Hyundai i30 Fastback N prototype: Driven

This is what Hyundai's N division did next. Having launched the very capable and entertaining i30N hot hatch eight months ago (and in the meantime produced the Veloster N, which isn't coming to the UK) it is due to unveil the i30 Fastback N at the Paris motor show later this year. Mechanically it's very similar to the i30N hatch, but with a sweeping roofline and a handful of other styling changes it will look quite different.

Ahead of its public unveiling I got a chance to drive it for a lap around the Nurburgring, behind an i30N pace car. (Actually, I got two laps, but the first tour was so hopelessly slow that all I really learned was that the Nordschleife really is very pretty when you take a moment to look at it.) So, one lap behind the wheel of a reasonably interesting new car. First, though, what's it all about?

'The i30 Fastback N is for a different group of customers,' says Thomas Schemera, vice president of High Performance and Motorsport Divisions. 'The same age group, maybe 30 to 45, but it's for people who are more interested in style and sophistication. It is a more refined car than the i30N hatchback.'

It should still be fun to drive, says engineering boss Albert Biermann, despite the four-door coupe weighing fractionally more than the hatch and having a slightly softer chassis set up. The spring rates are unchanged, but the damper valving is unique to the i30 Fastback N, while the front anti-roll bar is a little smaller. The bump stops have been tweaked, too. It's all an effort to make the Fastback model a touch more comfortable than the tough-riding hatchback; a little less unyielding.

Otherwise, the two versions are mechanically identical. The 2-litre turbocharged four-pot comes in two states of tune - 250hp or 275hp - while the only gearbox option will be a six-speed manual. The car I drove was a Performance Package model, which gets the more potent engine, plus a limited slip differential, bigger brakes, 19-inch wheels, Pirelli P Zero tyres and a trick exhaust system. Hyundai hasn't confirmed the price yet but expect this version to cost broadly the same as the £28,000 i30N Performance Package.

The Hyundai N philosophy is an interesting one. Determined by former BMW M-division chief Biermann, N's outlook is one of inclusivity. Its cars shouldn't be so expensive or intimidating to drive that less experienced punters are put off entirely, but nor should old hands be at all underwhelmed.

Take the brakes. Hyundai could have spent big money on a set of chunky Brembos, but by using parts it already had in-house, and working very hard to optimise cooling, Biermann reckons they've kept the car's list price low without compromising on braking strength and durability. Or consider the aerodynamic profile of the i30N. It's been tuned for high-speed stability for the many, not absolute lap time for the few. The i30N is Jeremy Corbyn's hot hatch.

That all applies to the i30 Fastback N, of course. According to Schemera, though, the Fastback is a completely unique proposition. And he has a point - there isn't another four-door coupe out there at this price point, with this level of performance. 'If you want a four-door coupe, you now have to consider Hyundai,' Schemera points out.

It's all for nothing if the softer, more civilised i30 Fastback N turns out to be a complete pudding. On the evidence of one quick lap of the Nordschleife, I'm confident it's no such thing. Its firmest suspension mode still feels very stiff, something i30N hatchback owners will be familiar with. In fact, it's actually a little too tough for the bumpy Nordschleife, causing the body to bounce and skip when you want it to be settled.

Despite that tautness there isn't quite the sort of locked-down body control that fills you with confidence when aiming a car's snout at a quick sequence of bends. I suspect the i30N hatch would be better controlled and more reassuring in those instances, but only by a little.

So the i30 Fastback N does squirm around just a little when you really chase it. Mostly, though, it's characterised by good cornering grip, a layer of safety understeer at the limit but still a good dose of adjustability, excellent traction away from bends and an LSD that drags you very effectively away from the apex, as well as precise and intuitive steering and brakes that, over the course of a single lap, didn't show any real signs of fade.

The gearshift is short and direct and the engine is responsive and strong, but it lacks the sheer forcefulness of the Honda Civic Type R's motor and it isn't the most effervescent turbo unit out there. It's a facilitator rather than the car's heart and soul.

In short, the i30 Fastback N is still good fun to drive despite its softer set up. In fact, it might yet be the case that the four-door coupe model's more compliant nature actually makes it the sweeter car to drive on the UK's appalling road network. Calmer and less focussed, but all the better for it. Time will tell.

All things considered, Hyundai's N division is rolling along quite happily. Its first road car is a fun and competitive hot hatch, the i30 Fastback N looks set to be a likeable car in its own right, its World Rally Championship team is currently on course to win both titles and somewhere down the line, a purpose-built N halo car will emerge.

No further details have been made available just yet, but to be considering a bespoke model within months of the launch of its very first showroom product shows a certain level of determination and no small amount of ambition. Hyundai's performance sub-division seems to be going from strength-to-strength.

Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder, turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Power (hp): 275@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 260@1500-4700rpm
0-62mph 5.9sec
Top speed 155mph
Weight: 1,450kg (estimated)
MPG: 39mpg
CO2: 163g/km
Price: £28,000 (estimated)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (31) Join the discussion on the forum

  • zeeboy 21 Jul 2018

    What a dull looking car. The designer seems to have had an imagination bypass.

  • rare6499 21 Jul 2018

    I think it looks pretty damn good myself!

  • tomv1to 21 Jul 2018

    I think it looks pretty decent too.

    The hatch looks a bit bland but this looks a lot better.

  • veevee 21 Jul 2018

    'The i30 Fastback N is for a different group of customers,' says Thomas Schemera, vice president of High Performance and Motorsport Divisions. 'The same age group, maybe 30 to 45, but it's for people who are more interested in style and sophistication. It is a more refined car than the i30N hatchback.'

    But no auto option? Interesting.

  • Gribs 21 Jul 2018

    How is that a coupe? It's a 5 door hatchback.

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