The Hyundai N program started a few years ago to make sportier versions of their existing models. I’ve found myself at the helm of many a mass-market Hyundai since 2013 and each time I wished the Korean carmaker would offer more fun-to-drive versions like Volkswagen and Ford do with their compacts. Their first hot hatch offering was the i30 N which was a slightly bigger model, on par with the likes of the Honda Civic Type-R, Ford Focus ST and VW Golf GTi. The most annoying part was that none of them is offered in my base-of-operations. But I knew that in time, the N treatment would drip down to the smaller i20 and it’s finally happened. The new-gen i20 made its global debut earlier this year, an i20 N was confirmed and now its been finally unveiled.
First things first, the performance. Hyundai has fitted the first-ever i20 N with a new turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine and paired it to a 6-speed manual shifter. The output is tuned at 204PS and 275Nm which is plenty for a front-wheel-drive city hatch with a dry weight of 1,190kg and official figures state a 0-100kph time of 6.7 seconds. In its official announcement, Hyundai states the different ways it has given attention to detail for putting together this powertrain. The turbo system is exclusive to this engine, for now, and for cooling it uses the engine’s water circulation system along with the intercooler. The 1.6 T-GDi uses Hyundai’s Continuously Variable Valve Duration tech for better fuel efficiency when not being thrashed around. And when it does need to be driven hard, it has a 350-bar high-pressure injection rail to burn fuel faster thus getting a faster engine response.
The glorious 6-speed stickshift has been purpose tuned and reinforced for the i20 N. You can even spec it with a mechanical limited slip-diff to control the power transfer to the front wheels and make it more fun to drive around bends. Hyundai has had to retune the suspension too along with the chassis, suspension, brakes and steering of the normal i20 hatchback. The i20 N is stiffer and the new suspension setup should make it handle better and feel taut through the corners. More power should be matched with bigger brakes and the N version has 40mm larger front discs. The steering setup has a tuned column-mounted motor-driven power steering system which should help keep the i20 N switch between light and heavier feels, depending on the need.
Like most modern cars, there is a fair bit of electronic trickery involved to give the small hatch dual characteristics. The i20 N gets five drive modes and three of them are called Sport, N and N Custom. These modes adjust the parameters for the engine, the traction control, steering and the exhaust note too. For the more experienced drivers, Hyundai says that the electronic stability control can be completely switched off as well. Other N features include rev matching wherein the system does it for you and can be controlled via its dedicated button on the steering wheel. It even has launch control and I will admit that I would probably use it at every red light I could (when safe, of course). You can even have the i20 N with 215/40 Pirelli P-Zero tyres on the 18-inch alloys if you like.
Speaking of the rims, let’s talk about the looks of the new i20 N. It’s been unveiled in the hero colour for the Hyundai N division: Performance Blue. The first difference to notice over the regular hatchback is the body kit with red accents. This includes the extended front splitter, side skirts, sporty diffuser and an aggressive roof-mounted spoiler. Even though the spoiler is inspired by the i20 WRC rally car, it doesn’t seem to suit it. It looks a bit like a small hat on a large head and I think I wouldn’t mind a wing-delete or switch it for a bigger one. The exhaust is a single exit design but it’s a large one and should be loud enough. Behind the bespoke rims, you can see the N-branded red brake callipers which is always a nice detail. The new lighting design for the latest i20 looks pretty sharp already and suits the i20 N quite well. It took me a moment to notice it in images, but the grille is bigger for the larger air intake with a chequered-flag design and the N badge adds to its hot hatch appeal. The i20 N is also offered in a bright blue, white, silver and brass with the roof in contrast black. I think I might have the nuke-spec for the i20 N and maybe get it wrapped in some sort of sporty yellow with only black accents and contrast roof.
Interior-wise, the i20 N is like a top-spec trim of the regular car. Its got an array of safety tech (as standard in modern Europe), a touchscreen infotainment system and a digital driver’s display as well. But thankfully it still has plenty of tactile buttons and controls which is a relief these days. It looks like it’ll be a comfy-enough car even for the slow commute and should seat four adults comfortable for a long road trip. However, unlike the more premium i30 N, the i20 N doesn’t get adaptive suspension so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve tried to balance the ride between handling and comfort.
The new Hyundai i20 N is scheduled to go on sale in Europe in 2021. That means it’s still a while away from reaching customers but I’m looking forward to the early reviews. Like all cars I like/love, I don’t think I’ll get the chance to be up close and experience them myself, but its good to know that this hatchback finally exists and if I could, I’d have one in a heartbeat.
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