When the Hyundai i30 N first burst onto the scene last year, it very quickly became one of my very favourite cars on the market. While the regular i30 is a great car, the N is a totally different animal.
While a hardcore, loud-mouthed, track-ready hatchback was probably the last thing anyone expected to see from Hyundai, it’s exactly what the i30 N is, and it’s one of the few cars that really gives the hot hatches from brands more established in this space a run for their money – especially when you consider the fact that it costs a lot less than practically all of its rivals.
Given how well customers and journalists alike responded to the i30 N in it’s OG hatch form, the decision was made, then, to gift the Australian market with another version of the N for 2019 – the Fastback, which is intended to be a more sophisticated, classy, and distinctly European take on Hyundai’s hottest car, as well as being the only i30 Fastback variant we’re set to see on our shores.
From the B-pillar forward, all is practically identical to the hatch, with the same attractive front-end with just the right amount of aggression to it and all the right hot hatch enhancements – the big chin spoiler with it’s red pinstripe, the honeycomb grille with its prominent N badge, and some angry-eye headlights. The 19-inch diamond-cut N-branded alloys also carry over from the Performance Pack that’s standard on all Aussie i30 Ns, as do the red-painted brake calipers hiding behind them.
On the inside, all is largely the same as well, with the N-specific steering wheel, N-branded bucket seats (which were cloth in our base-spec tester, but come heated, power adjustable, and wrapped in suedecloth with the Luxury Pack, as well as being slightly wider), N-branded shift knob, aluminium pedals, and unique gauge cluster with a shift indicator light all still carrying over from the hatch.
There are a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it changes though, which it would take having spent time in both variants to detect. Namely, the Performance Blue highlights of the hatch are now different colours in the fastback, with the stitching and air vent surrounds now made red, and the handy drive mode selector buttons on the steering wheel finished in charcoal.
Where the big changes come are all behind the B-pillar, where the first thing you’ll notice is a slight lack of rear headroom. For myself at 6’2″, I found I could still fit fairly comfortably – I’ve always found the i30 hatch to have one of the best back seats for someone of my size with good legroom and headroom – without banging my head against the ceiling, but you do find that it feels a tad more claustrophobic, especially without the optional panoramic sunroof which goes a long way to brightening this rather dark interior up.
The boot is also noticeably different, as its capacity is increased by 12 percent to 436 litres, compared to the hatch’s 381, but that extra space comes more in terms of extra depth, as the sloping roofline means that while you can fit in longer items, you won’t be fitting in taller ones. Fully expanded, it’s definitely a big space, but fitting something like a pushbike will be a challenge if it’s as big as my XL-framed Trek as I did have to remove the front wheel. You’ll also have the rear strut brace to contend with as well, and before you go and tell me that it is, in fact, removable, I simply couldn’t be bothered with taking it out.
And of course, it would be remiss of me to mention the most notable change regarding the Fastback’s looks – that distinct rear-end. I’ll admit that when I first saw the photos come through after the Fastback was revealed, I wasn’t exactly taken by the looks, but having seen it in the flesh now, the ducktail spoiler definitely stands out in a good way, and the teardrop shape makes more sense. It’s more from the side that it looks a little odd, as it seems the rear end was simply chopped off, rather than flowing down to a pointed end, like on sister company Kia’s rather attractive Stinger.
Unquestionably, however, there are some definite performance merits to the new shape, and given performance is exactly what this i30 is about, I can definitely get on board in this regard. Compared to the hatch, the shape of the Fastback is far slipperier, with its better aerodynamic properties resulting in a reduced drag coefficient of 0.29Cd – whereas the hatch’s is 0.32Cd – meaning it can shave a tenth off its claimed 0-100km/h time, bringing it down to 6.1 seconds.
Launching it up to speed is an absolute firecracker of an engine, a 2.0-litre four-pot with a massive turbo stuck to the side of it that pushes out 202kW and 353Nm normally, but also has an overboost function to push that torque peak up to 378Nm in 18 second bursts. It’s worth noting that there’s torque all over the place, too, with the full 378Nm being available between 1750-4200rpm.
That power is all sent to the front wheels alone through a six-speed manual gearbox which, for the time being, is the only option you have. Supposedly, an eight-speed dual-clutch auto will be ready by the end of this year if Hyundai’s proposed timeline is to be believed, although things have been quiet on that front for a while.
While it sounds as though that much power all being sent to the front wheels would be a recipe for disaster, Australia’s standard Performance version of the i30 N receives an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential which is shockingly effective at keeping everything in check. Although it will still allow for some wheelspin off the line, as is perhaps to be expected, it’s through the corners that it really amazes.
You can step on the throttle as hard as you want in any gear – this thing will shuffle the power around as much as it needs to to eliminate almost any understeer or torque steer. It’s totally idiot-proof, as deliberately driving it like a moron to try and find any weakness in the system proved. Granted, I haven’t driven one on track, but on public roads at least, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to putting the power down.
There’s nothing to worry about when it comes to power delivery either, as the little turbo mill under the bonnet is a perfectly predictable power plant. With only a tad of (rather fun) turbo lag to be detected when at lower revs, if you keep it in its mid-range it will happily send you flying along all day.
Admittedly, it’s not the fastest of all the hot hatches – something like the Renault Megane R.S. will definitely start to pull away from it in a straight line – but if driving enjoyment is more your thing than needing to be the fastest, this thing is the car for you. Few cars are this much fun on public roads these days because few are quite so dramatic. When the turbo kicks in, you really feel it through the seat of your pants as it force feeds the engine as much cool air as possible and you catch that wave of torque.
And then there’s the noise. The noise. I honestly can’t think of a single four-cylinder on the market that sounds better than this mean machine. The snarl, the bite, the pops, the crackles, the machine gun fire ferocity, the sheer volume – it’s absolutely spectacular to hear this thing winding through somewhere like the echoey Adelaide Hills, the only downside being that it’s almost better if you’re in the car following it, rather than in the N itself.
Beyond just the noise though, it is a real joy to send through the bends on a lovely liquorice strap of tarmac as it’s wonderfully precise. Combine a hefty and responsive feel to the tiller with how flat it remains regardless of the camber of the corner and it’s easy to see why so many people are hailing this little Hyundai as a proper driver’s car.
But all of this thrashing about isn’t entirely in keeping with the Fastback’s more sophisticated premise, and ignoring the improvements made to its everyday drivability would be criminal of me. And certainly, compared to the rough-riding hatchback we were first introduced to last year, the Fastback – which scores an all-new suspension tune with a multitude of revisions to things like the bushings and dampers – rides like an absolute dream by comparison.
Well, at least it does around town. Leave it in comfort mode and this is one of the easiest manual hot hatches you could ever drive in the city. The ride feels very absorbent but still informative, the clutch is well-weighted and the bite point is distinct, and for those not comfortable with heel and toe, there’s an auto rev-matching function that takes care of downshifts better than you ever could anyway.
Press the chequered flag button and put it into N mode, however, and the rough-riding aggression is still all there. That’s a good thing, too, as this new suspension tune will be coming to the hatch as well for the 2020 model year, meaning those who would rather have a hatch can have one then that will ride a whole lot better the rest of the time, while those with ’18 and ’19 builds will be able to claim to having a slightly more special car that will be more appealing to anyone thinking of tracking it.
It’s hard to pick out many faults with the N – and believe me, I’ve tried, given the fact it’s my job to – but there’s simply nothing egregiously wrong with it at all in my eyes. Perhaps it’s a little on the thirsty side – I saw an indicated return of 11.0L/100km during my time with it – but no one’s cross-shopping this with a Prius. The firm ride in N mode might be a bit too firm for some as well – I certainly found it to be a bit too jumpy and harsh over mid-corner bumps – but again, it’s hardly like driving something on coilovers.
Ultimately, there’s just an awful lot to like about this little car. Sure, the badge might be the wrong one for the brand snobs out there, but anyone who knows a thing or two about driving will be able to see that this is one properly good hot hatch… even if it isn’t one that’s in typical hatchback form.
Despite dressing the i30 N in a suit and tie and giving it a shave, underneath this outer sheen is a truly maniacal car propelled by distilled lunacy. So, ultimately, it turns out that it’s exactly what a hot hatch should actually be.
2019 Hyundai i30 Fastback N List Price: $41,990
Pros: Incredible noise for a four-pot, much more comfortable ride than before, brilliant front diff, offers a lot for the money
Cons: Still feels too firm and bumpy in N mode, surprisingly thirsty when pushed hard, looks may be divisive
In a nutshell: The looks might take time to grow on you, but the way the Fastback N drives impresses immediately.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Australia for a week with a full tank of petrol. All additional fuel costs were paid for by the author.