The Korean powerhouse continues to build momentum. This year Hyundai put in place its own prestige division overseas, and from next year the company's first hot hatch, the i30 N, will arrive in Australia.
While the changing face of Hyundai may feel like a rapid change, the truth is rather different with four-years of behind-the-scenes development work going into the i30 N alone.
So what is N? The initial represents the legendary Nurburgring circuit in Germany where the i30N has been honed, along with Hyundai’s Namyang proving ground - a union that should make for a truly global competitor to cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST
Vehicle Style: Performance small hatch
Price: $37,500-$42,500 (estimated) plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 184-202kW/353Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.0-7.1 l/100km
Since 2014 Hyundai’s N Motorsport division has contested the World Rally Championship (WRC) to help change the image of the brand.
The WRC finale at Coffs Harbour last weekend capped its most successful season to date with Thierry Neuville winning Rally Australia to clinch second place in the driver’s title while the team secured second in the manufacturer’s championship.
To reinforce the connection between the successful rally efforts and the new road car, Hyundai Australia put TMR behind the wheel of the i30 N on Australian tarmac, four months before it goes on sale in March 2018.
Hyundai didn’t pick any piece of hotmix though, instead previewing the i30N at Raleigh Raceway just outside Coffs Harbour, a go-kart track which was used as a Special Stage for the WRC event.
So only days before Neuville and co. threw their WRC machines around the track we got a chance to see just how fun the i30 N is on the same piece of road.
ON THE TRACK
When the i30 N arrived in Australia buyers will have a choice of two variants, either standard car or a more performance-focussed Performance Package.
The regular i30 N produces 184kW of power and 353Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The Performance Package steps up slightly to 202kW from the same engine, and adds performance hardware including an electronically-actuated limited slip diff and stickier tyres (19-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, while the standard car gets 18-inch alloys with Michelin hoops).
Building a fast hot hatch isn’t difficult for a car manufacturer, but to create one with character is a far greater challenge - something Hyundai has conquered.
The tight and technical layout of Raleigh Raceway allowed the i30 N to show off its sharp steering and positive front end. There’s good grip from the standard car and its Michelin rubber that allows you to really push the little machine hard into the corners.
The low grip surface of the old track wasn’t ideally suited to the Performance Pack with additional power and its Pirelli tyres but thanks to the customisable settings for the engine, suspension, steering and eLSD you could adjust the setup to compensate for the lack of grip.
With both versions offering the same amount of torque, the i30 N had no trouble pulling out of the corners with ferocity. The six-speed manual gearbox (which will be joined by an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic in 2019) has a sweet and direct action too.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to drive the cars on a genuine Australian road away from the circuit, so we’ll have to reserve our final judgement on its everyday liveability until we get to do that, but all the early signs are very positive for Hyundai.
With the addition of a genuine hot-hatch to attract a new breed of buyers Hyundai further cements its position as a serious alternative to enthusiast-preferred small performance cars with European passports.
Although reaching this point has taken some time, the wait has been worthwhile.
Now Hyundai is taking its battle against brands like Volkswagen and Ford off the rally circuits of the world and into the showroom, where the real competition begins.
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