2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance First Drive Review

“Wow!” That was the first thing written in the notebook after getting out from behind the wheel of the 2018 Hyundai i30 N Performance. So let’s cut to the chase: The i30 N Performance is not just seriously good for a Hyundai. It’s seriously good, period. It might not have quite the surgical precision of Honda’s dazzling Civic Type R, but it’s one of the best hot hatches in the business, a quick yet coolly composed car that makes Ford’s Focus RS feel a little crude and klutzy.

The bad news? The i30 N Performance won’t be sold the U.S. The good news? The guys at Hyundai’s new N division, working under the direction of former BMW M engineering chief Albert Biermann, are using exactly the same engine, transmission, and suspension hardware to create an N Performance version of the Veloster that will be coming to the States next year.

N comes after M, but the nomenclature has nothing do with Biermann’s shock 2014 move from a plum job at BMW to become Hyundai’s vice president of performance development and head of the company’s new High Performance Vehicle Division. N, says Hyundai, stands for Namyang—the company’s global R&D center in Korea where the performance hardware is engineered—and for the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where the hardware’s honed to perfection. Also, the N logo looks like a chicane. Okay, we get it …

Americans know the i30 as the Elantra, and they’d recognize the N Performance as a variant of the Elantra GT Sport hatchback, a car that’s already impressed us with its Golf GTI-lite chops. The N Performance version turns everything up to 11, however. Insiders say Biermann was given a green light by Hyundai bosses to make whatever changes he felt necessary for this, the first ever Hyundai N model.

In place of the Elantra GT Sport’s 201-hp, 195-lb-ft, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the i30 N Performance is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four that develops 271 hp at 6,000 rpm, with 260 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1,500 rpm through 4,700 rpm and another 18 lb-ft available via an 18-second full-throttle overboost function. The engine drives the front wheels through a beefed-up version of Hyundai’s own six-speed manual transmission and an electronically controlled limited slip differential. (There is an entry-level N version available that makes do with 247 hp, plus smaller wheels, tires, and brakes and misses out on the Performance model’s trick-e-diff, among other things.)

The suspension layout is the same as the Elantra GT but features heavy-duty components such as redesigned steering knuckles, plus new springs and electronically controlled shocks, and the ride height has been lowered. The Elantra GT’s EPS system has been replaced by a more robust setup with the e-motor mounted on the rack rather than the steering column to improve response and sensitivity. Other changes include the adoption of bigger brakes, with 13.6-inch rotors up front and 12.4-inch units at the rear, and 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with 235/35 P Zero tires developed specifically by Pirelli for the i30 N Performance.

N Performance prototypes underwent 6,000 miles of durability testing on the Nürburgring Norschleife—equivalent to almost 120,000 miles of hard, real-world road driving, says Hyundai—and twice competed in the grueling 24-Hour race on the Green Hell. That level of experience is reflected in detail touches such as the bar across the body behind the rear seats to improve body rigidity and the large vents in the redesigned front bumper to help cool the brakes. So confident is Hyundai of the car’s durability that Hyundai UK is promising to honor its regular five-year, unlimited mileage mechanical warranty even if you take the i30 N Performance on the track.

The N Performance offers five drive modes accessed via paddles mounted on the front side of the steering wheel. The left-hand paddle toggles between the Normal, Sport, and Eco modes that are familiar fare across the current Hyundai range. The right-hand paddle is the fun one, allowing you to access N mode, which dials the powertrain and chassis settings to the max, or Custom mode, which allows you to mix and match settings across seven individual functions: engine response, rev matching, e-diff, exhaust sound, shock rates, steering, and stability control. The menu is easily accessed via the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen at the center of the dash.