It doesn't take three months with the Hyundai i30 N to realise that the word 'fun' must've ranked pretty highly on Albert Biermann's priority list when he kicked off its development. Compared to your average hot hatch it's downright silly, which is exactly why we love it. But very good doesn't necessarily mean great. And greatness was the company the i30N kept for a few days in August when we brought it along to the Lords of the Ring battle between the Honda Civic Type R, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S and the Renault Megane RS Trophy-R. Sat on the shoulder of giants, just how would Hyundai's snap, crackle and pop machine measure up?
As far as its rivals are concerned, a number of things can be taken as read: the FK8-gen Civic is the most potent, with its 320hp turbocharged VTEC motor; the RS Megane is arguably more focused, with a stripped out interior and track-spec Ohlins dampers; and the GTI CS sits somewhere inbetween, having ditched its back seats and gained a circuit-inspired chassis. All three hit 62mph in 5.8 seconds and top out around 160mph.
Next to these cars our i30 N does admittedly look a little under gunned. It's got the least power and, with a full five-person interior onboard, it's almost as heavy as the Civic at 1,429kg - chubby by comparison to the 1,360 and 1,297kg weights of the GTI CS and Trophy, respectively. But that doesn't mean it's over before it's started; the i30 N is not overly interested in numbers or the stopwatch located by the Northern Loop's gantry. Hyundai's lack of interest in chasing a Nurburgring lap time illustrates this. It's about the experience first and foremost.
Set the car to its optimum mode, Individual, with the chassis in the middle ground Sport setting but with everything else - engine, limited slip diff and exhaust - turned up to the maximum and you've an i30 that's quick, agile and more vocal than the other three combined. Next to the muscular tone of the i30's 2.0-litre engine and the fireworks coming from its exhaust, the Honda sounds a bit plain. The Renault's blown four-cylinder has an addictive intake rumble, although its exhaust is a little monotone and gruff. The GTI CS sounds, to be honest, excellent and very racey. Although, to these ears, even its free-breathing exhaust doesn't sound quite as naughty as the i30 N's.
But get going in any of the hall of famers, and it soon becomes a feast for the critical faculties. The Megane is alive and apparently always on its tippy toes; the Golf is rapid and adjustable thanks to its phenomenal front end; and the Honda is almost identical at both of those things while also be more supple - and, with five seats, genuinely usable. It's immediately obvious that the i30 N's ability to switch direction isn't so incisive, nor is its engine as eager or its ride quality as well resolved.
Nevertheless, while it doesn't quite reach the bar set by its forbears, its individual components remain acutely well calibrated their relationship with each other. So while you drive the other three through gritted teeth and sweaty palms as you try and eke out every last drip of ability from the chassis, a stint in the i30 N leaves you grinning and with little care for whether or not you clipped the last apex. Truthfully, it doesn't feel like it's even trying to beat the others at their Nordschleife-infused games. If that makes its game face more smiley than steely-eyed, then fine; a good time is often more preferable on the public road to a heart-stoppingly fast one, after all.
Mind you, the back-to-back experience is not all plain sailing. Having more power dangled in front of you does tend to make you yearn for it, and the i30 N never quite feels like it's at the limit of its chassis the way its rivals do. Plus, as good as the Hyundai's seating position feels in isolation, compared to this lot you're sat about an inch too high. As ever, the extra distance subtracts from the overall experience.
The downsides are all fixable though, which makes us hopeful for the strides that might yet be taken by the updated car that's coming next year. But for now, rest assured that even against the toughest backdrop imaginable, the i30 N manages to remind you that Hyundai's way - against all the odds, really - still feels like an enjoyable one. And if that thought hasn't worn off after three months, one suspects it never will.
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: The i30 N faces the class's most capable champions but manages to hold its own.