Car reviews - Hyundai - i20 - N
Tenacious grip, braking performance, torque delivery, gearshift, bang for buck.
Room for improvement
Plastic rattles, tyre noise, steering feel, exhaust/engine note.
At $32,490, the Hyundai i20 N might just be the performance bargain of the year
19 Nov 2021
By MATT BROGAN
HYUNDAI continues to expand its sporty N Division product line-up in Australia. The Korean brand has launched a pair of newcomers to complement its lauded i30 N – itself a relatively new rival to hot hatch stalwarts such as the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The i20 N – a pocket rocket that competes with the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI – and the Kona N, a light SUV with a menacing turbocharged persona, have joined Hyundai’s local portfolio this month. What’s more, a sedan version of the i30 N is due to arrive well before the end of the year… and even more N models are on their way Down Under.
The i20 N is the second performance model from the Korean brand’s N Division to be offered locally. Priced from $32,490 plus on-road costs, the i20 N retains all the practicality of other i20 derivatives, but, by virtue of its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, six-speed manual gearbox and mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) is no work-a-day shopping trolley.
Offered in a single, highly specified grade, the i20 N is the epitome of a bang-for-your-buck performance proposition. It packs the kind of driveline technology found in models with far higher sticker prices, all of which is wrapped in a reinforced bodyshell crammed with the brand’s latest SmartSense driver assistance- and safety technologies.
With ride and handling characteristics optimised by Hyundai Motor Company Australia’s in-house suspension specialists, the i20 N is ready to hit the track straight out of the box with an uprated clutch, larger brake rotors and -pads, grippy Pirelli rubber, a mechanical LSD, as well as a punchy twin-cam engine that’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the best in its class.
The sharp styling of the i20 N befits the model’s personality. Its angular body creases and sporty red garnishes hint that this diminutive hatch is more than a badged-up base version and suggest there’s a level of focus and technical tuning at play. A second look is required!
Functional (but not ostentatious) aerodynamic additions; chunky brakes; a low, aggressive stance; an aureate exhaust outlet… These are the unmistakable calling cards of a proper hot hatch and the sporty adornments are apparent from whichever angle you view the vehicle.
And inside, those deeply bolstered seats, dimpled leather steering wheel, and brightly polished pedals confirm that the i20 N is a bona fide five-door pocket rocket.
When you prod its starter button, the i20 N crackles to life with a little intake rasp a snort from the tailpipe; the turbocharged 1.6-litre dispels any doubts that this car is an econo-box.
From the outset, the high-tech screens of the instrument panel and centre stack display the car’s vitals, while a pair of bright blue N buttons on the steering wheel encourage the driver to customise and calibrate various drivetrain and steering settings to suit the road ahead.
Snick the gear lever into First, sidestep the clutch, mash the throttle pedal and, with just a few quick cog-swaps, the i20 N is hurtling towards the horizon at speeds best saved for a racetrack.
The generous torque curve of that effervescent four-pot provides a sense of acceleration akin to that of a larger displacement naturally aspirated engine, albeit with a far lower rev ceiling… the carefully tuned turbo sustains torque delivery from 1750 through to 4500rpm.
The i20 N’s engine and exhaust notes are not dissimilar to those of its European rivals. Rev-matched downshifts are accompanied by sharp crackles as the 1.6-litre motor plumbs its combusted fuel-air mixture through a maze of pipes and valves before it exits at the rear valance.
While it might lack the analogue warmth of a classic four-cylinder engine, the Hyundai mill certainly gets down to business.
Appended by a quick ratio six-speed ‘box and trusty mechanical LSD, the drive to the front wheels feels seemingly free of any electronic corruption. Light tugs on the steering at full-bore acceleration remind you that 150kW is indeed a lot of oomph in such a small package.
When required to corner quickly, the i20 N feels light, playful, and agile. It changes direction promptly and sharply while keeping body roll well in check, unless, of course, you provoke a little trailing throttle oversteer to aim the nose more accurately at the next bend.
The mechanical LSD comes to the fore again here, providing tenacious grip to pull the rest of the car back into line; Hyundai’s newcomer ably communicates through the car’s body and suspension so as to ensure the driver is kept well informed of the proximity of the grip limit.
Jump on the picks and the i20 N nuzzles its nose at the asphalt, playfully wagging its tail as it washes off speed. The braking performance is immense… and the pedal feel certain.
As it laps the challenging Wakefield Park Raceway outside Goulburn, the i20 N demonstrates how it’s more than a hyperactive apex-hunter. In fact, it is a capable track-day package that’s as eager to turn in and stop as it is to catapult out of corners. The whole package works exceptionally well, with little to detract from the experience at the wheel – especially considering the car is warranty-backed and track-ready directly from the dealership floor.
It is very hard to criticise the i20 N. It’s reasonably roomy and easy enough to drive in daily situations that it needn’t sit in the garage awaiting your next track day excursion. It won’t scrape its guts on speed humps and is wonderfully languid in its Normal drive mode, which is to say it’s perfect for tootling down to the shops or commuting in stop-start traffic.
And, with so much intuitive in-car technology – including a wicked audio system – packed into the i20 N’s pint-sized body, you’ll genuinely want to drive it at every given opportunity.
That said, a couple of faint plastic rattles seemed to emanate from the back of the Hyundai’s cabin, which were hard to ignore. It’s also evident the tyres are made for the track – they rumble and drone when traversing coarse road surfaces, so much so, it’s almost annoying. Perhaps true track-day enthusiasts should invest in a second set of wheels and tyres?
Still, they’re minor complaints about what’s otherwise a brilliantly capable and immensely enjoyable little car. Considering that you can get all of this on the road for less than $35,000, the Hyundai i20 N might just be the performance bargain of the year.
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