Hyundai's i30 N aims to compete with VW Golf GTI

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The subdued styling of Hyundai’s i30 N is a nod to Volkswagen’s Golf.

NAMYANG, South Korea — Mere months from putting their first production car on sale, Hyundai’s N division and the man behind it are tipping their hand as to what enthusiasts can expect from the nascent performance subbrand.

Albert Biermann — who was lured from BMW’s M division to head Hyundai’s high-performance development — and N unveiled the i30 N hatchback last week ahead of its official Frankfurt auto show debut. Betraying his European roots, Biermann made it clear that this tidy little hot hatch is aimed squarely at Volkswagen’s Golf GTI.

“Everybody is chasing the Golf, so we will join this game and see how it goes,” Biermann said at an N division press briefing in June at Hyundai’s r&d facility southwest of Seoul.

The i30 N is based on the i30 hatchback, sold in the U.S. as Hyundai’s Elantra GT.

The N flavor packs a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission with rev matching. Drive modes include Eco, Normal, Sport N and N Custom.‚Äč

Horsepower is rated at 250 on the standard version, though an optional performance package will push that to 271 while adding an electronic limited-slip differential, performance tires and a variable exhaust valve to punch up the car’s voice.

The addition of an optional dual-clutch transmission (which Hyundai has in its parts bin) and all-wheel drive could happen later, though there’s no plan to do so, Biermann said.

Unlike rival hot hatches and sedans from Subaru, Honda and Ford, the i30 N keeps its styling subdued, another sign of deference to the equally understated Golf GTI.

Unfortunately for American fans of Korean speed, the i30 N isn’t coming stateside.

Hyundai hasn’t disclosed the next model to get the N treatment, but that model will debut in 2018 and definitely is coming to the U.S.

The most likely candidate is a Veloster N. A second generation of the oddball three-door hatchback is due shortly, and camouflaged test mules for a base Veloster, Veloster Turbo and Veloster N all could be seen undergoing late-stage testing and evaluation at the r&d center.

Beyond that, Hyundai’s plans for N remain tightly guarded, though Biermann made it clear Hyundai has no intention to follow Mercedes-Benz’s footsteps and build a high-performance version of every vehicle it makes.

At the same time, Hyundai isn’t ruling out an SUV or a hybrid under the N badge.

“SUVs keep growing, so why not do it?” Biermann said, adding that an N hybrid is “just a matter of time,” though no decision has been made on either.

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