A shade more power, minor suspension tweaks and a sharper, more hawkish look inject new life into Hyundai's already very likeable i30N hot hatch. You can now have a paddle shift gearbox, too. I've driven a couple of prototypes around the Nurburgring Grand Prix track as well as on nearby roads - on that slightly brief evidence, there is plenty to be optimistic about.
The Korean firm's first such car has never quite been a class-leader, but it arrived in 2017 and immediately established itself as a competitor in one of the most intensely contested performance car categories there is. With no background in the sector whatsoever, Hyundai went up against the likes of Ford, VW, Renault and Honda and did itself proud.
Hyundai's approach with the i30N has always been refreshing. Rather than chase the highest power outputs for the class, the best lap times, the fanciest off-the-shelf components (no Brembo brakes here; no Bilstein dampers) or the highest top speeds, Hyundai's performance division - led by former BMW M boss Albert Biermann - set out to build a hot hatch that was affordable to buy and fun to drive no matter your experience.
The i30N is the most democratised hot hatch there is. And now it's more powerful than before, too, thanks to a handful of engine upgrades that lift peak power from 275 to 280hp and torque from 275 to 289lb ft. Meanwhile, both curves are flatter than before - Hyundai uses the phrase 'flat-power' to describe the uprated engine's more tractable delivery.
Hyundai won't unveil the facelifted i30N for a few more days, but I have seen it. The front bumper is less cluttered now, the day-time running lights (now incorporated into the main headlight units) look pin-sharp with their V-shaped graphics and the two exhaust tips are even bigger than before. Inside the cabin you can now specify new seats with sizeable bolsters and single-piece backs that save 1.1kg apiece.
Hyundai's engineers are cagey when asked about spring rate and damper tweaks, but they admit the old settings haven't simply been carried over. The springs are slightly stiffer than before but, say the engineers, 'a good deal of everyday comfort has been retained'. Certain revisions Hyundai is very keen to talk about: there is a new, more rigid lower arm in the rear suspension, for instance, which improves handling response, plus much more negative camber on the front axle (from -0.8 deg to -1.7) to ramp up cornering grip and steering precision.
Meanwhile, the 19-inch wheels are now forged, saving just over 14kg of rotating, unsprung mass in total. Some of that weight saving has been negated, though, by bigger front brake discs, up to 360 from 345mm.
But the big news is the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, available as an option (a six-speed manual remains standard). It's a wet clutch system for better cooling and durability, all of which sounds jolly good...right up until you learn it adds as much as 70kg to the overall weight of the car. That's one of me, minus a forearm. In certain markets buyers do expect to be able to specify some sort of automatic gearbox, but there is an unspoken expectation among the Hyundai N engineering camp that the keenest drivers will still prefer three pedals and a stick.
As an aside, the entry-level 250hp model will no longer be offered here in the UK. We only want the faster 280 Performance Pack variant, apparently. Go us. Pricing hasn't yet been confirmed, but expect a modest bump in cost over the outgoing model's £29,810 sticker price and for the DCT gearbox to cost an additional £1000 or so. The new i30N goes on sale in March.
More than ever, the Hyundai i30N can be one thing, or it can be an entirely different thing altogether - even where the lower-powered model isn't offered. That's because there are so many variables that you can option in or leave well alone. You can still have the Fastback model with its swooping roofline, for example. And you can specify a panoramic glass sunroof, which adds a chunk of weight right where you don't want it. There's also an optional rear strut brace and now, of course, that dual-clutch transmission.
The Fastback looks elegant but the size and shape of the boot opening mean its body-in-white is less rigid than that of the conventional hatchback. The panoramic roof robs more torsional rigidity still. At one end of the i30N spectrum you have a Fastback with the DCT 'box and the glass roof but no rear brace, while at the other you have a hatchback with a manual, no glass roof and a brace. The former car will be around 100kg heavier than the latter and it will be appreciably less torsionally rigid, too. No amount of clever chassis tuning will ever disguise that very pernicious pairing.
And that's despite Hyundai's best efforts. Its engineers have produced specific steering and suspension settings for cars equipped with the DCT transmission in a bid to make them feel - in the most subjective sense - just like their lighter manual counterparts. But they haven't quite managed it. In terms of overall character both variants are similar: they have taut body control, accurate steering that inspires confidence, bundles of stability in corners and a gentle understeer balance at the limit.
But in the details, the two variants are really quite different. Fitted with the DCT 'box, for instance, the i30N's steering is heavier and not quite as crisp as the manual car's. On track in particular, you're much more aware of that version wanting to understeer much sooner, too. I haven't driven a fixed-roof, hatchback i30N with the DCT gearbox (such a configuration will be available), but I'll bet the extra weight of that transmission does more to nibble away at the i30N's steering response and front end grip than does the Fastback rear end or the glass roof.
The point is, for those who really love driving, the manual gearbox is still the one to have. The i30N is at its sharpest and most entertaining with a metal roof and the conventional hatchback boot, too. If you prefer a more elegant-looking machine and like to have sunlight streaming through a glass panel above you while the gearbox shifts gears itself, you can at least now have all of those things - but you will be aware of what's been lost from the driving experience.
And the DCT gearbox itself? It works really well. With eight ratios you never feel like you're stuck between gears. You can very easily shift or down mid-corner with nothing more than a flick of one finger. In auto mode, the DCT 'box is refined and smooth, too. The long, thin, shapely paddles are mounted on the steering wheel and though they're plastic, they have a pleasing metallic feel to them. They have a good, switch-like action as well.
Hyundai, never one to take itself too seriously, has worked in a couple of for-the-hell-of-it functions. On full-bore upshifts you get an engineered-in shove in the back, which is quite fun - as long as Hyundai resists the temptation to make that shove overly aggressive (as yet the forcefulness of that shove hasn't been set in stone). There's also a mode called N Grin Shift, which essentially ramps up the powertrain's responses for 20 seconds to aid overtaking (Porsche invented that kind of function with its own Sport Response).
My preferred i30N will be a 280 Performance Pack with a manual 'box and no panoramic roof. I'll also have the strut brace in the boot, which can be removed by simply undoing four bolts and lifting it out. Specified that way, Hyundai's hot hatch is a very fine thing indeed. Its steering is exceptionally crisp, accurate and intuitive, body control is huge, there's less body roll in bends than before and cornering grip is strong. I love that the spread in damper stiffness between the Normal, Sport and N modes is vast, too.
On the few stretches of bumpy German road I could find, the ride was taut but not tough. The engine is muscular, it spins keenly to its redline and the manual gearshift is satisfying. But I do wish there was a little more edginess, or adjustability, built into the chassis. On track in particular I find its boundless stability and safety-push stance just a little oppressive. Ultimately, I have more fun driving the Honda Civic Type R.
The i30N works its brakes very hard on circuit and, particularly in the heavier DCT-equipped car, you feel them beginning to fade after just a couple of very quick laps. The limited-slip differential, which is electronically-controlled for more precise actuation (and standard-fit whichever gearbox you have), is really effective whether you're on road or track. The steering has been tuned to allow you to feel that diff dragging the car away from an apex, but it's never so corrupted by the differential's forces that you have to tighten your grip on the wheel itself just to keep hold of it.
So that's what Hyundai N did next. The i30N is a better car now and with the addition of the optional DCT transmission, it will have a broader appeal, too. Nonetheless, it's what Hyundai N does after this that's really exciting. Soon we will see the smaller, Ford Fiesta ST-rivalling i20N in all its glory. A lighter, simpler hot hatch with the same deft ride and handling touch as the i30N? It could be rather special.
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