Big pressure, then, though Hyundai is of course free from expectation too. There won't be comparisons to previous hot hatch icons by old farts (because there aren't any), no illustrious direct predecessor to match (because there wasn't one) and no counterparts in the Hyundai range that it must match. Because, well, you know the answer.
Fortunately, and very pleasingly, this Blu Tack blue five-door Hyundai is - apologies for spoiling the surprise - absolutely terrific. No, seriously. There is more detail coming, but be in no doubt: the i30 N can stand comparison with any hot hatch you care to mention at £30,000, and in some cases beat them.
It would be understandable if you found the exterior a little underwhelming, though it must be difficult for manufacturers to strike the right balance: follow the Golf GTI style guide and it's supposedly tedious, adopt the Type R method and it's divisive to say the least. For what it's worth the i30 seems sporty enough in isolation, the badges, bumpers and skirts doing just enough to convey the more focused nature of the car. It's smart, if not a car that lingers in the memory for its stylistic menace or magnificence.
Inside is where things begin to improve for the i30 N, as a theme becomes established that runs throughout the rest of the car: namely that the basics are done really well, with nothing left to chance and an overriding sense that car people have been involved. Examples? A round steering wheel, with the important drive mode buttons large and easy to access. A small, round gearknob. Clear, accurate dials with shift lights that are actually useful. Supportive (if slightly too high) seats. A Civic Type R is more enticing still, though that's not what the Hyundai is aimed at: as a rival for the 308 GTI and Focus ST the Hyundai has a superior driving environment.
Before there's any driving though, there's a tech briefing from development boss Albert Biermann. As well as referring to the car as a 'corner rascal' and discussing the 'corner carving' differential, there are some really useful (and encouraging) facts. When Biermann starts discussing the car's confidence inspiring aero balance at Schwedenkreuz, Flugplatz and the Fuchsrohre, you know there's some serious development behind it. The clutch is uprated, the stupidly-named diff is a proper mechanical item, there's aluminium in the suspension to reduce weight and boost stiffness, the tyres are a bespoke compound, camber stiffness is up, the dampers are unique to this car... What you would want changed for a hot hatch has been, basically.
Furthermore, despite Biermann's claims that they weren't making this a circuit warrior hot hatch (there won't be a 'ring time, in case you were wondering), the i30 N is brilliant on track. Really, really good. The 2.0-litre turbo is from other Hyundais but with a new turbo, a new intake manifold and a new exhaust; it revs enthusiastically, punches hard from really low revs and has great throttle response too. Matched to a precise clutch and a really satisfying six-speed manual it's a great powertrain to use on track. Certainly fast enough, as well.
The limited-slip diff works effectively with the Pirelli P Zero tyre (on the 19-inch wheel; the 18s use a Michelin Super Sport) to deliver strong traction out of slower turns, the car only leaning on its assists if you're unreasonably greedy. The brakes are spot on too, powerful and easy to modulate right from the top of the pedal. If you want to heel and toe every pedal is well positioned and placed; should you prefer not to, an excellent rev-match system is a button press away.
Perhaps more importantly than that though, the i30 N feels durable and resilient on track. Typically claims of circuit staying power are taken with a pinch of salt, but here the car feels good for everything you can throw at it. You might scoff at such a remark, though it feels like the race development on the 'ring has paid dividends. Indeed the track session feels to end all too early; the Hyundai so confidence inspiring, capable and eager that lapping all morning would be a pleasure.
Alright, that might stretch the point a bit; certainly a Type R feels more track focused still, a Megane more flamboyant and an RS sillier, though the i30 treads a clever path between their circuit focus and the more ordinary hot hatches - it's a very neat compromise.
Because, if anything, the Hyundai is even better (and even more of a surprise) on the road. Sadly our time with the car was limited, restricted to fairly crummy Italian roads, but there's easily enough to be very excited about for the UK. Well, assuming you've selected the right mode, that is ...
Perhaps it's old man whingeing, perhaps we're not representative of car buyers, or perhaps they would all suit at some point on a longer test. However, to have five drive modes, including an individual mode with 1,944 permutations, seems daft. The driver can choose to adjust the engine response, suspension, diff behaviour, intake noise, exhaust noise, ESC threshold and the steering for at least two settings, so you'll never really know if you have the optimum set-up. Heaven forbid you want to adjust the individual mode on the move either, as it's a right faff.
More frustrating still is that the i30 is a car of genuine and substantial dynamic talent, one where a couple of settings would surely match everything it would need to cover. It can be refined and subdued as well as aggressive and alive, so to have the mush in between seems unnecessary. Most importantly though, the i30 is a brilliant hot hatch to drive when you want to drive like... well, when you want to drive like it's a new fast car and you're not paying for the consumables, to be frank.
The quality of the damping shines through immediately; the ride with the ECS Electronic Controlled Suspension is always firm regardless of the three settings, but the Hyundai has a purpose and poise that eludes cars like the Leon Cupra for example, which can occasionally feel a tad hollow and lax in its damping. It simply does not get flustered, even over really terrible tarmac, the i30 level and expertly controlled. This gives the tyres something to work with, the traction out of bumpy second-gear bends remarkable. As on track, the cars feels very well dynamically calibrated - all elements work very well in harmony, the car not relying on super sticky tyres or draconian traction control to hide handling deficiencies.
Steering that felt accurate and well weighted on the circuit is less encouraging on the road - certainly in Normal mode, at least - too light and with an unwelcome willingness to self-centre. That being said, in the more aggressive settings and with higher cornering loads it did begin to feel more natural again. You kind of have to drive it quickly, basically...
For what it's worth, on a limited drive the best 'Custom' mode setting appeared to comprise the most aggressive engine and diff settings (the exhaust pops are particularly good fun), with the mid-way steering setting, the mid-way ESC pre-set the most comfortable suspension. Configured thus the i30 is a fun, involving, deeply impressive hot hatch.
Truth be told, it's a very hard car to pick fault with. There wasn't chance to try the standard 250hp car though, purely off spec, the Performance Package looks worth the extra with its bigger brakes, additional power and limited-slip diff. Still, as a car pitched as an all-rounder, one to deliver a great hot hatch for all different types of buyer, the i30 N fulfils its brief superbly. It's less overt than Civic Type R, better to drive than a 308 and cheaper than a Golf GTI. As car to have come from one of the established hot hatch makers it would be very, very good - as a first time effort the i30 N isn't far off a triumph. If you're looking for a hot hatch in the next few months the Hyundai has to figure on your shortlist, and we can't wait to try it more thoroughly in the UK soon.
HYUNDAI I30 N
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (limited-slip differential with Performance Package)
Power (hp): 250@6,000rpm (275@6,000rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 260@1,500-4,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.4sec (6.1)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,400kg (1,429kg)
MPG: 40.4 (39.8)
CO2: 159g/km (163g/km)
Price: £24,995 (£27,995)
(Figures in brackets for Performance Package; on sale January 4th 2018)