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Best motoring underdogs: Hyundai i30 N

Dan Powell

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Dan Powell

Hyundai i30 N
  • The i30 N was the first model from Hyundai’s high-performance 'N' sub-brand
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI rival was co-developed by Hyundai's World Rally Championship team 
  • i30 N has a top speed of 155mph and can cover 0-62mph in around six seconds

We love a good underdog story. Whether it’s a lower league football team claiming a shock victory over a Premier League rival in the FA Cup on BT Sport or a carmaker defying convention to create a world-beater, the annals of human history are filled with David vs Goliath moments. 

When it comes to motoring underdogs, the Hyundai i30 N is one of our all-time favourites. Launched in 2017, the i30 N blew away everyone's expectations. It also transformed Hyundai's reputation and gave it some much needed 'yoof' appeal. 

The origins of the i30 N date back to 19 December 2012, when Hyundai Motorsport was founded in Germany.  Up until this point, Hyundai was famous for building value-focused cars that scored big on affordability and comfort but always disappointed when it came to driver engagement and fun.  

The newly formed Hyundai Motorsport division was designed to transform all of that. And the first point of order was a new FIA World Rally Team that would make Hyundai a well-known name in the famous rally series around the world.  

Hyundai i30N parked

The N is born

Hyundai's WRC team would be the launch platform for a new range of fast Hyundais. And all would be sold under its new 'N' brand (with the 'N' standing for Namyang, Hyundai's test centre in South Korea). 

The new rally team would be based in Alzenau, Germany. It would have close ties with Hyundai’s Namyang R&D Centre, so all of its high-octane knowhow would be shared with the company's car production teams. 

It took Hyundai less than 12 months to create its first WRC car, which was based on the i20 hatchback. And success soon followed, with lead driver Thierry Neuville taking Hyundai to its first WRC victory at Rallye Deutschland in 2014.

Hyundai i30N profile

Away from the rally stages, Hyundai was busy developing its first 'N' production car. The i30 had been identified as the first model to get the N treatment, owing to the fact it was one of the most popular cars in the Hyundai line-up. 

The i30 N was pencilled in for launch in early-2016 and a hot version of the i20 N would follow. However, production was pushed back to 2017 for the i30 N as Albert Biermann, formerly Vice President of BMW’s M Performance Division, was hired to manage the project. 

Hyundai was true to its word when it came to the co-development of the car with the motorsport team. The i30 N was put through an intensive winter testing schedule in Sweden, with Neuville behind the wheel, before prototypes were sent to the UK to refine the road handling and engine performance. 

Two close-to-production i30 N vehicles took part in the ADAC Zurich 24-hour race at the Nürburgring. One car was damaged in an accident during the race and was heavily delayed in the pits for repairs. But the second entrant finished the race in 4th place in its class. What's more, it used the same 2.0-litre turbo engine and six-speed manual transmission as the production i30 N. Hyundai had a class champion on its hands. And its rivals were starting to get worried. 

"Hyundai may never have designed a hot hatch, but it's got everything right with the i30 N. This thing is an absolute revelation."

The UK motoring press had to wait until Monday 25 September before they could test the full production version of the i30 N. But the wait was clearly worth it, with hundreds of positive reviews flowing from the launch event.  

Fast, fun and spacious enough to carry a family of four in comfort, the i30 N was hailed by the press as a brilliant all-rounder. The fact it was backed by Hyundai's five-year-warranty and priced from £24,995 made it all the better. 

Not only did Hyundai have a hot hatch that was cheaper than the Golf GTI to buy new, but the i30 N  was also more fun than the Ford Focus ST to drive. 

HonestJohn.co.uk praised the i30 N for its road handling and engine performance. Its review hailed the i30 N for its style and handling, saying: "Hyundai may never have designed a hot hatch, but it's got everything right with the i30 N. This thing is an absolute revelation."

Power was delivered to the front wheels by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine - the standard version of the i30 N had 250PS but the Performance version bumped this up to 275PS. Both had the same peak torque of 353Nm, however, the Performance Package included a higher limit, which kept on producing 500rpm further up the rev range, from 1450rpm to 4500rpm.

Performance models also added an electronic differential designed to improve the body control in the corners, which meant the i30 N was grippy and engaging to drive. 

Enthusiasts praised i30 N for its fun and playful nature on the road, while family car buyers were impressed with the i30's spacious interior, useful-sized boot and generous equipment levels. The i30 N was the hot hatch that had it all. 

The i30 N has been improved over the years with the option of an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a Fastback coupe model being added to the range. 

But for us, the hero of the line-up will always be the original hatchback that claimed the hot hatch crown in 2017. 

Hyundai i30N rear

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1.0T GDI SE 5dr

201731,722 milespetrolmanual
£202mo PCP

Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £202.19, Customer Deposit: £1,649.00, Total Deposit: £1,649.25, Optional Final Payment: £4,217.50, Total Charge For Credit: £1,948.40, Total Amount Payable: £12,943.40, Representative APR: 9.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.81%, Excess Mileage Charge: 3.6ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000