The poise, balance and wonderful engine noise of the Hyundai i30 Fastback N convince Charlie Flindt that it’s never too late to join the ‘hot hatch’ brigade


Charlie Flindt finds himself determined to join the ‘hot hatch’ brigade after driving the Hyundai i30 Fastback N. It may not win any points among eco warriors – but it’s immense fun to drive.

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It’s remarkable that despite the efforts of St Greta and her hair-shirted Fun Police, car manufacturers are still putting enormous time and effort into the production of ‘hot hatches’. The Golf GTi still sells well after all these years, Honda’s Type R is a favourite – the list is long. Joining in for the first time is Hyundai, with the ‘N’ version of the i30. The ‘N’ is for ‘Nurburgring’ (site of extensive testing) or possibly ‘Namyang’ (design centre) – or ‘no-one seems quite sure’.

We tested the ‘fastback’ version and were immediately struck with how restrained the styling is. If you got rid of the N’s red flashy bits (10 minutes with a tin of black Hammerite) you’d be left with a relatively mundane elongated hatchback. Nothing fancy, nothing garish, but, as with most Korean cars these days, bang up to date.

Hyundai i30 Fastback N

Deep and practical boot.

The interior seems – again, at first glance – conventional and simple. The i30 comes with a proper handbrake and a simple six-speed gearbox, and an all-round relatively straightforward interior – nothing to give you a hint of what the i30 is all about.

It’s only when you press ‘start’ that you get more of a clue. The noise is fantastic, a deep rumble accompanied by a hint of unevenness and vibration that smacks of a longitudinal V8 rather than a conventional transverse four. The clutch is heavily over-centred (another clue) and as you finally set off, you’ll see the amber warning lights on the tachometer start to vanish as the engine (or, more specifically, the engine oil) warms up. Hyundai expects N owners to know what a tachometer is for (most drivers don’t), and how to use it (ditto). There’s even a ‘rev matching’ feature to avoid having to heel-and-toe while changing gear (ditto) – easily mistaken for a sticking throttle until you realise what’s going on.

And then you find the ‘settings’ menu and get yourself into a right muddle of throttle response, damper rates, steering speed, exhaust sound, electronic limited slip diff – it’s important to bring your reading glasses if you dive into that bottomless pool of adjustments. I made do with off-the-peg ‘normal’ and ‘sport’ driving modes, with occasional forays into ‘eco’ for Greta’s sake.

Hyundai i30 Fastback N

Conventional interior.

After waiting decades to join the ‘hot hatch’ gang, Hyundai’s ‘N’ squad has decided to do it properly. It goes fantastically – poised, balanced and all the time accompanied by the wonderful engine noise – even before you’ve opted to pipe more noise into the cabin. Driving the i30 was the most fun I’ve had at the wheel in a very long time – even at mediocre speeds.

Best of all, it’s quite capable of easy everyday use. The fastback boot is deep and practical (there’s a removable bracing strut available in the hottest i30 version), and the interior is roomy and practical. The harshest suspension settings struggle with disintegrating rural roads and the not-quite-right front seats didn’t make the ride any better.

It’s great value, comes with a five-year warranty and is, for those of us who believe the internal combustion engine is the best thing to happen to the human race, an utter delight. Sorry, Greta.


♦ Engine: 1,998cc 16 valve petrol
♦ Power: 275PS
♦ Max speed: 155mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 6.1 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 34.0mpg
♦ Insurance group: 28E
♦ Price: £29,995