Ah, the N Mode. A subject of much conversation at PH HQ for one simple reason: we're yet to find a surface where it works. The setting adjusts the car's engine and exhaust just fine, but it's the chassis - or to be exact, the damping - that seems far too aggressive for any road surface in Britain. Sampling N Mode at pace along your typical B-road can be a violent and bumpy experience. But this is a car that was signed off by engineering guru Albert Biermann, so there was good reason to believe N Mode worked somewhere - we just hadn't found it. Still, if it was going to work anywhere, Silverstone GP would be the place - wouldn't it?
Even if you've never driven on it, you'll know - either from watching Formula 1 or playing video games - that Silverstone is a fast, flat and smooth track, with only a few narrow rumble strips and bumpy kerbs placed offline to discourage overzealous exploration of the circuit boundaries. For a track day enthusiast armed with a car as exciting as the i30 N it sounded perfect, as well as being a safe (thanks to those humungous asphalt run-offs) playground on which to explore the car's ultimate limits of grip. Big grin.
To set a baseline of performance, I first headed out onto circuit in the car's Normal mode. If someone who had no previous experience of the sharper and more responsive Sport and Sport + settings for the powertrain were driving, they'd be unlikely to ask for much more. The car feels quick and sharp enough in Normal, although the engine and exhaust volumes remain quiet so there's little drama. The car corners with only a small amount of body roll to hamper its agility, but under heavy braking the nose does take a noticeable dive that ekes confidence away from the driver, particularly if they need to turn towards an apex with lots of momentum.
This all improves when you switch over to the Sport modes for engine and chassis, but N Mode encourages the biggest shift in character. It's accessible via a large button on the right of the steering wheel, which is decorated with the image of a chequered flag, in case you were wondering what this setting was designed for. Press it, and immediately the i30 N feels hunched, like a rugby player tensing their shoulders in a scrum, while the throttle becomes much immediate and the exhaust - already more audible and deeper in Sport - projects a naughty crackle and the occasional gargle when you ease off the pedal. Familiar in the sector, but perhaps most notable here.
What does feel unique, or at least only comparable to the most focused of performance cars, in the i30 N, is the car's newfound firmness. It jiggles over ridges like a touring car and hops up kerbs like one, too. The nose stands strong under heavy braking - bite is fantastic when you really stamp on the middle pedal - meaning that the first flick of the wheel into a turn with a trailed brake is met by an enthusiastic front end and a hilariously agile rear one. N Mode puts the stability control into a less restrictive ESC Sport setting as default, and that does allow some slip angle, but switch off the ESP completely and suddenly the car feels totally alive. Feeling a car move sideways with the steering wheel pointed dead ahead is an exciting sensation, although a deep rumble and vibration through the whole car structure, presumably as the tyres scrub across the surface of the track, does at first feel odd and takes some getting used to.
The car's agility feels like something Biermann would have encouraged, but the car never feels nervous or like it'll bite you, so drivers of all abilities can revel in it. If you go in too hot and the back does come around more than anticipated - as I did early on into the very fast Abbey - a tweak of corrective lock and throttle soon brings things back into check. N Mode's inherent firmness means that your inputs to gather things up can be less exaggerated, making the whole process more racing car-like, which is cool. Therefore while there's no denying the N mode firmness can make the car a little too unsettled on the road, on smooth asphalt it feels beneficial across the board; enhancing drivability, helping to keep tyres planted and as a result, shrinking lap time.
With such potential in the chassis, however, the tyres are punished harder, so the nearly new set of Pirelli P Zeros fitted to our car tended to need a break after about five hot laps. Mind you, Silverstone is no easy circuit for rubber. Some sections, like Club Corner, are torture for the fronts on a front-wheel drive car, requesting it to handle heavy steering lock and large amounts of torque at the same time, as the driver behind attempts to catapult the car onto the pit straight while hooking up with a late apex. A useful tool in tyre management is the car's tyre pressure menu on the instrument cluster display, which shows pressures in real time and gave a good indication as to when it was time to back off. There was a peak of 49psi in the front-left tyre (it's worked the hardest at Silverstone), which was a jump of 11psi from its cold setting, although even in this situation grip was only just starting to fade.
Was our mission to Silverstone a success? I think it was, yes, because we found a surface not only suitable for N Mode, but one where it could turn the car into a proper circuit-worthy hot hatch capable of flattering its driver and providing exactly the sort of entertainment we'd ask for, particularly in a car with an exhaust note as naughty as this. We can say with certainty that in Britain N Mode is for the track and only the track, though - and that's the end of it.
Car: Hyundai i30 N Performance
On fleet since: August 2018
Run by: Sam Sheehan
List price new: £28,010 (As tested £28,895 comprising £300 for winter pack and £585 for metallic Clean Slate paint).
Last month at a glance: N Mode finally gets to prove itself with a track day as Silverstone, where the i30 N entertains as well as it performs
Thanks to BookATrack for having us along!