Hyundai i30 N: Volkswagen Golf GTI Killer?

It's two weeks until the i30 N launches: Will Dr Kevorkian gently usher the Volkswagen Golf GTI off the hot hatch podium and into the light? Let’s look at the odds.

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PRICING & SPECIFICATIONS

Pricing and spec is in, on the i30 N hot hatch. Let’s look at that now, and then look at whether or not it can upend the Golf GTI.

Check it out: Full review including track torture test >>

Need to know:

  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged GDI
     
  • Peak power: 202 kW
     
  • Peak torque: 353 Nm (378 Nm with over-boost)
     
  • Six-speed manual only (with automated rev-matching)
     
  • Price: $39,990 + on-road costs
     
  • On sale: mid-April
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The i30 N will be $39,990 plus on-road costs - and they’re only bringing it in with what Hyundai calls the ‘performance package’ in other markets. That’s the direct-injected turbo 2.0-litre with 202 kilowatts and 378Nm with over-boost.

So basically this version for Oz has all conceivable hot bits - the post-apex grip monstering e-diff the reviewers are already gushing over, the electronically controlled suspension, launch control, computer controlled rev-matching for those seamless downshifts without heel-and-toeing, and N-mode (which invokes everything you care about in a performance driving sense, at the tap of a button).

You also get the bigger brakes, of which grandiose claims of un-killability are already made - if that’s a word. (We’ll get to that and what it means in just a sec.) These invincible brake claims are being made by the former big cheese of BMW’s M-division, who moved one letter along the alphabet in 2014 to run Hyundai’s fledgling N-performance show. So that’s a mitigating factor on the crackpot claim index, I’d suggest. He’s a guy with extreme cred. 

The bigger rotors on ‘our’ performance package demand 19-inch alloys and apparently there’s a bespoke flavour of Pirelli P-Zero tyre designed for track durability (to match the brakes).

FEATURES IN DETAIL

Performance

Active variable exhaust
Electronic Controlled Suspension
Electronic sound generator
Electro-mechanical LSD
Launch control
N Drive Mode System
N race computer
Overboost function
Performance brake package
Rear stiffness bar
Rev matching function

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Exterior

19” alloy wheels
Pirelli P-Zero HN tyres
Gloss black exterior mirrors
Rear spoiler with brake light
Side skirts
LED headlights and front indicators
LED side repeaters in mirrors
LED tail lights

Safety

Auto. Emergency Braking – City
Driver Attention Alert
Forward Collision Warning
Lane Keeping Assist System
7 airbags
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Vehicle Stability Management (VSM)
Hill-start Assist Control (HAC)
Auto dusk sensing headlights
Tyre Pressure Monitoring System
Rear park assist system
Rear view camera
LED daytime running lights (DTRL)

Interior

8” satellite navigation system
DAB+ digital radio
Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
Alloy sports pedals
Bluetooth connectivity
Black headlining
Cruise control
Dark Metal painted trim inserts
Dual zone climate control
Performance Blue stitching
Driver’s seat cushion extension
Sports front seats
Driver’s seat 4-way power lumbar
Leather appointed steering wheel
Height adjustable front seats
4.2” TFT colour Supervision cluster
Tilt & telescopic steering column
Front & rear power windows
Luggage power outlet
One touch auto up/down windows
Rear seat centre fold-down armrest

$3000 Luxury Pack in Detail

  • Front park assist system
  • Front passenger seat cushion extension
  • LED courtesy & puddle lights
  • Power front seats – 12-way
  • Power folding exterior mirrors
  • Electro-chromatic interior mirror
  • Rain sensing wipers
  • Heated front seats/steering wheel
  • Solar control windscreen glass
  • Luggage net
  • Driver’s seat memory system
  • Smart key & push button start
  • Sport front seats with suede inserts and leather bolsters
  • Wireless charging pad (Qi)
  • Rear privacy glass
  • Panoramic sunroof: +$2000

Hyundai i30 N -Vs- Volkswagen Golf GTI

An i30 N in ‘Straya will be $2 grand cheaper than a Volkswagen Golf GTI five-door manual. But you get 20 per cent more power and basically it’s going to monster the GTI above 4500 revs. That’s just a fact if you know how to interpret engine performance data.

i30 N

$39,990 + on-road costs
202 kW @ 6000 rpm (+20%)
353 Nm @ 1450-4700 rpm
Power:weight 137 W/kg (+8%)
Runs on standard unleaded petrol

Golf GTI

$41,990 + on-road costs
169 kW @ 6200 rpm
350 Nm @ 1500-4600 rpm
Power:weight 127 W/kg
Requires premium unleaded petrol

The i30 N is due for launch at the end of the month - and the big question is: Is it really the Golf GTI killer? Let’s look at the balance of probabilities here, minus the emotion. (It's looking pretty good on paper...)

Hyundai operates a 3600 square metre test facility right next to the Nurburgring, in Europe, and apparently if you’re an i30 N test mule at that joint, you live a short, but interesting, life.

Hyundai Europe claims the test mules do 450-ish laps of the Nurburgring in development, which they say is equivalent to about 180,000 kilometres of ordinary motoring. About 20 for one in terms of accelerated life testing. I can believe that.

 Albert Biermann says the fun is all over in two laps in a Golf GTI - implying that the i30 N is far more durable for real performance driving

Albert Biermann says the fun is all over in two laps in a Golf GTI - implying that the i30 N is far more durable for real performance driving

Albert Biermann (the former BMW M-guy, right) has already come out swinging against the GTI. It’s been quite entertaining. At the Detroit Auto Show, he said (of the GTI) (quote): “It’s a great car, but after two laps the fun is over.”

This is of course the best way to heap shit on anything. You start by damning it with faint praise and then stick a knife in its guts. But, I’d suggest, as an aficionao of sorts in this domain, if you want to be a true maestro of the verbal takedown, you should then miss no opportunity to drop punt your opponent’s testicles when he is writhing on the floor…

When asked by the press, as a follow-up, to specify what aspects of the GTI’s performance would degrade to ‘non-fun’ levels after two laps, Mr Biermann simply replied: “Everything”.

Ladies and gentlemen - that’s almost Paul Keating levels of wiping the floor with your opponent. Respect.

Of course, the butt-hurt backlash flowed loud and fast from Volkswagen Australia boss Michael Bartsch - who in my view would occupy the moral high ground more authoritatively if he just shut up and let the hallowed product speak for itself. But where would the fun be, for us, in that?

Big, bad Bartsch is on the record dismissing Biermann’s statements as (quote) “extraordinary claims” for (quote) “supposed rivals that are not yet on sale”. Just once I’d love a CEO to stand up and say: “What a load of bullshit - my dad would beat your dad in a fight, every day of the week ending in ‘y’.”

TITLE FIGHT: END OF THE MONTH

Anyway, the contenders are in the ring, the seconds are out, and the bell will soon sound. The power issue is resolved - i30 N is going to hammer the standard GTI in a straight line. And it’s got the hardware to at least match the GTI in the bends. And Biermann is making big claims about track durability.

Specifically, he says you should be able to take your i30 N to a track, go really, really fast and not crash, and then drive home, without having to fit new brakes and rubber.

The fight is gunna come down to this - four-year development lead-time with the Former Boss of the M-Division at the helm, and 10,000 kilometres of R&D on the Nurburgring versus aeons of Golf GTI heritage.

It also comes down to whether Biermann is that notable flavour of German nut who flies off the reservation, making entertaining statements that are substantially disconnected from reality. Alternatively, maybe his media grabs are in fact carefully considered and strategically delivered statements. Not just verbal takedowns but a media primer for the upcoming GTI ambush.

I’m tipping you don’t get to run the M-Division without being a strategic, political operator.

WHY PERFORMANCE ALONE WON'T CUT IT

The other aspect to consider here is of course performance on one hand and how it feels on the other. The lapsed engineer in me says any Muppet can put together a powertrain with suspension and rubber and big brakes, and deliver the target performance.

This time from 0-100, this much lateral G, that distance stopping from 160-zero. Or something. That’s comparatively easy.

What’s hard is making it feel really good. In this class of car, to field a winner, everything has to feel better than bad sex. And bad sex is pretty good … except of course if you’re a chick. Or in prison.

How the i30 N feels on Australian roads and racetracks will be just as important as what it does against the stopwatch. And it’s bloody hard to make a car feel awesomely good in both places. Plenty of cars feel awesome on the road and fail to achieve the bad sex benchmark on a track.

In my mind, that’s the real battle here. The subjective experience of driving the i30 N is the place Hyundai will will lose the battle against the GTI - if in fact they lose it. Say whatever else you want about Volkswagen and its practices (and I’m certainly no fan) but the Golf GTI has been around a long time. They feel pretty good to drive.

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CONCLUSION

The key question for me, right now, just before round one of the title fight is: Can Hyundai overtake Volkswagen in the domain of feeling just right on the edge? Because doing that is gunna be tough.

We’ll know definitively in just a few weeks. The i30 N price and spec are compelling. That’s not unexpected.

Full road test at the end of the month. More i30 N details >>

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