Hyundai’s newly formed N performance brand, headed up by former BMW M boss Albert Biermann, is wasting no time in getting its second model into showrooms. Following the successful launch of the i30 N hatchback, the Korean firm is applying the finishing touches to the new i30 Fastback N.
To see what’s in store, we were invited to drive a camouflaged version of the four-door coupe at the Nurburgring, before it arrives in showrooms early next year.
While the standard i30 N clearly casts itself as a rival for the likes of Volkswagen’s prodigious Golf GTI and the Renault Megane RS, the Fastback sits in a rather more exclusive part of the market. The closest thing it has in terms of a direct rival is Skoda’s Octavia vRS, although the Hyundai is significantly more focused and packs more power.
The basic look and setup of the i30 Fastback N, as expected, shares much of its DNA with the hatch. The camouflage applied to the prototypes masks the detail changes but its clear Hyundai is continuing with a more modest approach to styling.
But the Fastback cuts a rather elegant shape; the cascading rear end tails off into a neat boot spoiler, while two oval tailpipes and rear diffuser give it the adequate amount of aggression required for a performance model.
In fact, Biermann says, the sleeker body of the Fastback is one of the main reasons why people will choose it. Initially, there was no plan to put the i30 Fastback N into production, but once the Biermann and his team saw the first clay models they had no choice but to build it.
Beneath the skin is much of the hardware you’ll find on the i30 N; a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine sits under the bonnet, paired exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels. Like the hatch there are two setups available; a 248bhp entry model and, the car we’ve driving, the more powerful 276bhp Performance pack, which adds larger brakes, 19-inch wheels, Pirelli P Zero types and a limited-slip differential.
While the powertrain remains unchanged from the hatch, the Fastback has been given a “slightly softer setup” according to Beirmann. The springs and bump stops are a little softer; the German describes it as “more elegant” and “compliant”.
We’re restricted to two laps of the Nurburgring, which isn’t a place known for being able to detect a car’s softer side. However, it’s clear the changes haven’t affected the N’s focused but well-rounded nature; within the first few corners you can immediately detect the i30 N’s well-balance chassis set-up.
The steering, like the hatch, remains slightly artificial in weight and gets progressively heavier when you begin to dial it up through Normal, Sport and N driving modes. However, the front end is always quick to react to steering inputs; the limited-slip differential helping slingshot you out of corners by effectively deploying the engine’s power. If you get a bit over enthusiastic with the throttle on the entry to a corner you are met with speed sapping understeer.
It feels significantly quicker than a Skoda Octavia vRS, but lacks the raw pace of some of the more established hot hatches such as the Honda Civic Type R and Megane RS. The engine delivers all it has by about 5,500rpm but that lack of overall grunt doesn’t linger for too long, as the Hyundai’s lovely balance through corners makes it a hugely enjoyable and rewarding car to drive quickly.
There’s a nice fluidity and composure to the way the Fastback N manages high-speed changes in direction, but you’re always aware of the N’s rather firm setup. In the most aggressive N mode it remains overly harsh; Sport mode slackens things off and makes for more comfortable progress.
It feels very much at home on a track and Biermann promises the Fastback N will be even better on the road, particularly in the UK with our notoriously rutted tarmac. We’ll find out for sure in February, but on this evidence the Hyundai’s N brand is going from strength to strength.