First drive: 2020 Hyundai i30 N Line MHEV prototype

Hyundai has gone and fitted its sleek looking i30 family hatchback with a new 48V mild-hybrid architecture as part of a mid-life refresh.

The idea of a 48V integrated starter-generator will be a familiar one to many by now, and its application here is unsurprisingly intended to help the i30 achieve very modest savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

That electrified architecture is based around one of two petrol engines: a 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo three-pot or a new 1.5-litre 158bhp turbo four-cylinder, tested here in left-hand-drive, pre-production guise. In the UK, this range-topping engine will be paired exclusively with Hyundai’s N Line trim level.

Speaking of N Line, this pseudo-sporting trim level has been subjected to a bit of a nip-and-tuck, too. A larger grille, sharper bumpers and a revamped headlight design all feature, all contributing to a noticeably more sporting image than what you got on the original i30 N Line. It’s still not quite as pumped up as the full-fat i30 N, but it’s not a bad-looking thing, either.

The i30’s suspension and steering have both been slightly tweaked too, provided you go for the 1.5-litre petrol engine.

For a range-topping engine, there isn’t really all that much punch on offer here. Press the throttle and after a slight delay the i30 begins to accrue pace, but power delivery never feels that urgent and can come across as slightly boosty at times. At least the engine sounds smooth, but its lack of performance is a telling reminder that the N Line model is more of a shower than a goer.

In any case, the 153bhp 1.0-litre three-pot you get in the Ford Focus ST-Line not only feels considerably punchier but is also a more genuinely characterful engine.

It’s the Ford that’s the sweeter handling of the two, too. The i30 might just edge it when it comes to ride comfort, but the Focus is certainly the more entertaining car to bomb around in. Compared with the Hyundai’s nicely assisted but slightly dead helm, the Focus just feels that much more alive in your hands and that much more willing to respond keenly to your inputs.

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Hyundai i30 1.5 T-GDi 48V N Line specifications

Where Buckinghamshire, UK On sale September Price £23,000 (est) Engine 4cyl, 1482cc, turbocharged, petrol, with integrated starter-generator Power 158bhp at 5500rpm Torque 187lb ft at 1500-3500rpm Gearbox six-speed manual Kerb weight 1250kg Top speed 130mph 0-62mph 8.4sec Economy 50mpg (est) CO2 128g/km (est) Rivals Seat Leon FR, Ford Focus ST-Line