Man, you've got no soul
Can something be brilliant but leave you cold?
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.
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.