By Melinda Ferguson
Hyundai South Africa recently threw a huge party, inviting national motoring media, international guests and a whole bunch of trendy influencers to welcome their N performance hatch onto local soil, the much-anticipated i30 N.
You’d be forgiven if you wondered whether there is space in local Golf GTI and Golf R lovers’ hearts to make way for a new contender. I had those same thoughts as I arrived at an exclusive private race track just outside Franschhoek, on a sweltering mid-30 degree Wednesday, to test drive Hyundai’s much anticipated i30 N on road and track.
I’d done a bit of homework before on comparative specs. The much-loved GTI (50% of all Golfs sold in SA are GTIs) has a 2.0-liter turbo engine, delivering 169kW and 350Nm, while the upstart N’s 2.0-litre turbo comes in at 202kW – that’s 33kW more to the N and pretty even in the torque stakes at 353Nm. Then we look at pricing. The N with all its standard bells and whistles, which I’ll touch on a bit later, has been priced at a rather gasp-inducing R679 900. The GTI is R111 300 cheaper. This is why it makes sense to rather pitch the i30 N against the Golf R, which at just over R680k, is about R4k more expensive than its new South Korean competitor. They both have 2.0-liter turbos, but when it comes to power and torque, the R has the edge with 228kW/400Nm.
But then I ask myself … is it really all about numbers? Cos when it comes to hot hatch lovers, passion rules – and where does it say you can’t love both a German and a Korean? Besides, some worthy competition in this feisty segment can only be good for the business of speed.
What’s very clear is that Hyundai has become super-serious about speed. Much like BMW has its M Performance, and Golf has its GTI’s and R’s, the South Korean manufacturer may have arrived a little late to the horsepower party, with Hyundai’s N only being birthed in 2015, but boy have they done it in style, even poaching Thomas Schemera from BMW’s M section, to head up Hyundai’s High-Performance Vehicle & Motorsport Division.
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Sporty is written all over the i30 N with its sports suspension and launch control systems, plus adjustable dampers, riding low on 19″ alloys. Then inside there are nifty leather and suede sports seats plus a touchscreen infotainment system, CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, that can … wait for it … record lap times and cornering forces.
There are 3 driving modes available via a blue button on the steering wheel – Eco, Normal and Sport – however, if you really want to play, it’s the other one with the chequered button you’ll be pushing to access Sport + and N modes. Here you’ll be able to customise things like the exhaust sound, chassis setting, engine response, and steering. By pushing the N, the hatch’s entire character changes, unleashing an exhaust-popping demon.
There’s plenty of standard kit, like cruise control, park distance sensors and reverse camera, a moonroof, electrically adjustable heated leather, and suede seats, keyless entry and start. (Many of these come as optional extras in the competition.)
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But in the end, it’s all about the drive. We got to experience the N on track as well as on some sublime mountain pass routes. On the track the true DNA of the brilliant six-speed manual gearbox comes to the fore. A short-shifter with speed almost immediately available, it took me a few rounds to get used to its racehorse needs, but once in that snap-changing zone, the N truly becomes a driver’s delight. On twisty mountain passes the N’s integrity as a great road car came to the fore, sure-footed, hungry to unleash speed, while simultaneously as eager to respond to hard braking.
Will Golf GTI and R fanatics change loyalty and go all N crazy? Probably pretty unlikely. But there will always be the brave and the curious who are brand fluid and ready to try something special. One thing for sure, the N will impress anyone who is serious about hot hatch driving pleasure.
Pricing: R679 900
Includes a five-year/75 000km service plan plus a five-year/150 000km warranty, extending to seven years and 200 000km for drivetrain components.