REMEMBER back in 2008 when Hyundai were known for producing cheap, no-frills (and no-thrills) vehicles for the masses? How times have changed . . .
Since then, Hyundai have become one of the top-10 best-selling manufacturer’s in the UK with over 90,000 vehicles sold last year, including the Prius-beating Ioniq hybrid which I thought was a game-changer for the Korean manufacturer when I drove it, raising the bar enormously on quality of engineering and finish.
Their other models are very capable too, including the SUV trio of Kona, Tuscon and Santa Fe. But what about those of us wanting something a little more visceral; something more provocative?
Hyundai duly obliged in 2017 when they announced the i30 N hatchback which went on to receive rave reviews from petrol-heads everywhere. It remains an astonishingly capable alternative to the more expensive VW Golf GTI.
But now there is a fastback version, named (unsurprisingly) the Hyundai i30 Fastback N. It looks a little more “grown-up” than the hatchback version and to my eyes even more desirable. It’s a very pretty looking coupe-style sports car.
Priced from £29,995 on-the-road, it also comes with 275PS and an electronic limited slip diff which was only previously available on the limited edition i30 N Performance model.
Front-wheel drive and with a 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet, the i30 Fastback N goes up against the likes of the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI and SEAT’s Leon Cupra 300. It’s better looking than all of them – unless you really love the hooligan looks of the Civic Type R.
Spec for spec it’s also cheaper than most of its rivals too – Hyundai customers always get a host of equipment that other manufacturers usually charge extra for and the i30 Fastback N is no different.
A quick look at the spec reveals 19in alloy wheels, heated front seats with electronic adjustment (including lumbar support), faux leather and suede upholstery, Auto Headlights and Wipers, LED headlights, Privacy Glass in rear, Heated Steering Wheel, Keyless entry with Start/Stop button, Infotainment system with Sat Nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Launch Control, Rev-Matching System, Torque Vectoring and a few other things beside. No wonder the option list consists only of special paint finishes.
Inside, the i30 Fastback N impresses with a cabin that is almost entirely lifted from its hatchback brother but now with red stitching and red accents around the air-vents adding to the sporty feel. The figure-hugging seats hold you through the twisty bits but still remain comfy on even on longer journeys.
Quality of fit and finish is very good with a VW-rivalling look about it even if the materials themselves are not quite on a par. The seats in Honda’s Civic Type R are slightly better but the Civic loses out to the Hyundai when it comes to dash layout and ergonomics. The Hyundai cabin just looks more cutting-edge with a hi-res, 8in touchscreen mounted atop the dash that is clear and responsive with a Sat Nav system that’s intuitive to use and a reversing camera view that is super-sharp.
The driving position is sportily low-slung with everything falling to hand easily and aluminium pedals that have a great feel to them although they’re set too far-apart to allow for heel-and-toe gearchanges. Who needs those when you have automatic electronic rev-matching though?
Visibility is good with only the steeply-raked rear window looking a little narrow through the rear-view mirror.
The sloping roofline means taller passengers won’t have as much headroom as in the i30 N hatchback but it’s still adequate and you’ll find kneeroom is generous.
The bootspace is also generous at 450 litres – 55 litres more than the hatchback version. So, more space and more style.
But is it more fun to drive than the i30 N hatchback?
Well, in truth it’s just as much fun – but in a more civilized way. And that’s what the i30 Fastback N was all about right from the start – a more grown-up version that matches the power and acceleration of the hatchback but will ride the lumps and bumps better. It doesn’t sound quite as rorty at lower revs but that mid-range punch is definitely there and it actually feels quicker than its official 0-62mph of 6.1 seconds.
Get the Hyundai i30 Fastback N on a decent A-road and you’ll find it every bit as much fun as a Volkswagen Golf GTI or Peugeot 306 GTi with pin-sharp steering through those driven front wheels. There’s also plenty of feedback through the mechanical/motor-driven steering rack to help you make the most of the i30 Fastback N’s 353Nm of torque.
What you won’t get in the Golf – or any other rival – is the variety of driving modes. At the push of a button, you have the choice of five distinct modes to match your mood: Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom. The different modes change the character of the car by adjusting the parameters of engine throttle response, suspension stiffness, electronic limited slip differential, steering weight, and rev-matching intensity.
You can really feel the difference too with my own favourite being N mode, selected from a chequered-flag button on the steering wheel.
Another button on the steering wheel activates rev matching to enjoy the fastest, smoothest downshifts whether you’re on a circuit or a challenging road. Rev matching synchronizes the engine and gearbox speed for the next gear during the shift process, reducing wear and enhancing braking performance. Unique for a car in this price bracket.
The Hyundai i30 N was – and still is – an astonishing achievement. However, the Fastback version takes the N series to the next level in respect of sophistication of ride and handling which makes it a much more appealing prospect to live with on a day-to-day basis. It’s a genuine performance coupe that doesn’t disappoint on any level – I even managed an acceptable 32 mpg on an “enthusiastic” trip to the Yorkshire Dales, and loved every minute of it.
If you’re still not convinced the Koreans can match the Germans when it comes to sporting thrills then you need to test-drive the i30 Fastback N. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed – and it’ll turn more heads too.
AT A GLANCE:
Hyundai i30 Fastback N
OTR Price: £29,995
Engine: 2.0 turbo petrol
Power: 275 PS
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-62mph: 6.1 secs
Top Speed: 155 mph
Combined Economy: 34.0 mpg
C02: 178 g/km