Ringing in the changes.
Having enjoyed the sinuous ribbon of tarmac known to all and sundry as the Nurburgring from both front seats of such esoteric machinery as a 5-litre TVR Chimaera, an 1983 Audi Quattro, a Mazda RX-8 and a Porsche 911SC from 1987, you might think your author qualifies to wax lyrical about the Green Hell, as Jackie Stewart famously termed the place. Think again. These events were spaced out over a period of several years and no matter how many YouTube videos one peruses, once the helmet’s on and the barrier rises (€25 per lap Monday to Thursday – €30 Friday to Sunday, when open to the public), most of the experience degenerates into a frenzied blur. As competent as one might feel behind the wheel, I never troubled Timo Bernhard’s 5:19.5 lap in 2018.
In fact the Nordschleife, whilst beguiling, has become something of a bore; reading of yet another manufacturer launching a ‘honed at the Ring’ model, one feels compelled to stifle a yawn. Yet recently crossing the road to the shops for some urgently requested higher lumen bulbs, a car pootled past that belied its Eifel mountain fine tuning, the lesser-seen Hyundai i30 Fastback.
Little did your author know that this barely seen Norman has had a facelift in its short tenure. First impressions made me linger as it drifted by at no more than ten mph. And my first thought was ‘neat’, especially side-on. My initial guess was Mazda, the paint finish in bright sunshine remarkably similar to Hiroshima’s Soul Red Crystal. Only as the car’s rear and stylised H badge came into view was I made aware of the brand (and in Hyundai parlance, Sunset Red paint).
Returning home with said bulbs, my newly enhanced spotlight turned toward the DTW archives, whilst donning the trusty deerstalker and magnifying glass. Based on the i30 hatchback, the Fastback launched onto UK shores in Autumn 2018. President and CEO of Hyundai UK, Tony Whitehorn led with, “a fresh and charismatic design and an important milestone in the i30 family development.
At launch, the Fastback’s power derived from either a 1.0 litre T-GDi three cylinder; good for 120PS, or a four cylinder 1.4 litre for 20PS more. The smaller unit mated only with a six speed manual, whereas the larger could also handle a seven speed dual clutch set up. Colours began in solid Engine Red or Polar White. Metallics included Micron Grey, White Sand, Fiery Red, pearlescent Phantom Black and Platinum Silver. In 2019, Stellar Blue and the elegantly sounding Olivine Grey appeared with the latter two shaving at least 0.384 from your lap time by name alone.
Hyundai’s European Test Centre is but a short hop from the Nurburgring where the “rigorously tested on track” Fastback sits 5mm lower with 15% stiffer suspension over its hatchback stablemate, with which it shares almost everything else. Thomas Bürkle, Chief Designer at Hyundai Design Centre Europe opined “With a blank sheet of paper, design was our top priority, creating elegant proportions, attractive profiles and flowing lines.”
The Fastback enjoyed many C-segment resemblances, at least until we reached that teardrop inspired rump. 115mm longer than the hatchback and with the ski-ramp spoiler, style may have forgone substance – the high lip of boot access a journalistic markdown. October 2020 saw V2.0 arrive with a wider grille consisting of accentuated 3D effects.
Observations? The front now looks meaner and the headlights appear to have gone on a diet. Slimmer in appearance, their signature borderline aggressive: V for Victory! Aft-wards, and the rear illuminates change that only detail addicts such as devotees of this site might notice – and perhaps only Fastback aficionados speak of in hushed tones. Personally, I think V2.0 looks cleaner, more confident with its diffuser and single exhaust pipe. What no symmetry? Hold that thought…
Inside is worth but a scant glance – sooty blacks or greys – technology. For ’tis under the N-Line’s bonnet where the real interest lies. Gone the smaller units, replaced with a 1.5 petrol turbo with obligatory 48v hybrid assistance. Developing a decent 159PS along with 252 Newton metres from 1,500rpm. But where’s the pedigree that Hyundai flaunts in both touring car and its World Rally program?
Allow me to introduce the Fastback N (for Nigel) and its 2.0 T-GDi summoning 280PS alongside a faintly believable 392 of twist. A raspy exhaust note (with requisite back-firing), launch control and a rev-matching, blipping throttle. Gearboxes are that six speed manual or upgrade to the ‘wet-type’ eight speed dual clutch.
0-62 under six seconds and a 155mph v-max, all safely ensconced in the warm embrace of Hyundai’s generous warranty. The 19-inch black alloys a svelte 14.4Kg lighter than counterpart, Norman and out back, two symmetrical pipes that could make a Mitsubishi Evo think twice. Nigel also wears blue stitching for “more motorsport feel.” In order to feel more like a touring car pilot, the N Grin button gives you twenty seconds of maximum everything: torque, acceleration and exhaust note with a “push feel” when up-shifting. What will you do with the remaining twenty nine minutes and forty seconds of your commute? And this car will also manage the weekly shop, school run, and nights out with aplomb, assuming those in the back don’t object to a little neck creaking. Colours at £585 include Performance Blue with a red stripe underneath that front valance.
The Koreans obviously have excess cash to play with, creating such niches as Nigel and Norman. One that would see the bona-fide sporting cars mentioned earlier, floundering. With that cosseting warranty, mid thirties price tag and stand alone looks, why the devil not? My only gripe being that it’s taken Hyundai this long, and it would seem with a minimum announcement to reveal this track day weapon. Ah, that I were thirty years younger… but then I couldn’t have afforded this kind of thing. Timing is everything.
 If enjoyed can be defined as having one’s eyes fixed to the mirrors awaiting a convoy of local enthusiasts in their modified VW Polos wishing to blast past, along with a stomach lurching at angles similar to the Caracciola Karussel curve before hitting the track, then yes, enjoyable it was.
 The source of all that is good and true in the world. [ED]
 An increasingly unpopular name. No-one in the UK has officially registered a Nigel since 2018.
 Best check before fully emulating Jody Schekter at Silverstone. The Nurburgring has always excelled at nullifying insurance cover too.