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FIRST DRIVE: Hyundai i30 N

The Hyundai i30 N could have gone down a storm, but Phil Huff got hot and bothered as rain stopped play…

Everything about the N seems right. It’s Hyundai’s performance variant of the i30, a sensible family hatchback, but it’s been worked on in much the same way that Honda worked to create the Civic Type R and Ford did for the Focus RS.

That means the 2.0-litre petrol engine produces a not insignificant 271bhp. Hot hatch fans will notice immediately that the i30 falls some way short of the Civic’s 316bhp, or the Focus RS’s 345bhp, but Hyundai isn’t worried. It’s promised that the i30 N is the most entertaining car of its ilk, the deficit in power making it easier to extract maximum fun from the chassis. It’s less about lapping the Nurburgring as fast as possible, and more about grinning all the way around it.

It’s got the basics sorted; it’s front-wheel drive, but there’s an electronic differential to tame the power, and a six-speed manual gearbox allowing for good old-fashioned control of what’s happening at the front. It’s got big, 19-inch wheels and suspension that’s lower than a standard i30, and that suspension is adjustable. In fact, seemingly everything is adjustable – there’s a menu accessible via the infotainment system that allows you to adjust the suspension, steering, engine, rev-matching system, exhaust noise, stability control and a lot more. It’s overwhelming initially, but programme it exactly how you like and you’ll have single button press access to your perfect setup. If you’re feeling brave, anything that could be switched off can be, there’s no nanny state here.

Accelerate up the road and the exhaust burbles loudly, before popping and cracking between gear changes. Lift off and there’s a trio of firecracker noises that ensure everybody around knows this is no ordinary i30, even if the spoilers, wheels and red highlighting didn’t give the game away. It’s manufactured, with exactly the same three crackles every time, but it appeals to the teenager inside this 40-something body.

The 40-something side of me appreciates that it’s actually a reasonable family car. The front seats are spacious, the rear a little tighter but acceptable. There’s heated seats, Android Auto, navigation, climate control, and cubby holes everywhere. The boot is a decent size, being around 25% more spacious than that in the Focus but around 20% smaller than the Civic’s. Perceived quality is great too, with not a single rattle, wobble or creak apparent in the cabin. The cabin is, however, very boring, and even the pale blue highlighting provided by the N-ness of the car can’t lift it. All the money clearly went on the engineering.

Yet, despite it all being about the chassis and engine, and less about practicality or style, you’ll have noticed I’ve not told you how it drives. It feels like it should be brilliant, as if it really want you to drive it everywhere. Really drive it. But I don’t actually know that for sure.

The simple fact is that temperatures never rose above four degrees during my week with the car, and the roads never dried out. Not once, not even for half an hour. The result of that adverse weather means I spent most of the time fighting the front end, willing the tyres to grip the road surface, the white lines, anything at all, but everytime I wanted more than enough power to simply make progress, the wheels lit up, darting from one direction to another. The official 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds was a pipe dream, although I was rather pleased with the 6.9 seconds I managed with cold tyres and a damp surface, but that’s 13% off the pace. The exit of a roundabout would be a mix of nerve wracking wheelspin and understeer accompanied by thunderous cracks from the exhaust, before the computers kicked in and a small disco of warning lights partied on the dashboard.

But, between the terror and frustration, there were glimpses of genius. Just a crack to see through to summer months where the i30 N could be stunning, where the tyres make sense, the power is sufficient rather than testing, and the exhaust note echoes entrancingly around the evening sky.

I hope the i30 N is magnificent, I really want it to be that good. I even think it might actually be that good, but it’s all in Mother Nature’s hands and she wasn’t playing the game.

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