Review: Hyundai i30N v Seat Leon Cupra

Review: Hyundai i30N v Seat Leon Cupra
Review: Hyundai i30N v Seat Leon Cupra

Can the all-new Hyundai snatch a shock victory over the Seat?

Hyundai has high-volume, class-competitive mainstream cars cracked. But building a high-performance version that bears scrutiny alongside Europe’s finest has proven a harder nut to break. For both corporate pride and to be seen as a genuine alternative to the giant Volkswagen Group, the firm is now determined to master it.

That’s why it hired former BMW M boss Albert Biermann, to lead its first genuinely focused performance car division, called N. That’s also why it’s been learning the ropes, and winning, in WRC rallying. And now the result of all that effort is here: meet the Hyundai i30N hot hatch. To find out just how hot it is, we pitted it against a renowned master of the sector, a Seat Leon Cupra.

Hyundai i30N Performance Package

Price: £27,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 271bhp
Torque: 260lb/ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
0-62mph: 6.1sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,429kg
Economy: 39.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 163g/km

The N is a proper job. Hyundai’s given it a complete overhaul, extended even to adaptive dampers, revised suspension layout and, on the Performance version we’re driving here, an electronic limited-slip differential and big wheels clad with Pirelli P-Zero tyres. It has 271bhp too, up from the standard car’s 247bhp, so has the firepower to match the class big-hitters.

It’s not quite a match for the Leon Cupra though. This puts out 296bhp, giving it an advantage not only over the Hyundai, but also over the iconic Golf GTI. Mind you, it is more expensive as a consequence: with options, our test car cost over £34,000, compared to £28k for the Hyundai.

Our Leon was equipped with a fast-shifting DSG automatic gearbox as well, which gave it the edge over the Hyundai away from the line. Combined with the engine’s well-rounded nature, it’s both fast and effortless, delivering great power in the real world. This is a fantastic engine, one that revs vigorously and potently; the Hyundai’s motor feels lazier and more slothful in comparison, maybe more so even than its half-second-slower 62mph time reveals.

It’s not all bad news though. Not only does it have a manual gearbox, the shift itself is also robust and satisfying. It’s a weighty action, with a precise feel, one matched by meaty steering that shows the i30N’s purpose even before you’ve left the car park.

Seat Leon Cupra 300

Price: £34,280
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 296bhp
Torque: 280lb/ft
Transmission: 6-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,421kg
Economy: 41.5mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2 emissions: 156g/km

The real highlight, though, is its chassis. Hyundai could have reverted to type and produced something simply a bit stiffer and sharper than a regular i30 here. Instead, it’s given the enthusiasts free reign, doing a proper ground-up job and giving the car a likeable, nonconformist attitude as a result.

You’ll feel first the purposeful stiffness from the suspension, although this isn’t matched by a welter of engine noise (which may disappoint some). The robust setup makes immediate sense when you reach the first corner, because not only does the Hyundai change direction crisply and sharply, it also does so with more poise and less lean than the Seat.

The benefits of this are felt as you begin to turn the wick up. The Seat can, frankly, start to feel a bit soft and soggy when you’re really pressing on, whereas the N remains hunkered down and poised. It may not quite have the steering precision of the Seat, but even this delivers enough feedback to capitalise on the car’s vibrant chassis.

It’s a real treat, and a surprising one at that. We’d expected the Seat to be the star car here, but it simply doesn’t involve the driver as much as the Hyundai. It’s even possible to take the N too far, if you turn the adjustable chassis settings right up to the max; our preference was to leave it in normal, turning up only the response of the engine.

Hot hatches and performance cars are all about fun, and the Seat doesn’t deliver enough of it. The Hyundai, however, is a real gem, fully vindicating the huge amount of time and money the South Korean firm has invested into this project.

The i30N is a brand-new performance car that is good enough to indicate great things are in store for the new line of hot N Hyundais. Taking on the formidable Seat Leon Cupra, and winning, is only the start of it, we sense. The firm’s unstoppable march continues: European brands, you should be more worried than ever.

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