- Available for £19,500
- 2.0 inline-four petrol turbo, front-wheel drive
- 0-62 in six seconds, 155mph
- 275hp Performance more common than standard model
- Some niggles with 2018 and 2019 cars
- Five-year warranty still live on every i30 N
The Golf GTI is regularly hailed as the ultimate ‘do it all’ car, and with good reason too. It’s a fast, comfortable, sharp handling, easy to drive, well built 5-door hatch that besides going quickly will also take you, your relatives and most of their chattels from A to B and most other letters of the alphabet.
Many manufacturers have tried to ape the GTI’s winning formula. One of the best goes in recent times has been Hyundai’s i30 N. On its launch in 2017, £25,000 would buy you a handsome five-door hatch with GTI-style handling and a 0-62mph time in the low sixes courtesy of a 2.0-litre 250hp/260lb ft turbocharged petrol T-GDi engine and slick six-speed manual gearbox. The whole performance offering was rooted in the ‘N’ letter of the name, referencing the first letter of the town where Hyundai’s global R&D centre was situated (Namyang) and also the Nürburgring, where a man called Albert Biermann spent a good bit of time developing the i30 N.
Bert, if we can call him that, had previously held down the top job at BMW’s M division so he knew a bit about getting cars to go well. At Hyundai he had carte blanche (within reason) to build a GTI-type hatch that was not only metronomically reliable, which owners of Korean cars had already come to expect, but also enjoyable to drive, which they hadn’t. He was given the freedom to offer i30 N owners every possible option when it came to customising their drives. They would be able to change the settings for the suspension, throttle response, rev-matching, differential, exhaust, steering and stability control (which could be completely disabled), and then parcel up their favourite preferences (f which there would be over 4,000 combinations) via a Custom mode.
To head off the ‘not enough power’ types who regularly pop up whenever a performance car is launched, Hyundai doubled the i30 N range with an ‘N Performance’ variant that produced 275hp and an extra 19lb ft over the homologated 260lb ft amount for up to 18 seconds on overboost. At £27,995 that first i30 N Performance model was £1,500 cheaper than the 230hp Golf GTI Performance. Both i30 N models maxed out at the commonly agreed limit of 155mph. Both had electronically-controlled suspension, rev-matching, an N Mode function (of which more later), launch control and torque vectoring, plus a good interior spec. The Performance added an active variable exhaust system and an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential. It also had bigger 19-inch wheels and an enhanced cabin spec which we’ll also talk about later.
And thus Hyundai’s N performance brand was born. Thanks to Bert Biermann’s efforts, the i30 N was really good straight out of the box and even better it came with an official combined fuel consumption beginning with a 4.
A Fastback version of the Performance (looking a bit like a Mercedes CLA from the back) was released in early 2019. No standard 250hp Fastbacks were put into the UK market as most i30 N buyers had unsurprisingly shunned the low-power version. A twin-clutch automatic Fastback is on the cards for launch later this year (2021), but for this guide we’ll be sticking to the two conventional hatchback models.
How much will it cost to get behind a used i30 N wheel? Well, if you don’t mind the wheel in question possibly being a bit bent and you're able to see past the tattered remains of a deployed airbag, you'll find a few damaged ones about for around £12k. Most of these banged-up Ns have had front-enders, suggesting that i30 N owners are either incredibly unlucky when it comes to T-boning people edging out of side streets or, possibly more likely, are the sort who run out of driving talent at the wrong moments. You can see why that might happen in an i30 N. It’s a quick and confidence-inspiring car, but every car, and certainly every driver, has limits.
Anyway, in terms of cars you’d be happy to buy and drive away, you won’t find many i30 N bargains. Even Cat S cars with repaired structural damage are unlikely to be much less than £17,000. Basically you’re going to need something approaching £20,000 to join the ‘ready to go’ club. Blame these high values on the newness of the i30 N, its dynamic appeal, its tuneability, its reputation for solidity, and of course Hyundai’s five-year warranty. As the oldest i30 N is still less than four years old, every N currently on UK roads is still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
At £20k though, is this a club worth joining? Or is the i30 N not just the new Golf GTI but actually a better Golf GTI? Is it in fact amazing value, even at £20k? Enough questions already, let’s have a wander through what the i30 N is about.
SPECIFICATION | HYUNDAI I30 N PERFORMANCE (2017-on)
Engine: 1,998cc inline four turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@6,000rpm (275)
Torque (lb ft): 260@1,500-4,700rpm (279)
0-62mph: 6.4 secs (6.1)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,400kg (1429kg)
MPG (official combined): 40.4
CO2: 159g/km (16)
Wheels: 7.5 x 18in (8 x 19in*)
Tyres: 225/40 (235/35)
On sale: 2017 - now
Price new: £25,000 (£28,000)
Price now: from £19,500
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Any doubts some of you old codgers might still have about the quality of non-European engineering will be instantly banished when you lift an i30 N bonnet. There’s something about the presentation and attention to detail of an i30 N engine bay that just looks really fit for purpose, and doubly so when a few good quality aftermarket tuning bits from the likes of Forge have been bolted into place.
We’ll chat about tuning in a minute. In its untuned state the 2.0’s torque delivery was sniffily described as ‘boosty’ by one magazine. That's probably because turbocharging is so well integrated into modern cars these days as to have become almost invisible, but we reckon most i30 N owners were quite pleased to find a touch of old-school boostiness in their cars. It added character, something that critics have long maintained has been in short supply in 'cooking' tackle from big non-Euro manufacturers. Put it up against the Golf or Focus ST and there's no contest when it comes to mechanical character. The popping, spluttering and coughing Hyundai wants you to know it's up for fun.
Some i30 Ns have experienced misfires, power losses and lack of turbo boost ultimately leading to a check engine light. This has usually been attributed to faulty high pressure fuel pumps, a straight replacement being the fix, although loose battery terminals have also been identified as a cause and there was an ECU recall on 2018MY cars when the same symptoms were noticed on startup.
Fixed-price servicing packages were available for i30s, at around £350 for two years, just over £500 for three years, and just over £1,000 for five years, the last two package costs including MOTs.
Tuning opportunities are rife. For the sake of argument and also because they have a good reputation we'll talk about Forge Motorsport in Gloucs but many other tuning outlets are available. Here's a PH story on RaceChip's offerings, for example. A Forge stage 1 on either the 250hp or the 275hp car will hoist them up to 300hp and 325lb ft, while stage 2 on the 275hp lifts it to 320hp/339lb ft. The Stage 1 price is £350 inc VAT. Stage 3 with a new turbo will get you over the 400hp mark but you should always try the car in standard trim first as you may find that it has more than enough performance as it stands.
Gearchanging was a breeze. It came with rev-matching and an extra whuff from the en-noisened exhaust when you selected a sportier mode. You could disable the throttle-blipping function at the wheel, though you probably wouldn’t because the pedals weren’t that well set up for heeling and toeing. In answer to the really important question, yes, in 'Sport' mode you did get pops and bangs on the overrun.
‘Giving it some’ is going to happen more in this type of car than, say, a Perodua Nippy, so you’ll want to check that the clutch isn’t exhausted on any i30 N you’re interested in. Bung it in fourth gear and try to pull away from rest. This is not something you should make a habit of, and the owner might frown a bit, but if you do manage to get going using that technique the clutch is most likely slipping and on the way out. Or it will be now that you’ve done that, ha ha.
There have been issues with 5th and 6th gear on some cars. The solution was to fit an improved 5th/6th gear assembly and synchroniser ring.
The default ride from the electronically-controlled suspension (8mm lower in the Performance version) was fairly firm, but that firmness wasn’t out of kilter with the tautness of the i30 N’s chassis. Turn-in was keen, the rack mounting for the steering’s electric motor adding a little extra precision, while the LSD’ed front end gave you the impression that it would grip for ever. The brake feel was on point too. It’s almost as if someone at Hyundai really knew what they were doing. Thanks Bertie.
There were two big light blue tabs on either side of the steering wheel. The one on the left was marked Drive Mode, offering five er drive modes. To get into either of the last two – Custom or the enigmatic N – you had to press the tab on the right, the one with a chequered flag on it. More than one person wondered why you needed to do that. Depending on how far they went with the chequered flag tab, some people will have wondered why they bothered doing any of it.
N Mode was a 'dynamic drive mode' that according to Hyundai brought 'the excitement and performance of motorsports to everyday driving’. What it actually did was whizz up the rev matching, throttle mapping, steering feel, e-diff, exhaust sound and suspension to the max. Custom mode allowed you to pick one or more of those features – or the e-LSD and stability control – for individual adjustment via the infotainment screen.
As mentioned in the overview, like the moves at the very start of a chess game there were over 4,000 potential driver setting combinations on the i30 N. We could spend the rest of this story talking about a fraction of these, and owners could spend months trying to find their own perfect combination. Or, if they wanted to save time, they could see what others were saying in road tests or on forums and copy that. A commonly recommended recipe was to turn everything up to max but leave the suspension and the steering in Normal on the grounds that both those latter elements were already quite meaty in Normal mode and became increasingly unpalatable for UK drivers in sportier modes. In the extreme ‘N’ mode the suspension was buckboard-hard and well nigh unusable away from a circuit. The underlying message was to stick to the default settings for the stuff that mattered. That way you’d get good body control, good overall balance, good steering and a pliant enough ride.
Performance models reportedly had different steering and final drive ratios. They definitely had a removable strut brace in the boot (which got in the way if you wanted to carry big items with the back seats down, just like it did in the old Nissan Almera GTI) and came with model-specific Pirelli P Zero tyres with ‘HN’ marked on the sidewall, or with Michelin Pilot Supersports. The Pirellis struggle to put the power down on wet roads. The wheels on the Performance models were larger than the standard i30 N items (19-inch versus 18-inch). All i30 N wheels are diamond cut, so try not to kerb them if you want to avoid a costly refurb.
Performance discs were larger too. Brake judder on light pedal touches probably meant your discs were warped. There have been problems with the i30 N's autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system, which were usually down to the front camera software needing an update.
The standard i30 N came with a decent-resolution 8in touchscreen, sat nav, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, N Exclusive sports seats, N Mode function, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, keyless entry and (we’re pretty sure) DAB radio, a wireless charging pad and lane-keep assist.
The Performance had a heated steering wheel, part-leather seats that were heated up front, and an electrically-adjustable memory function driver’s seat that, laudably, was no higher than the regular one. If you wanted to cut a not inconsiderable 12kg out of a Performance’s weight, however, you could de-spec it back to the non-electric cloth seats. Annoyingly, the cloth inserts on those leather seats can crease up even more than the moo.
Whatever material they were covered in, the seats were comfortable even on long trips and the driving position fine as long as you didn’t mind bending your legs if they were on the longer side of average. The cabin's unpretentious origins weren’t that well disguised in the N, a few too many shiny plastic bits creating an ambience that was less classy than the Golf GTI’s. The i30 N was also less adept than the VW at insulating occupants from road and tyre noise, though as with the ‘boosty’ engine you might not mind that in something that openly sets itself out as a performance hatch.
The N Race computer could store lap times as well as display boost pressures, engine temps and the like. The infotainment system on 2018 and 2019MY cars has gained a bit of a reputation for going blank at random moments. At the time of writing there was no obvious cause for that although the old IT Crowd solution of pulling out the SD card and putting it back in sometimes fixes it. The sound fader settings sometimes don't come back on line after a phone call, the alarm has been known to go off on UK cars, and noises can emanate from the wiring under the front part of the headlining where the ceiling lights are mounted (because of the absence of clips holding the wiring in place) and from the trim where the lower edge of the screen and the dash meet (more sound dampening material is needed). All of the issues in that last sentence were again on '18 and '19MY cars. There's good info online to help you resolve some of this stuff pretty easily but it's disappointing that these faults were allowed to get out of the factory.
As far as we know nobody has yet come up with a good explanation as to why cars like the i30 N had both a digital and an analogue speedometer. If you really need two methods to pin down your speed then maybe you shouldn't be driving. The fact that the two readouts on an N don’t always agree with each other only adds to the distraction.
Some i30 Ns will have led an ‘interesting’ life so check for consistency in both paint and panel gaps. LED headlights were standard on both models.
So, is it an i30 N or a Golf GTI?
We often talk about heritage in these guides, and much is made of the steady process of evolution that has brought the Golf to a roundedness that some might deem perfect, but Hyundai’s achievement in weighing in with such a fine hot hatch straight out of the gate is hugely impressive. Seeing – and trying – is believing.
If refinement and image are important to you then you’ll go for the Golf, but if maximum excitement for your pound (or dollar) is more important, and you’re able to set aside any brand prejudices, then the Hyundai deserves to be taken out for a test drive at the absolute minimum.
2018 and 2019MY cars do seem to have more than their fair share of niggling issues, which is a pity. Even so, that doesn't appear to have affected their used prices. They were cheaper than the equivalent Golfs when new so the doggedly strong values they are showing three years down the line tells you that there's a lot of love for these Hyundais. £19,500 is the lowest price we’ve seen for good 2017 cars, compared to around £17,000 for a 2017 220hp Mk 7 Golf TSI GTI with the same sort of mileage. As you get to 2020 cars that value relationship is reversed, despite the German car's continuing power shortfall, because the VW had by then moved into its Mk 8 iteration. So a 2020 245hp Mk 8 Golf GTI will be at least £25k, while a 275hp Performance i30 N from the same year will be nearer to £24k.
In the Golf’s defence we should point out that there’s very little difference between the way a 220hp Mk 7 GTI gets up the road compared to a 250hp i30 N, and the same goes for the Performance GTI versus the Performance-grade i30 N. That's down to the VW's torque-rich drivetrain and to the fact that the Hyundai doesn't yet have a DCT option. Although one is admittedly just round the corner.
Just to throw in a final curve ball, used Honda Civic Type Rs also start at around £20k for 2017 models. They’ve got 315hp with 50kg less weight to shift, and they are amazing in wet weather, of which we get a lot in Grond Britane. Not everyone will get on with one of those, though – and we must never forget Hyundai’s five-year warranty.
Most customers in the UK went for the 275hp Performance version and that’s obviously reflected in the used market, where standard 250hp cars are rare. Here's a 2018 Performance with 18,000 miles on it for £20,695. £25,850 will buy this practically unused 1,250-mile 2020 non-Performance i30N in the same white. In between those two there’s this 2018 Performance in (can you guess?) white. With 17,000 miles covered it’s £21,888. Shame there were no Performance Blue i30Ns available on PH Classifieds at the time of writing as that’s arguably the best colour for one of these. That’s probably why there were none for sale, garn!
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