Man, you've got no soul

Can something be brilliant but leave you cold?

6w ago
33.3K

As some of you may know, just over two years ago I bought a new Hyundai i30N. Fresh from the dealership, seven miles on the clock, no previous owners, that lovely new car smell; my first ever brand new motor and a blank canvas. No worries about who might have abused it before me, if it had a hidden accident history, nothing. Almost exactly two years later I was waving it off my driveway with a feeling of total ambivalence.

Make no mistake - the i30N is a wonderful car. Fun to drive with a crackly exhaust and a development program that included significant testing on the Nordschleife, this is the real deal. It attacks bends with vigour and rewards the enthusiastic driver who likes to press on whether it's on the road or the track. On the flipside it's a quiet and comfortable daily runner capable of cruising for hours in silence up and down the M5. So why couldn't I get on with it?

More an acquaintance than a friend

Some cars are like your best mate. Dependable, trustworthy and always there when you need them. Yes they have their flaws - they might break down occasionally or forget about that tenner they owe you - but you overlook such things because you love them. The N was more like the bloke you see sometimes in the pub, the one who sits in the corner and minds his own business. You always nod to each other, sometimes you might even be feeling really friendly and say hello, but you've never bought him a pint or played pool together. One day you might walk into the bar and realise he's not there, and that actually you haven't seen him for a few weeks. You might feel a twinge of guilt but surely enough as soon as your best friend walks in it's forgotten about.

The N is the chap you occasionally greet at the bar. It is the anonymous man who might be brilliant but ultimately makes no impact on your life. It might sound impossible to believe considering it's painted in baby blue with red stripes on the bumpers and an exhaust that's bordering on the ridiculous but it's true. The day I waved this car off I felt almost nothing, and at no point in the four months since have I regretted my decision.

I only got to do one track day in the N (and didn't even get any pictures!) which seems a tragic waste of the track warranty Hyundai very kindly include with the car. I also only really had one proper run out, to the Elan Valley (pictured above). It was good fun and I enjoyed throwing the car through the ribbons of tarmac mid Wales calls roads but I always had the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I'd be having just as much fun in almost anything else with nearly 300bhp and a lively front end.

And that unfortunately sums up what the car became to me. After two years of ownership and almost 25,000 miles, the N may as well have been a washing machine. An all singing all dancing Samsung with fancy LED's and 78 different spin modes yes, but when all is said and done a white good. And who talks excitedly about their new household appliance? Absolutely nobody.

People like you or I know, we have an unshakable belief that cars are living entities

Jeremy Clarkson

For two years I tried to find the beating heart of this car and at every attempt I came up with a blank. It was functional and coped with everything I ever asked of it. It never even thought about breaking down. When I was in the mood to channel my inner McRae it cleared its throat and popped and banged its way through the Welsh valleys with vigour. It was a quiet and comfy ally on my frequent motorway journeys. Perhaps this single-mindedness toward functionality is why I always felt like something was missing. Jeremy Clarkson once wrote that for any machine to have a soul it has to have the most human characteristic of all - a flaw. The N was flawless in the practical sense as it just did everything asked of it. Ultimately it was a fantastic acquaintance but never a friend. Its' lack of a flaw was the biggest flaw of all.

I still firmly believe that some cars can be the living entity that we imagine them to be. I know this because my Focus RS possesses personality by the bucket load so it makes me sad to say that unfortunately the i30N, despite its brilliant front diff and silly exhaust noises, is missing that most human trait, the one that allows petrolheads to truly bond with our cars; it simply doesn't have a soul.

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Comments (37)

  • Sure, the N might not have clicked in with you and I can see that. I also fairly respect your points. I really do. However, would anyone want to deal with an unreliable/flawed daily that happens to be their only car? Now, this isn't to knock any other hatch/coupe/etc. in the segment or in general, but rather just a thought. That would be an inconvenience. According to Clarkson, a car ought to have a flaw in order to be of character or soul, but I would suggest that a car would have a soul in the way it moves/handles/drives and what more the driver could do for the machine. The N provides a hassle-free ownership and the fact that it's built by Hyundai honestly seems like a bang-on deal to me. Sure, it's built by Hyundai, a company that creates daily people movers or dare I say, appliances, took a different approach to the hot hatch game and still came away with something fun and practical. It might be the functionality side of things that make it seem too understated or plain? Nonetheless, interesting points you've made. I would suggest trying out the Veloster N, as I believe that it is actually more fun and has an interesting design. A true joy to drive...

      1 month ago
    • Absolutely, a daily that breaks down would quickly wear thin. When I say a flaw I don't mean it needs to conk out everytime it rains. It was more meant that it just felt it was designed to be functional and "do a job" - no matter what the designers...

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        1 month ago
  • Very nice read ma man ... You ride looks beautiful. I personally have a theory about the reason you find it soul-less. And I think this applies to almost any recent Hyundai/Kia or (and even other brands). I think in recent years car manufacturers who are in an endless competition trying to beat each other have taken a different approach rather than just genuinely trying to be creative... This is a perfect example: Hyundai set a target car: Golf GTI and then they took whatever they like from it, and improved what they thought was the weak points ! This is seen OVER and OVER again with the Kia Stinger, the Hyundai Sonata, the Genesis brand etc ... Brands simply trying to be other brands rather than creating their own niche segment (totally understandable from a business perspective of course)... Now compare that to the year 2001 when Hyundai introduced the new Hyundai Coupe (Tiburon). That was something extremely unique, eye candy, and a fantastic design... Back then no one offered that sort of car for that sort of price ... that is what I call creativity at its best. I owned one, and even though the 2 liter 4 cylinder felt like a snail, the feeling was so special that I enjoyed every min of driving her. Recently they did the same with the Veloster by introducing the radical idea of a 3 door car with no driver side door for the rear passengers ... That was a fantastic and fresh approach.. Mazda did the same with the RX8, Toyota with the FJ cruiser and many other examples ... And all these were appraised by car lovers . The world needs more fresh ideas rather than copy cats ! Honda is doing a brilliant job breaking this copy/paste with the latest gen civic for example and its getting quite good feedback from the community. I dunno, I feel like it at least ;) .. Damn that's a LOT of words lol ... let me know what you think

      1 month ago
    • Thanks for the feedback man! That's an interesting point of view. You're definitely spot on about Hyundai copy and pasting a Golf GTI and improving on the weak points. I definitely think a lack of creativity is one of the things that can take...

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        1 month ago
    • Yeah I'm with you on the Golf GTI comparison. And that's also exactly why I just don't understand the selling figures of the Golf GTI. Yes it's fast and pretty reliable, but it lacks emotion in my opinion. To be brutally honest, it's the case...

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        1 month ago
  • Brilliantly said and couldn’t agree more. It goes deeper than you think too, the manual gearbox for example is not as good or efficient as an auto these days, but I bet most of us would prefer one. I have had so many technically great cars, fast as hell, precise, technically almost perfect, but all have failed to capture my interest as much as my 300bhp focus st225 that shouts it’s warbly voice too loud, tries to throw me into a ditch every time it can and consistently allows others to say ‘that’s orange’ to me. That to me is character and it IS important in cars. U can’t beat cars u have to work with to get the best out of.

      1 month ago
    • Good choice of car! The 5 pot certainly helps with the character in the ST.

      The auto/manual debate is one that I think is a bit unrelated. I've spent significant time with new Aston Martins and they were lacking a bit but I'm willing to bet...

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        1 month ago
  • I find it extremely hard to bond with these modern vehicles. I felt the exact same way when I got rid of my brand new Corolla Hatchback, and I'm even feeling the same about my MX-5. I don't think that being unreliable would make that bond stronger, but it just seems like every single car has the same exact personality these days. I don't feel like anything in the sporty-regular car segment is truly special, until you get into the really limited/special editions of cars (Focus RS, Civic Type R, etc.). I think going forward that cars are gonna lose soul and personality in exchange for technology. I want the motorsport theatre experience. I want song, dance, drama, a story, but to feel catharsis--that is really only around in a select few vehicles. I guess I'll just keep dreaming.

      1 month ago
    • It is still out there David, but like you said limited to the select few. For 99% of people hot and cold running Apple Carplay is exactly what they want out of a car, and I fully accept that we are the 1%.

      I'm very lucky to own a 19 year old Focus RS...

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        1 month ago
    • I guess I’ll just follow one of those get-rich-quick-crypto schemes from my Insta DMs and buy the GT3 Touring of my dreams.

        1 month ago
  • Fantastic read Tom; engaging and enjoyable. It's good to hear a property honest account of the vehicle as well.

      1 month ago
    • Thanks for the kind words Aaron, really appreciate it. Yeah make no mistake it's a great car but it just wasn't the right one for me.

        1 month ago
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