Norman and Nigel of the Forest

Ringing in the changes.

The birds-eye airliner grille motif has to be a first? Image: mad4wheels

Having enjoyed[1] 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).

Hyundai 130 Fastback N-Line. Image: Autotrader

Returning home with said bulbs, my newly enhanced spotlight turned toward the DTW archives[2], 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.

Image: fastestlaps

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?

N. For Nigel. Image: chasingcars.com

Allow me to introduce the Fastback N (for Nigel[3]) 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[4]. 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.

Image: viruscars

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.

[1] 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.

[2] The source of all that is good and true in the world. [ED]

[3] An increasingly unpopular name. No-one in the UK has officially registered a Nigel since 2018.

[4] Best check before fully emulating Jody Schekter at Silverstone. The Nurburgring has always excelled at nullifying insurance cover too.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

10 thoughts on “Norman and Nigel of the Forest”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I don’t recall having seen an i30 fastback in the metal. I can find it on the Dutch Hyundai site, but not on the ‘models’ section where I can only find the i30 and i30 wagon. It reminds me a bit of a modern day Benz. I’m sure it’s a competent motor, but I’d still have a Mazda 3 over this.

  2. Good morning Andrew. Like Freerk, I’ve never seen one and wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. That said, the i30N hatchback seems to be a genuinely good drive, not just fast, but involving too. Here is the conclusion from Car Magazine’s road test in 2020:

    “More to the point, it’s good clean fun to drive. This car may not advance the hot hatch game in terms of outright performance, but for Hyundai, often cited as a maker of beige appliance cars for people not interested in driving, it’s an intergalactic leap. This is the brand’s first proper hot hatch – and it has emphatically hit the ground running.”

    I imagine the same would apply to the fastback version. I’m not sure whether the development of such versions improves the dynamics of the regular models, but it cannot do any harm.

  3. I’m sure I’ve been in an i30 Fastback rental with my son, probably in the UK for a Spurs game. Much better looking than the hatch – I don’t like short rear overhangs. The i30 wagon is nice as well. Wouldn’t turn my nose up at Norman or Nigel versions, but finances dictate that I stick with my beloved diesel Honda….

  4. There is – non-coincidentally, I’d imagine – a certain Mercedes-ness about the design, albeit at much more reasonable prices, which does make a difference in my view. I like both hatch and fastback, although the fastback is the rarer beast, which always brings bonus points to me. The Dutch fiscal climate being what it is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an N in the flesh, though. PLnety of Kona electrics, which are fine in their own right.

    To me, the facelift version looks just a little out of kilter with the rest of the design, which is softer than the new grille/moustache and the slightly more Clint Eastwood squint – so far so typically facelift then:


    Although the facelift front does remind me even more of the face ornamentation of that other Nigel…

    1. A certain ‘Mercedesness’ of the design might be because the head of design at Hyundai and Kia, and the person directly responsible for it is Mr Peter Schreyer. He was made chief design officer in 2005, a position now filled by Luc Donckerwolke ( formerly at VW Group’s Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, the Murcielago and Gallardo were his).
      Peter Schreyer has since 2018 been promoted to ‘President of Design Management for Hyundai Motor Group’ During his time at Audi, Mr Schreyer was responsible for the Audi TT as well as the A8. A time when Audis arguably had more ‘Mercedesness’ than Mercedes Benz.

  5. A quick Autotrader search for 2019-2022* i30, with Fastback as a keyword, suggests around 19% of i30 sales have been the Fastback version. It’s actually higher than the estate version, at 12%.

    Sister brand, Kia, adopts a different approach: as with the i30, the Ceed is available as hatckback and estate, but is also offered as a ‘shooting brake’ called the ProCeed. The split: 78% hatchback, 9% estate, 13% ProCeed. The Xceed is an SUV-styled version of the hatchback and is included with that figure.

    The unexpected figure is that total Ceed for sale for the same period is 872, against 151 i30.

    *2019 being the first full year of Fastback sales; 2022 (rather than 2019 onward) to try to include only cars that have actually been built

  6. The fastback is quite popular as a company car for Hyundai HQ employees, preferably in pale grey with seemingly powerful engines including exhaust farts.
    You can identify them by their number plates OF-HY or OF-PR.
    As no self respecting Frankfurter would ever accept an OF number plate Kia has F-KM.

  7. I’ve got quite interested in the i30 N as it’s the cheapest hot hatch (and hot fastback) with prices starting thousands of €s below the Škoda Octavia RS, Renault Mégane RS, Ford Focus ST or the Cupra León. Started doing some research on it and turns out the likely cause of this price gap is the known engine failures – the Theta II unit was a massive flop in North America with recalls still being issued. It’s strange that none of these issues hit Europe – at least officially. Hyundais explanation was that the engines used were manufactured in different factories, though I’d be suspicious that it has to do with European consumer protection generally being weaker. Thus I had to cross out Nigel from my wishlist due to lack of trust, while Norman is just not my type of car, though I’d welcome seeing more of it on the streets.

  8. In Australia we only get the fastback in full N format. The i30 hatch and sedan (aka Elantra) that both have a bigger range including N-Line and N. Our N-Line gets a 1.6T with about 200hp. We got the wagon version of the previous generation, but not any more.

    The N seems to fit in somewhere between the Golf GTi and Honda Civic Type R and have been well-received, and on launch a big deal was made that non-competitive track use would be covered under the warranty.

  9. The updated i30 N has just been reviewed by Carwow and they seem impressed. It looks as though the people who developed the car had fun and were enthusiasts. It’s not a car for me – it’s loud with hard suspension. It would be fun in small doses, I imagine.

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