Hyundai i30N DCT review: a renovated 276 hp hatch tested

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A new Hyundai i30N hot hatch, already?
Not all new – this is just the mid-life facelift, designed to keep Korea’s first real hot sedan in the mix as the new Golf GTI Mk8, BMW 128ti, Skoda Octavia vRS and Cupra Leon all arrive in same time and compete for your £ 30k. Tell yourself what though – this is just about the most massive mid-life setting you’ve ever seen in a hot outbreak. As you might expect, there are new LED headlights, tail towers, and remoulded bumpers under that camouflaged wrap. Obviously, there’s a bigger touchscreen inside, which all cars in 2020 must have by law, apparently. But the efforts of the Namyang-based, Nürburgring-sharpened N Division to make sure the i30N is more fun to drive makes VW’s updates to the Mk8 GTI, frankly, a bit sluggish.
More power?
Just a tickle: The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine went from 271 hp to a matching 276 hp for the Focus ST, with torque also increased from 260 lb-ft to 289 lb-ft. Barely mega gains on paper, but behind the wheel, power delivery is completely fresh. There is still a base 245bhp model, but only the more powerful i30N Performance will be brought to the UK. It’s now 0.2 seconds faster from 0-62 mph, which takes 5.9 seconds with the standard manual gearbox. Hyundai calls it a “flat horsepower” engine, which is a lame title. They should have called it “Power Tower” or “Thrust Monster 5000” because the new i30N is less sharp, delivering maximum punch lower in the rev range and keeping it longer. The turbo lag feeling has been diminished, but not entirely erased. Basically it’s a bit faster in all gears at all revs, which makes it a lot faster overall.
And after?
The big news is the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, but we’ll get to that. Because Hyundai has been busy sweating the little things. See, he knew the new gearbox was going to add weight, so he started to compensate for it. That’s why the new i30N relies on 19-inch forged rims – a set of four saves 14.4 kg compared to the wheels of the old i30N. They carry a new flavor of grippy Michelin tire. Inside the rims, Hyundai has “invested” some of this weight saving in larger brakes: the front discs inflate from 345mm to 360mm. Mechanical limited-slip differential and electronically controlled power steering have been improved, to quell the car’s more unruly habits under power, but engineers insist that the focus is still on raw fun, and never just make the car faster for speed. Sake. Inside there are optional bucket seats. Hyundai calls them the “N light sport seats”. Because they save 1.1 kg each, they also feature an illuminated “N” badge in the backrest. Hah-ha, light seats, geddit? Hmm. It sounds like a marketing gimmick. They would have been even less heavy without a refrigerator light installed inside. One BMW M Division titbit too many, perhaps. Oh, and you always have a choice of body styles: five-door hatchback or the sleeker Fastback. Track day junkies might like to know that while N Division can’t give a monkey the lap times, they say if they fact, the Fastback is the one for you. Its lower roofline and smaller frontal area add a few more km / h on the long straight of Döttinger Höhe from the Nürburgring.
I don’t care about the lap times either, but I LOVE the modes. Do you have fashions?
Yes, the i30N remains ultra-configurable, but the interface has been simplified. Everything is now managed on a single screen, where you set every parameter (engine response, suspension, differential, noise, steering, rev match, ESP and on the automobile, gearshift) as you like. Before, there were separate sub-menus for each, so this update makes life easier. Good.
So this gearbox. Why didn’t the i30N offer this originally?
Back when the i30N first went on sale in late 2017, the only dual-clutch transmission in Hyundai’s cabinet was a seven-speed dry-clutch DCT, and quite simply, the engineers didn’t think it was good enough. The engine should have been out of tune so as not to melt the transmission, and gear changes were deemed too slow for a sports car. As a result, the i30N has been manual only for three years…. not that we were complaining. This new eight-speed DCT has tips and tricks. There’s the ‘N Power Shift,’ where kinetic energy is stored in the gearbox as you accelerate, then deployed to give a small, pulsating burst of acceleration mid-shift, so you feel like to actually accelerate during the shift – just like a McLaren 720S. It’s a small reward for wringing the motor all the way to the red line before pulling on the cool, tactile metal paddle mounted on the big wheel. Then there is the “N Grin Shift”. Yes really. Grin Shift. This is activated by the new “NGS” button on the steering wheel. No, I’m not kidding. If you know the “Sport Response” button in a Porsche 911 Turbo S, you’ll know what the game is here. Produce it, and whatever mode you’re in, or what gear ratio, everything is set by default to its most agonizing, powerful setting, and the entire powertrain is getting ready to go. background. It’s like stepping on Bruce Banner’s toes in a stiletto. In a fraction of a second, everything goes from docile and unpretentious to AAARGGHHH. You get 20 seconds of “NGS” and then it goes off for a while because the emissions laws say so. But it’s long enough to make a few passes and impress your friends. They should have called him “Look at this!” In short, NGS is aimed at lazy people who use paddles or set up a decent “custom” riding mode. It’s a bit of a toy, but it shows the sense of humor that Hyundai has maintained by installing this gearbox.
Is there anything else new and fun?
Last but not least, the N Track Sense Shift always monitors and waits in the background, ready to detect if you’re riding a circuit. It will monitor your driving style, learn it, then initiate the shifting strategy based on your laps. Lots of sports car gearboxes claim to be able to do this, but most of them panic and come back first when you press the loud pedal. The i30N, however, is okay. On this side of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, it’s the best dual-clutch gearbox I have ever experienced when left to decide. It doesn’t get caught. The changes are crisp, quick, and the downward changes always fit in as you’d expect.
Why wouldn’t I just use the paddles?
Let’s say you learn a new circuit. You focus on threading a line between certain cones, reaching each vertex. No one sets out on a track they’ve never driven before and achieves a perfect Hamilton lap for the first time. Being able to focus on pulling together a sequence of turns without having to intervene with squabbling clutches and unnecessary gear changes is a smart party trick. I drove the car on the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit, and was happy with the extra brain capacity it offered, so I could focus on the courage not to make the dreaded corner of Turn 12…
You survived, so well done.
I left not only happy that I avoided dropping the roof of Hyundai’s rather valuable prototype in the gravel pit, but I was seriously impressed with the N Division’s attention to detail. For a facelift, it a lot is going on here. The gearbox has been properly developed specifically for the dynamic character of this car, not just phoned in at 5 a.m. on a Friday. The i30N still feels alert and alive under you, but maybe a little less work, thanks to its improved tires, brakes and more linear steering. UK roads will present a tougher test than the glassy lanes of Germany and a grand prix circuit, but on the contrary, it looks like the i30N will have extended its lead over the pursuit pack. You might – whisper it – even be tempted not to have a manual gearbox. Fancy that.

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