Hyundai has grown impressively as a brand. Two decades ago, many South Africans merely saw Hyundai as a cheaper alternative to most Japanese compact family cars.
Vehicles such as the Accent and Elantra delivered generous equipment levels with fair mechanical competency. But in 2020, Hyundai is a significant presence in the local market.
It ranks as South Africa’s fifth most popular car brand and fields an impressive array of new crossovers and SUVs.
Hyundai i30 N: A very ambitious hot hatch
By far the Korean company’s most impressive product, is the i30 N. It also occupies a rather ironic position in Hyundai’s local product portfolio, because the i30 range, as a whole, is not sold here anymore.
The WRC motorsport-inspired i30 N is specially imported, in limited numbers. It competes against some awfully accomplished rivals, such as Honda’s Civic Type-R, Renault’s Megane RS and the crushingly capable VW GolfR.
How does Hyundai’s very ambitious hot hatch fare on local roads? We spent some time with the i30 N to ascertain its merits.
Bold looks and potent performance
The design features all those elaborate styling clues you would expect from a hot hatchback. The deep front section bumper, red piping, side skirts and a stubby tailgate spoiler all combine to give this Hyundai a great deal of presence.
Finished in Hyundai’s signature light motorsport blue and rolling open-design 19-inch alloy wheels, the i30 N does not lack for presence. Nor performance. It is the most potent Hyundai ever sold in South Africa, with a two-litre turbomotor boosting 203kW and 353Nm.
Hyundai deserves a great deal of credit for the i30 N’s overall dynamic balance.
Left in its default setting, this hot hatch is much easier to drive around crowded and heavily trafficked city streets, than a Honda Civic Type-R. Its clutch-to-shift coordination is easily modulated, although the six-speed manual gearbox still feels pleasingly mechanical when you are changing through the gears during peak acceleration runs.
The i30 N does all the things you would expect from a Hyundai hatchback, but there are some aspects that have not relation to anything i30-related.
Excitement levels: Rewarding without being intimidating
Dive into the car’s infotainment system, and there is a menu that alters the damper, throttle and exhaust sensitivity, allowing this Korean five-door family car to completely change character.
A sharper exhaust accompanies any accelerator pedal input and the steering gains some weight. Hot hatches with a manual gearbox are now a rarity and the i30 N demands full involvement form the driver, but also rewards — with outstanding corner poise and balance under braking, as speeds increase.
Ride quality is excellent too, for a high-performance vehicle rolling 235/35 profile tyres on 19-inch wheels.
It is a wonderfully quick car, rewarding without being intimidating. It is also unique in the marketplace, being Korean. Hyundai’s reputation for quality has been patiently built over the last two decades and the i30 N left us with a feeling of reassuring solidity.
Technical evolution: High calibre of engineering
There are charmingly telling design touches. You open the liftback to put stuff in the back and notice reinforced strut tubing between the rear axle’s suspension towers. That is the calibre of engineering usually reserved for racing cars and it shows the depth of technical evolution this N-version has, over other i30s.
South Africans might no longer have option on the entire i30 hatchback range, but in the guise of this limited edition hot hatch version, they at least have access to Hyundai’s most convincing driver’s car yet.
Not cheap, at R679 900, but certainly a worthy competitor in the hot hatch market and sure to be rarer than its rivals.