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RE: Hyundai i30N vs SEAT Leon Cupra 300

RE: Hyundai i30N vs SEAT Leon Cupra 300

Wednesday 6th December

Hyundai i30N vs SEAT Leon Cupra 300

The Korean manufacturing behemoth is new to hot hatches, but the i30N has easily enough early promise to take the fight to Seat's lusty Cupra



Consider for a moment the size of the hill Hyundai's new N division has had to climb. The Korean firm's previous enthusiast ventures (remember the Coupe? Or Veloster?) have proven either false starts or dead ends. Instead the manufacturer has marched triumphantly into the sunlit uplands of colossal volume production, and rather left the idea of performance variants to others. Ultimately, of course, this was never going to be good enough: in Europe, Hyundai grades itself on VW Group's curve, which was always eventually going to mean engaging with much more than a buyer's sense of value.


Thus a performance sub division was born. It's not quite a standing start of course: Hyundai has been going rallying for a few years now, most notably in the WRC. But the i30N is its first properly branded road car. And this time around, the brand has really put its shoulder into the exercise; not only assembling a crack mercenary squad under Albert Biermann (formerly of BMW's rather more illustrious M division) but also rather going to town on what is - let's face it - a drearily conventional front-drive hatchback.

As a result, the N does not merely use a lower and firmer variant of the i30's suspension: it sits on revised axles front and back, with completely recalibrated kinematics and the kind of costly adaptive dampers which aren't even an option on the cooking model. If you opt for the Performance version - which naturally we have - you get an electronically activated limited slip-diff, too, and 18-inch vented discs to go with Pirelli P-Zero rubber.


You also get 275hp (the standard, cheaper N comes with 250hp) which makes the car a ready-made rival for a number of front-drive, family-sized hot hatches - foremost among them the latest Seat Leon Cupra. This is useful for Hyundai, because Martorell's version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI comes with less heritage and badge appeal than its more famous sibling - attributes the N division can't hope to overcome at its first try.

Nevertheless, the Leon's immediate advantage over the N is obvious enough: the current Cupra is remarkably good-looking in a way that doesn't need the supplementary body tinsel obligated by the i30's staid appearance - and, to a lesser degree, it's nicer inside, too. Again, this has much to do with the stock blueprint each hot hatch has to work from: the Seat is simply better reconciled and slightly more stylish (possessing the superior infotainment system does it no harm either). However - and this is a significant however - the N does come fully loaded and the Leon does not (there are nearly £2,500 worth of extras on our test car not including the six-speed DSG that pushes the standard price beyond £30k).


Seat's primary justification for the recent inflation of Cupra prices has much to do with engine output. With 300hp, the four-cylinder EA888 motor is essentially running in the old Golf R guise, providing the current model with a healthy advantage over both the i30N and even the front-drive Golf.

Twinned with the generally sleek shifting dual-clutch 'box, the benefit is obvious enough, too: the Cupra is express-grade brisk, especially in that burly mid-range way that makes a car feel mightily pleasing in the real-world. Inevitably there's some low ratio, front-axle scrabble to go with its extra potency, but it's rarely of the indecent sort. In fact, nothing the Leon does could be called indecent: it's as rounded as a squash ball and agreeably capable of accelerating like one.

Hyundai agrees that the N is almost half a second slower than its automatic rival to 62mph, although it's at middling revs (away from the obviously quicker upshifts) that the difference really plays out. The new division has worked wonders with its parent's run-of-the-mill 2.0-litre Theta petrol engine - but only so much is possible, and beneath the obviously heightened gruntiness that comes with a bigger turbocharger, there's still a stock unit not built to rev with much vigour. In isolation it's fine; being driven back to back against the EA888's fast-spinning thrust does it no favours, though - and there are times in the latter cogs when you sometimes notice how long you're waiting for the shift lights to ignite.


Fortunately, when they do go from amber to red, there's much to like about the gearbox. Stocky, sturdy and ultra positive, the lever moves through the gate with a pleasing and heavyset certainty - making it no smoother than the manual transmission standard to the Cupra, but certainly heftier. This robust level of control weighting is a prominent and unexpected theme: the electric powered steering too has been made unapologetically sinewy - meaning that the i30N is palpably less amenable around a car park than the Leon.

The real distinction, though, lies in the forthright character of the trick chassis. Where the engineers - or, even more feasibly, the executives who sign off the engineers' work - might have diplomatically opted for a tentative sort of hot hatch (i.e. one as inoffensive and as benign as the underlying i30) the firm has instead collectively taken hold of the 'proper' knob, and knowingly cranked it around to about an 8.


This nonconformist side - about as prevalent in Hyundai's lineup as a lit firecracker at church - is enormously welcome; not least because it provides the N with an instantaneous and trenchant identity. Where the Cupra toddles blamelessly about the place like a stock issue Leon, its rival - even with its adaptive dampers in 'normal' mode - makes a point of feeling magnetized to the ground in a way that makes it feel around two inches lower and ten times more purposeful.

Naturally there is a dynamic pay-off for all this single-mindedness: the N's obvious vertical stiffness occasionally degrading into the kind of downright abruptness that has your head incessantly nodding - but it doesn't take long to appreciate that while the wick may have been turned up, Hyundai has not wholly jettisoned its commitment to refinement. Stiffer it may very well be, but compared to the rather airy Leon, the car's running gear is as muffled as a diver's watch.


This makes the suspension's somewhat terse wheel control much easier to forgive; indeed, the N feels as though it's doing everything crisply - and all-of-a-piece. Rather splendidly, the latter quality extends to how it changes direction, too. No-one would suggest that the Leon doesn't corner keenly and capably - it evinces all the adhesiveness and accuracy we've come to expect from a hot hatch balanced on the laudably rigid MQB architecture - but there's still a perceptible amount of lean left in the handling; something Hyundai has seen to with gusto.

Where the Cupra starts to faintly toil under shifting weight, the much tauter N hunkers down into the kind of flat- and phat-bodied posture which has you attacking fast corners with genuine, suck-it-and-see relish. True - the steering response isn't quite up to the same level of feedback as the messages filtering up the seat backs (the Leon's rack attains weight much more convincingly) but it is easily astute enough to have you threading corners together with the kind of moreish enthusiasm that all well-sorted hot hatches tend to indulge.


Bottom line? It's very easy to like. While there's often a nagging suspicion that the EA888 would have you charging away from apexes with greater verve, you're rarely as invested in proceedings as you are aboard the N. It cajoles you into an honest sort of enjoyment - and that's despite the faintly ridiculous number of drive mode permutations offered for each of its major components. (For the record, we tended to have the engine tweaked up, with the dampers and e-diff in their most relaxed setting.)

Certainly you'll want to avoid the N mode, that - on British roads - immediately curdles the fun with the kind of try-hard chassis tune that virtually forfeits decent road manners on standard 19-inch alloys. But keep the car in 'normal' (or single out the right option for each component) and the compromise seems neatly struck - not least for the nicely balanced, line-tightening way it comes unstuck when provoked.

The Leon is less interested in the possibilities afforded by lifting-off mid-corner - although its claim to superior all-rounder status is hard to refute. Undeniably it has the better, keener and quicker engine, finer looks and the sort of (adaptive) suspension setup which doesn't try your patience when you've inevitably flicked back into commuter mode.


But where's the fun in that? Hyundai could've turned out a hot hatch very much like the Leon - and pointedly hasn't. Until now, the firm's unshakeable commitment to benchmarking (together with a fastidious approach to development) has produced a worthy but ultimately insipid-to-drive product lineup. Consequently, the N serves as a long-awaited vindication of the process; much of the accolade obviously going to Biermann and the people around him - but also to Hyundai directly for not foisting too much compromise on the result.

The car they have produced is quite unlike any other current Hyundai, and easily the best among them. It's better than the Cupra, too - not in every way perhaps and certainly not for every purpose - but better where it counts. If that's destined to be the N division way, the tuner is already halfway to the only reputation that matters.

Inspired? Buy a SEAT Leon Cupra here


SPECIFICATION - HYUNDAI I30N PERFORMANCE PACKAGE

Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (limited-slip differential with Performance Package)
Power (hp): 275@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 260@1,500-4,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.1sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,429kg
MPG: 39.8
CO2: 163g/km
Price: £27,995 (all options included)

SEAT LEON CUPRA 300

Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500-6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,421kg ('in running condition with driver')
MPG: 41.5 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 156g/km
Price: £31,805 (As tested £34,280 comprised of £575 for metallic mystery blue, £440 for navigation system high, £265 for SEAT sound system, £610 for Comfort and driving pack 2, £460 for Keyless entry and go and £125 for Safety pack)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

Leicesterdave

Original Poster:

1,882 posts

104 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
SEAT all the way. Hyundai does some very good dependable cars but to me will always be more of a tool rather than something sporty.

BlueMeganeII

240 posts

83 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Leicesterdave said:
SEAT all the way. Hyundai does some very good dependable cars but to me will always be more of a tool rather than something sporty.
To me that’s a strange thing to say. Much like Skoda, SEAT has been that value brand that has scraped the bottom of the barrel a little to get its VAG group parts. These were once the cheap little Spanish cars that sat unloved and battered and bruised.

If SEAT can redefine their image (and let’s be honest so largely has Skoda) why can’t Hyundai?

Honeywell

131 posts

22 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
The Hyundai is £6k cheaper which even allowing for DSG (who wants that in a hot hatch really) is a big chunk of change. I’d have the i30N plus a motorbike and be very happy.


Oz83

294 posts

63 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
I don't think health centre blue helps the way the Hyundai looks. Should have been a lairy bright green or yellow to match the driving experience.

Sounds like Hyundai did a great job. I just can't get my head around spending 28 grand on one.


DanielSan

12,172 posts

91 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Oz83 said:
I don't think health centre blue helps the way the Hyundai looks. Should have been a lairy bright green or yellow to match the driving experience.

Sounds like Hyundai did a great job. I just can't get my head around spending 28 grand on one.

Yet £35k on a Seat doesn’t even get a reaction? I find that genuinely bizarre.
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PHuzzy

1,875 posts

96 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Honeywell said:
DSG (who wants that in a hot hatch really)
Have you ever driven one? I'm a manual gearbox fan but the speed of DSG shifts is incredible and actually adds to the driving experience rather than taking something away.
Plus being a hot hatch means it's a jack of all trades so being able to put it in auto when in traffic makes it a better day to day car.

stuart-b

3,553 posts

150 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
DanielSan said:
Yet £35k on a Seat doesn’t even get a reaction? I find that genuinely bizarre.
Utterly ludicrous

Mike335i

1,128 posts

26 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
PHuzzy said:
Honeywell said:
DSG (who wants that in a hot hatch really)
Have you ever driven one? I'm a manual gearbox fan but the speed of DSG shifts is incredible and actually adds to the driving experience rather than taking something away.
Plus being a hot hatch means it's a jack of all trades so being able to put it in auto when in traffic makes it a better day to day car.
I have driven a DSG and they are very impressive boxes, but they don't add anything to the driving experience over a manual, other than ease and some farting noises. I found very quickly that the paddles are a novelty and most of the time the car just remains in D or S and you just leave it to it.

Whilst I used to be a fan of SEAT, from what I have read this Hyundai is a properly good car to drive. The engine isn't as good, but I reckon it would be certainly good enough in isolation.
This is actually the only hot hatch that appeals to me at the moment, the rest are great I'm sure, but this just seems a little more focused yet under the radar.

Edited by Mike335i on Wednesday 6th December 08:00

stevesingo

2,881 posts

146 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
I'm still struggling to decipher the opinion of the writer through the synonym, metaphor riddled bullst fest. Dreadful! And 18" brakes, really?

As pointed out by others, the price difference makes this something of a non-comparison. Would it be compared with a £31k Civic Type R or a £32k Focus RS? Nope!

S9JTO

193 posts

10 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Big SEAT fan myself and have test driven a Cupra 290 which let's be honest is the same car minus a new map on it.

It is a great overall car, refined (too refined IMO), agile, DSG, great looks etc but there was just something missing for me. I think it's the fact that it's too refined, and I understand why, it's because it's used as a daily (and rightly so) but for me, when looking to buy a hot hatch I want something that brings some sense of occasion, a nice exhaust note and weighted steering/gear shifts. Something which I feel the i30N will provide, I'm going to go out and test drive one when they land, I wouldn't buy one for anywhere near 28k though... Give it 6-12 months and buy a used one for around 20k, maybe...

Jonno02

1,515 posts

33 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Bizarre comparison imo. The SEAT would be in the category above; rivalling the golf R, civic type R etc. To me, this is more of a rival to the Focus ST petrol 246bhp models.

And let's be honest, RRP means nothing. The golf R and Cupra 300 have almost the same list price, yet the discounts on the Cupra are HUGE and the golf's are average. And being brutally honest, if this can't match the £250pm 10kp/a lease deals the cupra is, then it won't sell in great numbers. I'm definitely being utterly stupid here, but I think I'd feel a little silly in a Hyundai with a loudish exhaust note; although people will say the same for any brand. However, that being said, as the article pointed out, the Cupra is a very handsome car; but so is this Hyundai. The side profile is almost perfect (what the M140i should have looked like). Actually to hell with it, I’d probably try one on a cheapish lease as it’s a very nice looking car.



Edited by Jonno02 on Wednesday 6th December 09:20

Addymk2

235 posts

96 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Jonno02 said:
Bizarre comparison imo. The SEAT would be in the category above; rivalling the golf R, civic type R etc. To me, this is more of a rival to the Focus ST petrol 246bhp models.

And let's be honest, RRP means nothing. The golf R and Cupra 300 have almost the same list price, yet the discounts on the Cupra are HUGE and the golf's are average. And being brutally honest, if this can't match the £250pm 10kp/a lease deals the cupra is, then it won't sell in great numbers. I'm definitely being utterly stupid here, but I think I'd feel a little silly in a KIA with a loudish exhaust note; although people will say the same for any brand. However, that being said, as the article pointed out, the Cupra is a very handsome car; but so is this Kia. The side profile is almost perfect (what the M140i should have looked like). Actually to hell with it, I’d probably try one on a cheapish lease as it’s a very nice looking car.
I'd be interested to see how this stacks up to the 308 GTI. The Hyundai and the Pug share a lot of similarities, most notably the 'performance packs' which include a power hike and an electronic diff

Edited as it's not a Kia... whistle

Edited by Addymk2 on Wednesday 6th December 12:18

HorneyMX5

3,744 posts

74 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Hyundai all day for me. It's more of a skunkworks car than the latest VAG clone. My 71yo father is looking at buying a lightly used Golf R and I'm trying to convince him the Hyundai is a better choice as it'll be more fun to drive, will be covered by a warranty for far longer and as it'll be likely his last ever car purchase he doesn't need to worry about resale value.

Edited by HorneyMX5 on Wednesday 6th December 09:19

Nickp82

761 posts

17 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Er.... Have I missed something or is everyone incorrectly calling this Hyundai a Kia??

mooseracer

234 posts

94 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Jonno02 said:
I think I'd feel a little silly in a KIA with a loudish exhaust note;
How about if you were in a Hyundai?

HorneyMX5

3,744 posts

74 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Nickp82 said:
Er.... Have I missed something or is everyone incorrectly calling this Hyundai a Kia??
Guilty, edited my post.

spikyone

148 posts

24 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
stevesingo said:
As pointed out by others, the price difference makes this something of a non-comparison. Would it be compared with a £31k Civic Type R or a £32k Focus RS? Nope!
The price difference is all down to the fact that Seat's list price is, let's be honest, taking the piss. Would you compare the Seat with the Type R or Focus RS?

Oz83 said:
Sounds like Hyundai did a great job. I just can't get my head around spending 28 grand on one.
Pretty much every new car that PH reviews appears to be incredibly expensive; I think that's a reflection that new car list prices have reached some ridiculous heights. Strangely enough, I usually find myself looking at the price of high-end sports cars and super cars and thinking "that seems reasonable" (excluding the options list, of course), but your common-or-garden hatchback or 3-box saloon have got a bit silly in recent years. £13k for an entry level Fiesta that takes near enough 15 seconds to hit 60? £20k for an entry level Focus?!

M1C

773 posts

35 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
There's something very Nick Cackettish about the writing style here and i struggle with it.

Maybe it's my inferior brain not being able to handle so many big words?

Anyway, i'm really quite impressed with the Hyundai, looks good too.

Jonno02

1,515 posts

33 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
mooseracer said:
How about if you were in a Hyundai?
I seriously have no idea why I wrote KIA.

culpz

2,445 posts

36 months

Wednesday 6th December
quotequote all
Leicesterdave said:
SEAT all the way. Hyundai does some very good dependable cars but to me will always be more of a tool rather than something sporty.
I'm not sure what you've just read but the Hyundai has been praised as the better hot-hatch here. So, in your terms, it appears to be infinitely more "sporty" than the SEAT.

Both of these cars are crackers but Hyundai deserve a particular round of applause for a fantastic first attempt in this segment. The Leon Cupra has some great deals on though.

Edited by culpz on Wednesday 6th December 09:35