I’ll leave the exact expectations of that first date up to your imagination, same for a crowded seaside vacation, but I’m sure you’ll join me in supposing that this 280 horsepower hot hatchback will backfire at will, shatter your spine on a bumpy road and slay GTi’s while torque-wrestling you into the nearest hedge.

The reason for all these assumptions is simple. Just look at the thing! It’s bright blue, adorned with wings and fins and slats and louvers, barely clears the ground on invisible alloys with painted-on tyres, shows two chrome oven pipes to pursuing traffic and probably has one of those naughty Calvin-urinating-on-a-VW-badge stickers in the owner’s manual pouch.

Other stuff I found inside were ridiculously blue drive mode buttons on the otherwise pleasant steering wheel, tons of information on the neat media screen, a beautifully brilliant climate control and loads of other sensible items like various storage nooks and charging ports, parking aids and front furniture heating.

Speaking of which, the chunky-looking seats created initial expectations of numb bums and chiropractor visits, and while the latter was true for one of our younger colleagues, I’d like to assure you at this point that the new Hyundai i30 N continuously exceeded or derailed my slightly negative expectations.

Those seats, although blessed with rather firm bolsters, are comparatively spongy for a performance vehicle. Sure, measured against the sofas in 1970’s land yachts, this furniture is certainly on the hard side of the spectrum, yet my newfound comfort behind the wheel raised the hope that they would help me stem the inevitably solid ride of this rapid racer.

Ehh, wrong again.

Although the car starts with somewhat rude noises and reverse-turns out of an elevated driveway with the delicacy of a wheel barrow, the ride around town was much better than I expected. Of course there is a slow-speed harshness to its damping, but left in its default drive mode, this i30 N has a surprisingly smooth ride.

Let me quantify that again. If your town is perfectly tarred and the council repairs broken street lights the very next day, this will be a fabulous addition to your fleet. However, if the roads around your place are in an on-going state of decay – so you live in South Africa – this car’s suspension may present some problems at times.

Potholes should be avoided at all costs.

To get back to my initial point about expectations, after I had happily driven around for a while (and noticed that it can get close to the claimed 8.9L/100km), I put this car into full-lunatic “N mode” and finally got what I was looking for… the crude ride, those rude noises, suddenly nervous steering feel and a bar-fight attitude from the drive train.

All my cynical expectations were unleashed by one press of the baby-blue N button and, after having brawled with this psychopath for a while, I put it back into Comfort/Normal mode until the day of our performance testing: 0-100km/h is supposed to take 5.4 seconds but we only managed a best time of 6.22.

Did I expect that too? Mmm, not quite, but I was nonetheless very pleased with that time as the previous (6-speed manual) i30 N is causing me a lot of strife on our YouTube channel because I didn’t get it under seven seconds. The Hyundai fan-boys are understandably upset, yet its traction issues and 2nd gear shift point hampered my best efforts.

This 7-speed DCT (dual clutch automated transmission) is not only easier to launch, it’s also arguably easier to live with. I’ll always champion the manual i30 N as a proper driver’s car, especially since VW doesn’t import any manual hot models anymore, but there is something to be said for a quick-shifting stack of cogs.

I’ll quickly insert my usual rant about parking-speed gearbox lurches, although Hyundai must be credited for catching up to the competition rather quickly by ironing out most untoward movements. If you are considering this vehicle, since its manual derivative has also sailed into the sunset, I strongly recommend you also test it in slow traffic.

Right. What else toyed with my expectations? The sporty exhaust note, which is supposed to be selectable, often crept into regular start-ups… only to disappear a few seconds later. That made me wonder. Did Hyundai forget to program that part of the exhaust’s behaviour or did they fail to contain its initial boom?

Also, in an automotive world scrambling for maximum screen time, it’s refreshing to find a good handful of physical buttons, plus these clear analogue gauges with a progressive red-line, disco shift lights and a small but comprehensive information screen. I also enjoyed the heated steering wheel.

There’s obviously a lot of space and practicality in this mid-size family hatchback, and I also like the value offering when you consider the car’s fire power, gadgets and warranty/service plan at the price of around R767,000.

Is it better than a new Golf GTi though?

Considering that car’s failure to meet everyone’s ergonomic expectations, I’d like to think that it is.

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