Hear comes Hyundai's first foray into performance cars
WOW, Hyundai. Most punters wouldn't have seen the i30N coming, but they'll certainly hear it.
Priced from $40,000 plus on-roads, this is the Korean carmaker's first foray into enthusiast territory.
The inaugural effort is certainly not half-hearted. Equipped with a punchy 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and impressive driving dynamics, it also has an exhaust soundtrack which shames some of the best in the business.
Anyone scoffing at the thought of a performance Hyundai can look at the current leader board to see how times change.
The marque has transitioned from throwaway cars (think the Excel), to reliable commuters (enter the i30), and now funky (hello Kona) and high end SUVs (the circa $60,000 Santa Fe Highlander).
From outsiders, the Koreans are now big guns. Combine sister companies Hyundai and Kia sales last year and they accounted for 12.8 per cent of the market. That's number two behind market leader Toyota, and ahead of Mazda.
The sales from both almost double Ford and trumps Holden by 60,000 units.
Hyundai is happy to be the underdog, and they know the 'N' brand - which is a nod to the famed German Nurburgring where it was honed - is breaking new ground.
Squirt the throttle and attack a bend. That's all it takes to show this underdog, which was engineered by a former BMW M division guru, has ample ability to cause some upsets.
Some of the gear you'd expect to find in a Hyundai at this price point has been dropped in favour of weight savings and go-fast kit.
Maintaining a relatively bland cabin look shared with a run-of-the-mill i30, some pizzazz comes via an eight-inch colour touch-screen, leather trimmed steering wheel, central digital driver display flanked by analogue gauges, dual zone aircon, body kit with special N-exclusive details, sports pedals, as well as the all-important Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring apps.
Opt for the Luxury pack and you get push button start, suede/leather seats (heated front), tinted rear glass as well as front parking sensors among other kit for $3000.
Add a sunroof and it's another $2000.
Warranty remains five years unlimited kilometres, and you're even still covered if you do non-competitive track days.
Maintenance is $1595 for five years, although servicing intervals are short at 10,000km (usually 15,000km) or annual.
Our test machine's colour scheme was "performance blue”, which doesn't look overtly macho, other options include slate, grey, red, black and white (metallic, mica and pearl options cost $495).
ON THE ROAD
It's a car that inspires hunting corners. The four-cylinder turbo engine it's not insanely quick off the mark, but there is a sense of intensity and fanfare with an exhaust which can turn boy-racer at the press of a button.
That sound from the exhaust captures your attention from key turn (yes, shock horror, you actually have to turn a key in the base variant).
All the fun comes via a blue button on the steering wheel. Opt for the one featuring a chequered flag which engages 'N' Mode and you'll be grinning no matter what the conditions.
There is a range of customisable settings for the steering, suspension, exhaust, throttle response, rev matching, stability control and differential.
In Sport+ mode, the ride is can be firm (as you'd expect), but "normal” is fine in the majority of conditions.
It's got more power and torque than a VW Golf GTI or a Subaru WRX, and in testing we clocked the 0-100kmh sprint at 6.4 seconds - and all three are around that mark.
Outstanding grip comes courtesy of Pirelli P Zero rubber, and it's only when you step on the accelerator with gusto that it struggles for traction. It's difficult to upset the i30N no matter how great the task.
The rev matching makes even the mundane driver sound like a race-car driver, maintaining the engine speed when down-shifting.
Nothing crazy here, it's got a five-star rating like the base i30, but comes with with a rear camera, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring and automatic headlights. But no radar cruise.
Front parking sensors are an option.
FORD FOCUS ST FROM $38,990
We're expecting sporty variants of a new Focus next year, but this current variant is still competitive with a 2.0-litre turbo (184kW/340Nm) and six-speed manual. German-built, it's a capable, engaging drive.
VW GOLF GTi FROM $37,490
So tough to beat for its combination of daily use and ability when the going gets twisty. Really, it started the hot hatch genre. It packs a 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre/six-speed manual; six-speed dual clutch transmission adds $2500.
Fast. Fun. Functional. It ticks all the key boxes. Fastback version of the i30N are in the pipeline, along with automatic transmission options - and being manual only will hurt early appeal for many drivers. Yet for those who can handle a real gear shifter, this is one very capable hot hatch.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE $39,990 (bang for buck)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 5-yr w'ty; services $1595 for 5 years (excellent)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 202kW/353Nm (quick)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring (solid)
THIRST 8.0L/100km (reasonable)
SPARE Space-saver (expected)
BOOT 381L (good, brace bar can be removed)