DRIVEN | Hyundai i30N

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2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic

• Several hot hatches will arrive locally this year. 

• Toyota will bring in a handful of GR Yaris, models, BMW has released its 128ti and Volkswagen are readying their Golf GTI for the second quarter. 

• All the hot hatch talk has made Sean Parker recall the Hyundai i30N he had on test late last year.

Performance car enthusiasts must be licking their proverbial lips with what's to come this year. Toyota announced it will introduce the GR Yaris, the second Gazoo Racing performance arm product after the Supra. 

The GR isn't your granny's Yaris. It's a bespoke rally car for the road that's so expensive to build, Toyota is unlikely to make money from the project. 

Powered by a 1.5-litre turbocharge engine producing 200kW and 370Nm and only weighing 1280 kilograms, the Yaris has power to weight ratio of 150kW per tonne. 

Delivering its power to all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, Toyota says the hyperactive little engine can slingshot the car from 0-100km/h in less than 5.5 seconds before going on to an electronically limited top speed of 230km/h.

GR Yaris.
GR Yaris.

It has wide arches filled by 18-inch wheels clad in sticky 225/40 Dunlop SP Sport MAXX050 tyres. Its full width is 1.8 metres and underneath the sculpted bodywork is a mixture of Macpherson strut (front) and double wishbone (rear) suspension. 

There are three driver modes which alter the default front and rear torque split of the AWD system – 60:40 in Normal, 30:70 in Sport and 50:50 in Track. 

It promises to be a cracking car and was built as part of Toyota's now postponed 2021 World Rally Championship project. 


Another hot hatch that has 2021 on its name is the BMW 128ti. It launched recently and is seen as direct competitor to the Volkswagen Golf GTI. 

It's powered by a detuned version of the M135i xDrive's 2.0-litre turbocharged motor to produce a identical power output of 180kW to the GTI and 10Nm more at 380Nm. 

It uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox to send power to the front wheels and features a Torsen limited-slip differential, M Sport suspension and is 10mm lower than normal 1 Series models.

But all this talk about hot hatches has made me recall a left field choice in the segment: Hyundai's i30N. 

At the moment it's only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, but that makes for a better driving experience. The analog feeling of driving performance cars has been lost due to automatic gearboxes and traction systems practically wrapped in cotton wool. 

The i30N was conceptualised by German engineers who once worked at BMW's M division. The South Korean carmaker poached them and the i30N is their first stab at a performance car. 

And damn it is a good first attempt. 

The motor is 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit with 202kW and 353Nm. Power is sent to the front wheels only and it features a limited-slip differential. 

As a driving tool, the i30N has an old school feel highlighted by a dose of torque steer, heavily-weighted steering and grippy front-end bite. 

2020 Hyundai i30N steering wheel. Image: QuickPic
2020 hyundai i30 N
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
hyundai i30n
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
2020 hyundai i30 N
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic

It looks the part too, and has configurable drive modes and exhaust noise funneled through the speakers. But when it comes down to driving an enjoyable hatchback with over 200kW and changing my own gears, there are few cars that are able to generate a wow factor like the Hyundai. 

And yes, it's not as refined as the GTI or nimble as the Megane RS but the i30N brings something new to the party. It feels like a 18-year-old on a a Contiki trip to Europe with nothing but reckless abandon. It's not scared to tackle corners with verve and confidence. 

Whereas the competition has grown up and feels more numb and focused touch screens and swiping, the i30N has a playful nature. 

The engine's chorus sounds good, if not a little fake on start up, but when I was pushing through Route 62 it added to the car's character. And that's what modern cars are missing. 

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