Whether you look left, right, up or down, car manufacturers seem to be releasing coupes with an additional pair of doors. Mercedes, Audi and BMW have been at it for a while and even Porsche has succumbed to the temptation with its new Cayenne Coupe. They are all broadly the same in principle; five-door cars with rooflines just about rakish enough that their makers can slap the word ‘coupe’ somewhere on their rumps.
But as we all know, there is no such thing as a five-door coupe. It’s a fabrication. It’s marketing department sleight of hand, a shameless bid to project a little more glamour on to whatever new model is being flogged. Because true coupes have only three doors (or perhaps two, if the car in question doesn’t have a full hatchback boot lid).
SO WHAT IS A FOUR-DOOR COUPE?
These five-door cars with their swooping rooflines are something else altogether. Perhaps Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Porsche should follow the example set by Hyundai and use the phrase ‘fastback’ instead. Viewed from the rear or in profile, the i30 Fastback N has a kind of cascading roofline that you won’t find anywhere else in the hot hatch segment, and that helps it to stand out. As a Hyundai marketing chief once pointed out, anybody in the market for a five-door car with that sort of rear end treatment must now at least consider a Hyundai.
Beneath the skin you’ll find all the same mechanical hardware that underpins the i30N (that’s the model with the more conventional hatchback boot arrangement). Whereas that version is available in two states of the tune, the i30 Fastback N is only offered with the more potent 271bhp engine. The drivetrain, chassis settings and cabin, meanwhile, are all exactly the same, although the Fastback model does have a slightly longer rear overhang which means its boot floor is more expansive.
We already know well enough that the i30N is a very good performance hatchback. Despite being Hyundai’s first attempt at that sort of car it merits with comparison with anything in the class, and at £29,495 it’s decent value as well. To that proposition the Fastback model adds more distinctive styling and £500. This car could be on to a winner.
UNDER THE SKIN OF THE i30N FASTBACK
It comes equipped as standard with all manner of go-faster hardware. There is a mechanical limited-slip differential with electronic actuation, for instance, which enables the i30 Fastback N to make good use of its power and torque without being snatchy and grabby in very low speed driving. There are adaptive dampers as well, plus 19-inch wheels with Pirelli tyres and a switchable sports exhaust.
The rev match function, meanwhile – which gives you seamless downshifts every time – can also be switched off if you prefer to heel-and-toe yourself.
Exactly why the Hyundai’s cabin feels ever so slightly low-rent is hard to say, because the plastics and the switchgear are mostly pretty good. The build quality is as well. Perhaps it’s the slightly cutesy interior styling, which calls to mind a city car rather than a grown-up hot hatch.
The touchscreen infotainment system isn’t at all tricky to navigate and the standard kit count is very generous (the only optional extras are the fancy paint finishes). Via a button on the steering wheel you can switch from one driving mode to the next, really changing the car’s character as you scroll from Normal or Eco into Sport and the most aggressive mode, called N.
Naturally, there’s a customisable mode too. Within it you can adapt seemingly every aspect of the car to suit your own preferences, all the way down to the weight of the steering, the sound of the exhaust, the level of rev matching on downshifts and even how forceful the differential is. And you can switch all of those parameters into their sportiest modes while leaving the dampers in a more pliant setting, so you can configure the car to work perfectly on a typical broken and rutted British B-road.
DRIVING THE HYUNDAI i30 FASTBACK N
Around town and on the motorway the i30 Fastback N almost lets you forget you’re driving a relatively high performance machine, being neither unduly loud or crashy in the way it sounds and rides. A Renaultsport Megane 300 Trophy, for instance, is a more demanding car to live with day-to-day. In Sport mode the Hyundai is a competent enough hot hatch, but to get the most out of it you really need to delve into the customisable mode and set everything just so.
That done, it becomes rather more than competent. Suddenly, it’s alive and alert; agile and responsive. The exhaust bangs and pops, the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine pulls with real intensity, the manual gearshift is slick and satisfying, the differential tugs you gently across the width of the road… The car begins to feel like an uncompromising and utterly focused performance car. Its more demure and relaxing side, however, is only a button push away. It’s quite a trick.
When you press on in the i30 Fastback N you find bundles of cornering grip and very strong traction, plus sharp steering that lets you judge with real certainty exactly how much grip there is across the front axle. Its natural chassis balance tends towards gentle understeer, which is why you feel so confident in using all the cornering grip right away. You know the car won’t bite. But that’s also why edgier hot hatches, such as the Megane mentioned earlier, are ultimately more thrilling to drive.
Body control and suppleness over bumps are often mutually exclusive, but the Hyundai manages both rather well. It may give away the final few degrees of driver involvement to other hot hatches, but what the i30 Fastback N does so well is to combine everyday usability with real fun factor. And, of course, a rakish roofline.
Hyundai i30 Fastback N 2.0 T-GDi 275PS
Price: from £29,995. As tested £30,580
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 36mpg (combined)
HISTORY GUIDE: HYUNDAI i30 N
Hyundai might not have any real hot hatch heritage, but the 2017 i30N was a deeply impressive first attempt at that sort of car. Hyundai poached former BMW M division boss Albert Biermann to head up its new performance division. His philosophy under his new employer is as much about affordability as performance, which is why the i30N and i30 Fastback N are both reasonably priced and very highly equipped as standard. Following a very promising start for Hyundai’s N designation, we can expect to see it wheeled out for further models soon.
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