Is there anything more tedious, in the entire automotive firmament, than a manual gearbox fundamentalist? These absolutists are up there with swivel-eyed Elon Musk jocksniffers and pedants who can only find true happiness in informing you that you’re cleaning your car incorrectly. A true manual gearbox fundamentalist will never accept that there are times when an automatic transmission makes more sense because a manual is just better, obviously. End of.
Blissfully unencumbered by the shackles of nuance yet armed with an encyclopaedic repertoire of 20-year-old Clarkson rejoinders, they’d hate the two cars lined up before us. Because, they’d know that of all the genres of cars that need manual gearboxes, hot hatches are right at the top of that pile, nosing just ahead of Everything Else. And, for a while, all was good with the Hyundai i30 N.
When the Koreans launched the original version back in 2017, a six-speed manual was the sole transmission choice. It was a good ‘un too, slick and wristy with an auto-blip function if your heel-and-toe down changes needed some polishing. We’ve all seen the stats though. Only around 3 per cent of Australian cars are sold with manual gearboxes, so if Hyundai wanted to broaden the appeal of the i30 N, something clearly needed to be done.
Just not very quickly. Fast forward four years and we now have the eight-speed dual-clutch version of the i30 N. That would be worthy of note if that was all that had happened to the i30 N, but it isn’t. On the sly, Hyundai has been through the car, effecting some fairly fundamental changes. Most obviously, the car has been treated to a bit of Botox, with updated LED lights and a revised grille.
More significantly, the 2.0-litre T-GDi four-cylinder engine has been given a massage, releasing an additional 4kW for a total of 206kW and a hefty torque bump of 39Nm to 392Nm. The updated engine mapping promises a ‘flat power’ philosophy, but the old motor made its 353Nm peak torque figure from just 1450rpm, both tailing off at 4700rpm. Thanks to its launch control and almost instant upshifts, the DCT version is markedly quicker from a standing start than the manual, shaving half a second of the three-pedal car’s 0-100km/h time, recording a crisp 5.4 seconds.
Rather than merely plug a laptop and the cleverest kid the N Division could find into the i30 N DCT, Hyundai has applied itself a little more diligently. The engine block has been strengthened courtesy of smarter machining techniques, the 6.5-litre intercooler is swapped out for a high-flow 6.8-litre item and a larger turbocharger debuts, drawing on development work from Hyundai’s own World Time Attack racer. There’s more. We’ll come to that later, because Scott Newman has just arrived in a Ford Focus ST automatic. I ask how he likes it. He blows his cheeks out, raises his eyebrows and notes that on the wet roads en route to our Yarra Ranges rendezvous point it’s all been a bit lively. That’s certainly one way to wake up.
Hyundai has engineered a wet clutch system for its DCT installation on the i30 N. While dry clutch systems are typically used for lower torque applications, the lubricated components of a wet clutch DCT help reduce friction and dissipate heat. Therefore this technical solution is increasingly favoured in any application where thermal robustness and durable shift quality is prioritised. Wet clutch DCTs can then be divided into those systems that feature a single sump to lubricate both the gears and the clutch and those with a dedicated oil supply to each component. Single sump wet clutch installations require a fluid that combines the gear protection of manual transmission fluid with the clutch friction performance of automatic transmission fluid, balancing torque capacity and shudder durability.
There’s none of the delayed gratification about the auto version of the ST. It was launched at exactly the same time as the manual version and accounts for around 25 per cent of all Focus ST orders. Whereas the i30 N ladles another $3000 on for the privilege of the DCT’s smarts, both manual and automatic Focus STs are priced identically at $44,690. You be the judge of whether Ford are coining it from the 75 per cent of buyers who choose three pedals. While we tend to mentally pigeonhole the i30 N as a $40k car, this version, the Premium with sunroof wears a $52,000 price tag. Advantage Ford.
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