Huge upgrade for game-changing Hyundai
Hyundai's i30 N, the brand's first genuine hot hatch, was a ripper, taking out our Car of the Year award when it launched in 2018.
Sales have been hamstrung, though, by the lack of an automatic transmission, the preferred option for the vast majority of buyers.
An eight-speed, paddle-shift dual-clutch automatic transmission was meant to arrive last year, but has been delayed until early next year.
We were given a sneak preview drive of a prototype left-hand-drive example at the Wakefield Park circuit south of Sydney, completing a handful of laps in a pre-production example.
It was worth the wait.
The chunky gear selector has a premium feel as it slots into drive, and there's no hint of lurching or shuddering from the gearbox as we ease into pit lane. First impressions come at sensible speeds in the car's normal driving mode, where seamless shifts are quietly completed without the pyrotechnic fanfare of its manual cousin.
An overdriven eighth gear is quieter at motorway cruising speeds than six-cog rivals. Flooring the throttle for a simulated overtake at 100km/h, the lack of a kick-down switch at the bottom of its pedal travel means the Hyundai needs a moment to shuffle its deck and produce the right gear for maximum thrust - a Golf GTI might choose a gear more decisively.
We couldn't produce reliable fuel economy figures on a quick track outing, but the auto should return better figures than the current manual model's relatively thirsty 8L/100km.
Thumbing the steering wheel's blue chequered flag button transforms the car's character. Suddenly the engine is louder, the exhaust pops and crackles, the steering adds weight and the suspension feels tauter.
The gearbox does its part with sharper shifts, snapping through ratios with a theatric pulse Hyundai describes as a "push feel" when upshifting.
Left to its own devices, the i30 N does an outstanding job of choosing the right gears. Take manual control through small, wheel-mounted paddles and the Hyundai won't override your choices with automatic gear changes at high revs.
Folks who left-foot-brake will appreciate the ability to adjust the car's attitude without the engine cutting power in aggressive driving modes. Subtle changes to its suspension haven't affected its appetite for corners, including a preference for hugely entertaining slides when provoked on track.
Other changes include revised looks with arrow-shaped driving lights and enormous dual exhausts. A beefed-up engine claims 206kW and 392Nm - 4kW and 39Nm more than before - which reduces its 0-100km/h dash by two-tenths to 5.9 seconds. Bigger brakes help the car retain its composure on track days, and an upgraded safety suite adds features such as rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assistance and pedestrian detection for the auto emergency braking.
Hyundai has responded to criticism around the i30's heavier-than-average weight by replacing conventional cast alloy wheels with lightweight forged rims and giving track enthusiasts buyers the option of lighter bucket seats.
Together with a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, the optional seats help lift a cabin that feels plain compared with rivals.
Hyundai is confident the impressive auto option will lead to a significant boost in sales, both from people new to the brand and existing owners ready to trade up to the latest model.
Originally published as Huge upgrade for game-changing Hyundai