The car I’ve chosen for my first run around the SWC300 is the Hyundai i30 Fastback N, partly because it’s new and intriguing, but also because a good hot hatch can be as fun to drive along a great road as anything costing 10 times the price. The Fastback version, with its quasi-coupé profile, should be just the ticket for this journey (which actually began for me not in Dumfries but all the way down in west London), because although it shares its mechanicals with the regular i30N Performance, its chassis has been retuned with half an eye on comfort. On the long schlep up the M6, the car was relaxing, its ride a touch more settled than that of the model with which it shares its underpinnings.
I haven’t driven the route before but I’m familiar with some of the roads in the area, although not the A710 that darts due south out of Dumfries towards Southerness on the coast. It’s a long way from being deserted, but threading its way through low-lying hills past hedgerows and drystone walls, it is pretty good to drive. It’s an opportunity to get a feel for the i30 Fastback N on something other than a multi-lane highway and a chance to wake myself up from the dulling effects of a long motorway drive.
When the A710 reaches the coast, you snatch fleeting glimpses of the muddy Solway Firth and the tall peaks of the Lake District beyond it. The road soon turns inland but, at Dalbeattie, you pick up the A711 that sends you immediately back towards the coastline along a road that feels quieter and more remote. The Hyundai has so many possible drive mode configurations that you could own the car for an entire lifetime and never cycle through all of them. Within the N Custom mode, you can set parameters for throttle response, engine sound, damper stiffness, steering weight, ESC intervention and even how aggressive you want the electronic limited-slip differential to be. But for now, I’m just switching between Normal when I reach a town and Sport when I leave it.
The car is quick, grippy and secure. It’s competent, but almost oppressively so. As I roll into Kirkcudbright, I’m left wondering where the drama is; where the excitement might come from. The SWC300 soon picks up the A75, which trudges along with commuter traffic and artics on their way to west Scotland’s busy ports. I sit in convoy with them for a short while but, just before reaching Newton Stewart, I decide to deviate from the route for the first time, turning right onto the A712. I know from a couple of days spent up here three years ago that this road is one of the very best in all of Scotland and therefore the entire British Isles, and that driving right past one end of it would be a terrible waste, like walking up to the front door of the Sistine Chapel but not bothering to peek inside. It spears into the heart of the Galloway Forest Park, a 300-square-mile reserve that’s about as beautiful as any part of Scotland outside of the Highlands.