Hyundai will soon begin selling a high-performance hatchback in Europe, the i30 N, a product of its new go-fast division that was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 2015.
A five-door car, this gussied up compact comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a six-speed manual transmission and the promise of strong performance. Even though Hyundai executives won’t comment on engine output or pricing at this time, they did call Volkswagen’s Golf a segment leader. We’d expect the new i30 to at least match its performance while costing a bit less. For reference, a mainline GTI sold in North America also features a 2.0-liter turbo-four that’s rated at 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Ensuring it can keep pace with rivals, the i30 N was extensively tested and tuned on Germany’s Nürbrugring. Engineers rolled 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) on this circuit, a borderline obsessive amount, but that still wasn’t enough, so they did it all over again totaling 12,400 miles (20,000 km) on the legendary Green Hell.
Inspired by the likes of BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, the N division will, in the words of Albert Bierman, head of performance development and high-performance vehicles at Hyundai, “strengthen the brand image.” He’s been at the Korean automaker for a little more than two years after leaving BMW.
If you’re curious, that single consonant name is shorthand for Namyang, home of Hyundai’s sprawling research and development facility, which is located south of Seoul. “And our N looks like a chicane,” noted Bierman, a design element that subtly reinforces its underlying goal.
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In the 1990s, Hyundai was a low-cost brand, in the 2000s, it began to figure out quality, by 2010 design became a priority, and in 2012, it embarked on a journey to begin making high-performance vehicles. This last step is part of its relentless drive to improve.
European and other foreign media got to sample engineering prototypes of the i30 N but us ‘Muricans were denied, and very bitter about the situation. At least we got to hear a member of the German delegation rev one test car’s engine. Aggressively tuned, the exhaust was quite loud and pleasantly snarly, at least while parked.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Minsoo Kim, brand strategy group director said, “We have a plan to bring the cars to the United States,” just not the new i30 N.
Where to Next?
Echoing this Biermann said, “We won’t let you down. Don’t worry,” adding, “The second [N] car will come very soon, next year.” Typical of automotive executives, he was cagey about what this could be.
A spiced-up version of the Elantra seems an obvious choice, though Biermann subtly indicated their boldly styled Veloster hatch might be the next N-ified model, which makes sense since we’ve already spied one testing. According to him, the new-generation will be a huge improvement over today’s version, which is about as much fun to hustle through corners as a 15-year-old Toyota Corolla. OK, maybe it’s not that bad… imagine one with a couple flat tires.
“The driving is a whole different story,” said Biermann.
Obviously, smaller, lighter products are more likely to receive the N treatment. Accordingly, Biermann said, “There is no plan to have an N model of every Hyundai,” so don’t expect a track-ready Santa Fe crossover to go on sale, like, ever.
Pillars of N
Hyundai’s new N brand is about performance, but not necessarily at all cost. “It’s all about beats per minute, heartbeats per minute,” explained Biermann, referring to driving excitement if not outright speed, an approach that seems rather like the one Mazda has built its reputation on.
The N division’s goal is to build cars that speak the driver’s language, products that are all about the journey. This isn’t to say they’re not race-ready right out of the box – with the i30 N you can take it to the track from day one – it’s just Hyundai is trying to build more well-rounded performance vehicles.
Along these lines, don’t expect to find super-expensive components like carbon-ceramic brakes in Hyundai N cars. This range is all about balanced performance, at least not for the time being. Knowing this company, they’ll be reaching for the stars before long.
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