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And then there were none: The petrol-powered era of Hyundai N is over for us. Don’t panic.

OPINION

And then there were none: The petrol-powered era of Hyundai N is over for us. Don’t panic.

Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK


The Hyundai N range has just got a lot smaller with the i20 N, i30 N and Kona N being removed from sale in the UK and Europe. Ken Pearson suggests some of the reasons for this move and thinks that there may well be nothing to fear.


In 2017 seemingly out of nowhere, Hyundai emphatically burst onto the hot hatch scene with the i30 N. The new performance-oriented sub-brand had hired former BMW M chief engineer Albert Biermann to lead the development of a model that would break new ground for the Korean manufacturer. Yes, the Veloster Turbo had dabbled with the idea of a more spritely Hyundai but the i30 N would be the real deal.


The combination of a lively 2.0-litre turbocharged engine delivering 247 or 271 horsepower and 353 Newton metres (260 lb-ft) to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox and a clever electronic differential alongside a chassis tuned by one of the best engineers in the business was an instant hit with reviewers of the time. The i30 N didn’t need a facelift or a new generation to perfect the recipe - unlike the Audi RS 3, Mercedes-AMG A 45 or the Volkswagen Golf R - but an update in 2021 would bump the power up to 275 bhp and significantly increase the torque to 392 nm (289 lb-ft) whilst adding an automatic gearbox option to broaden the sales appeal. Who would have predicted that the model would be a one-hit wonder?



Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK
The i30 N was a huge hit on its debut with the motoring press
Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK


Certainly not me. Especially not when the N range quickly grew to include the smaller i20 N with its 201 bhp 1.6-litre engine and eventually the crossover-bodied Kona N. If the i30 N was going after the Ford Focus ST, the i20 N was aimed squarely at the Fiesta ST and would fill the void left by the Clio Renaultsport whilst the Kona N targeted the Audi SQ2 and Mini Countryman John Cooper Works. All three models were widely praised for their powertrains, driving dynamics and of course, the chassis tuning, but 7 years after the introduction of the i30 N and just three years since the release of the Kona N, all petrol-powered Hyundai N models have been removed from sale in the UK and Europe.


In a statement delivered to CarThrottle, Hyundai said: “Production of the internal combustion engine N models has ceased for the European market starting from February, in line with our commitment to offering a zero-tailpipe-emission line-up to our customers by 2035 and to operating 100 per cent carbon neutrally by 2045. Going forward in Europe, Hyundai is developing Hyundai N as a pioneer of high-performance EVs.”



Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK


There are a few things to unpack there and, as is commonplace with manufacturer’s reasonings for model range tweaks, what isn’t said is quite often as important and insightful as what is. Let’s start with the obvious point: the zero-tailpipe-emission model range ambitions, set to be fully realised 11 years from now. Hyundai and Kia are the only two brands that I can think of since Volvo went from a nice but niche mainstream brand to a proper premium manufacturer in the mid-2010s to successfully complete a total repositioning of themselves in terms of public perception and, in turn, price point.


They have been ballsy in that pursuit and whilst high-performance halo models like the Kia Stinger GTS and N hot hatches have attracted plenty of attention, the electric offerings have attracted more orders. When was the last time you saw an i20 N on the road? How about the last time you saw an Ioniq 5?


The fully electric Ioniq 5 has an N version available which is, like its petrol-powered predecessors, getting some seriously high praise from the first drive reviews. Hyundai believes that this is the future of performance models and it has clearly shown the Ioniq 5 the same level of engineering attention as the petrol N models. However, whilst the i30 N has power levels on par with a Golf GTI, the Ioniq 5 N is put in the same ballpark as a high-performance EV that I’ve had a lot of seat time with; the Mercedes-AMG EQE 53 which costs over £115,000.



Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK
Rave reviews for the Ioniq 5 N fill us with hope for the future

Comparing the i30 and Ioniq 5 would be pointless as they are two totally different cars with vastly different outputs targeting two completely different markets at two very different price points, so it would be insane to suggest that the Ioniq 5 N serves as the replacement for the i30 N. The key part of the statement from Hyundai is the last part where the ambitions to make the performance sub-brand “a pioneer of high-performance EVs” is set out.


This means to me that the gaps in the current line-up will be filled in the not-too-distant future; a closer look at the timing of the i30 N being removed from sale in Europe - three years after the model was facelifted - suggests that a replacement is on its way in the not too distant future and that it will feature electric power as an option.



Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK
Kona N hasn't matched the sales success of rivals such as the Ford Puma ST

I have spent a lot of time driving electric cars of all shapes, sizes and power outputs but for me so far there are three standouts: the Mini Electric for its sharp handling complete with lift-off oversteer, the Polestar 2 for its linear power delivery and good body control on Essex’s finest B-roads, and the AMG EQE 53 for having startling amounts of performance on tap but a chassis that can cope with it in a straight line and around corners. I know that as time goes on and more products like the upcoming electric Mini JCW and Renault 5-based Alpine A290 hit the roads, the trend of hot versions of everyday hatches being taken off sale will start to reverse; I expect Hyundai to be setting the benchmark for electric hot hatches with usable sizes and performance levels.


The Kona N not being facelifted when its base model was is hardly uncommon, but the disappearance of the i20 N gives me more reason to scratch my head as it was recently crowned Hot Hatch of the Year at the 2023 WhatCar? Awards and presented itself as a credible alternative to the Fiesta ST and Mini Cooper S from its first day on sale. Maybe, conspicuous by its absence of mention, sales figures are a big reason as to why the models have been dropped from this market. In my part of the country, the Mini Cooper S, Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST are as common as crows, but the i20 N is like a pelican - I just don’t see any here. There are at least two i30 Ns within a 45-minute drive of where I live - both of the fastback variety - and I am yet to see a Kona N out in the wild.



Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK
i20 N is the reigning B segment hot hatch champion
Hyundai kills off petrol powered N range in the UK


Whilst the i30 N launched into a crowded market, that market has since all but evaporated with only the Golf GTI, Cupra Leon, BMW 128 ti and soon-to-depart Focus ST left in the sub-300 bhp hot hatch marketplace. Maybe the market has moved on with a preference for cars in the 306 bhp+ category like the AMG A 35, Audi S3, Golf R and Honda Civic Type R leaving cars like the i30 N behind. I’m sure that the real reason lies somewhere in the middle of all the things that I’ve suggested and at this point, you may be expecting me to propose that you, dear reader, raise a toast to the death of the petrol-powered Hyundai N models except I won’t be.


Instead, I suggest that if you are in the market for something quick, fun and usable and would like to try something different, take advantage of the remaining UK dealer stock of brand-new N models, or put aside the idea of a used German hot hatch in favour of a Korean flavour for the next few years. After all, a car doesn’t really die when the last one leaves the production line - there are plenty of i20 N and i30 Ns on the market which have years of life left in them that are waiting to be enjoyed as Albert Biermann and his team of engineers intended.


The closing of the first chapter of the go-faster Hyundai N story does not mean the end of the formula but does confirm that it will be different next time around. So fear not, because I have no doubt that Hyundai N will be able to exceed expectations just like they did in 2017 when a brand-new model put Hyundai N firmly on the performance car map.


Written by

Ken Pearson

Published

19 January 2024

Last Updated

19/01/24

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