Or will Hyundai pull the switcheroo and give us something even better?
It isn't easy to create a performance brand out of thin air. That's exactly what Hyundai has been doing with its new N brand. We have been on record saying that we would give Hyundai credit as soon as we finally saw a real car from the N brand. Now that the first N car (the i30N) has finally been revealed, we can finally tell Hyundai that we are genuinely impressed. The i30 is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo with 247 hp. There is also a performance pack, which raises power to 274 hp. Both versions are only available with a six-speed manual transmission.
Hyundai really hasn't messed around here. The i30N seems like a true competitor for car like the Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTI, and Subaru WRX. However, it doesn't seem like it is extreme enough to compete with models like the Volkswagen Golf R, Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R. In terms of performance, Hyundai has tried to split the difference between these two tiers of hot hatchbacks. The i30N sits at the top of the lower end of the hot hatch scale, but can't compete with the quickest models on the market, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The i30N gets to 60 in 6.4 seconds, or 6.2 seconds with the performance pack. These numbers are good, but nowhere near class leading.
For reference, a Volkswagen Golf GTI can hit 60 in just under six seconds with the performance pack and the Golf R takes just over five seconds (both with the DSG transmissions). The i30N is actually at a big disadvantage because it is only available with a manual transmission. The Focus ST is also only available with a manual, but can hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. The Focus RS is much quicker at just 4.6 seconds. If you are the type of person that only cares about drag racing, the i30N is clearly not for you. Hyundai hasn't focused on all-out speed. Instead, it wanted to build a well balanced car that could do everything well and also be capable on a track.
One of our biggest problems with the N division has been that we had no idea what its identity would be. Now that we have finally seen the i30N, we can have some idea of what the N division will become. We initially compared the N brand to BMW M and Mercedes AMG, but so far it seems like it will simply be a more enthusiast-dedicated replacement for models like the Elantra Sport and Veloster Turbo. These models were much better than their base counterparts, but could never contend with more focused models from Ford and Volkswagen. We have some clarity on what N will be, but we still have no idea how Hyundai wants to proceed with its performance brand.
So far, Hyundai has made no mention of bringing the i30N to the US in any form. The US does have a version of the i30 that is badged as the Elantra GT. It would only make sense that Hyundai would take the i30N, and sell it pretty much unchanged except for the badges. However, we don't know if the Elantra has enough of a reputation to suddenly be sold as a GTI-fighter in the US. The Elantra Sport is a nice car to drive, but has gone mostly unnoticed in the enthusiast community. Hyundai has already said that it will cherry-pick only the best models from its range to give the N treatment, although it hasn't ruled out any models as of yet. Santa Fe N anyone?
Hyundai wants to build a hotter version of the i30N that will compete with the Focus RS, which sounds intriguing. We are more interested to see what Hyundai's plan is for N in the US. Hyundai has recently discontinued the Veloster, but has been sending what looks like a mid-engined Veloster prototype around the Nurburgring. Hyundai's plan could be to relaunch the Veloster in a big way as the car we always hoped it could be. Imagine a mid-engine hatchback with over 300 hp and concept car looks. A mid-engined Veloster would be totally unique on the market, although we are not sure what something like that would cost or who would actually buy it.
We also have to factor the Genesis brand into the equation. Hyundai could stretch the N brand to its luxury Genesis brand to create a true rival for AMG and M. We don't know if it makes sense to have one badge that competes against the Volkswagen GTI and the BMW M3 at the same time, but stranger things have happened. We will be interested to drive whatever ends up being the first N car in the US. Until then, we can only hope that Hyundai will blow our minds with something like a mid-engined Veloster or M3-rivaling sedan from the Genesis brand.