Not too many years ago, a top-flight, thoughtfully engineered and seriously appealing Hyundai hot hatch would have been considered a flight of fancy, but in 2018 the Korean firm rocked perceived wisdom when it launched the i30 N, a sporting version of its smart but sensible i30 family hatchback.
It worked, too. Hyundai’s Volkswagen Golf GTI chaser was deeply impressive and purposeful straight out of the box, with such driver’s delights as electronically controlled suspension, launch control, an automatic rev-matching function and an overboost facility to help with speedy overtaking.
Under its stubby and attractive bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that can be had in two flavours: a standard 247bhp version and a 271bhp Performance variant that’s a fraction faster and gets upgraded brakes, stickier tyres and an electronic limited-slip differential that helps to meter out the power in tight corners. You also get an active exhaust on the more powerful i30 N that sounds great and even emits popping sounds when you lift off the accelerator.
The handling is wonderfully composed, even on rough roads. Every i30 N has adaptive dampers that can be slackened to their most forgiving setting without compromising body control. Even a mid-corner ripple does little to alter the car’s stability. The steering is progressive in Comfort mode and builds weight in a linear manner, while the brakes are strong and give you confidence when tackling a challenging road.
Aside from some purposeful-looking sports seats, there’s little inside the i30 N to differentiate it from its lesser siblings, although at least the infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate and all the controls are logically laid out and everything feels well built. It’s not quite as premium in its feel inside as the Golf GTI, but given that the i30 N costs less, you can forgive this.
H owever, the i30 N isn’t as practical as its rivals, because the boot is on the pokey side and Performance versions have a (removable) chassis brace behind the rear seats that can be an obstruction when you fold the rear bench flat. Rear passengers aren’t treated to quite the same amount of leg room as they are in the Honda Civic Type R, although head room is fine. Those up front will find plenty of room and the driver gets lots of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Electric seats are standard on the Performance, too.
For those who don’t fancy a boxy hatch, there’s also a sleeker Fastback version, introduced in 2019, in the five-door coupé style. It’s worth noting that while the i30 N hatch is available in both forms, the Fastback comes in Performance guise only.
Used prices are the same for all versions of the i30 N. You’ll need around £22,000 for a 2018 version, between £23,000 and £25,000 for a 2019 car and £25,000 to £27,000 for a 2020 one.
Engine Feel for misfires and poor performance, both possibly caused by faulty high-pressure fuel pumps or on some cars, even loose battery terminals.
Transmission Check changes are smooth (some cars had troublesome fifth and sixth gears cured by the fitment of an improved gear assembly and synchroniser ring) and that the clutch isn’t on its last legs.
Body Scrutinise this for crash repairs (overspray, poor panel gaps, ‘orange peel’).
Interior Check the hard scratchy plastics for wear. Check there are no alarm problems and that the wiring under the front of the headlining near the interior lights doesn’t rattle or buzz. On early cars, rattles can also emanate from where the windscreen and dashboard meet.
Need to know
Look at the tyres and find out how worn they are, whether they’re the correct size and if they’re the ones recommended by Hyundai. Performance versions use a specific Pirelli P Zero tyre that can be identified by an ‘HN’ marking on the sidewall. The standard 18in and Performance 19in alloy wheels can be susceptible to kerb damage if you’re not careful. In addition, they’re diamond cut, so they can take longer (and cost more) to repair than ordinary alloys. The i30 N hasn’t had any major concerns so far. Hyundai finished ninth out of 31 makers in the latest What Car? Reliability Survey.
Performance: This more potent model has always been the best-seller (the regular i30 N was axed in 2020), so there’s more of them for sale used, and it costs the same to buy and run.
Fastback: The five-door Fastback body looks sleeker and is roomier than the hatchback version. You’d be hard pressed to tell any differences in the way it goes, either.
Ones we found
2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance, 10,000 miles, £23,999
2019 Hyundai i30 N, 30,000 miles, £22,000
2019 Hyundai i30 N Performance, 20,000 miles, £24,995
2019 Hyundai i30 N Performance Fastback, 4000 miles, £26,000
2021 Hyundai i30 N Performance, 400 miles, £27,995