It was Wakefield Park circuit round 16 months in the past and I’d simply stepped out of a totally camo’d Hyundai i20 N prototype after a no-holds-barred observe session, and was totally gobsmacked by the expertise.
Moments earlier than, I’d been blasting round the identical circuit (for the first time) in one other highly-anticipated sizzling hatch prototype from the South Korean juggernaut, in the type of the i30 N with a dual-clutch gearbox for the first time.
The transmission itself represented three-years of intense growth beneath the watchful eye of N architect and performance guru, Albert Biermann, earlier than being signed off. The benchmark had been set sky excessive earlier than hopping into the diminutive i20 N.
Back then, the manual-only Hyundai was about to go head-to-head with Volkswagen’s confirmed Polo GTI and Ford’s personal turbocharged pocket rocket, the (now extinct) Fiesta ST. More importantly, the i20 N kicked off with a price ticket of round $32k plus on-roads.
Fast-forward by means of the world pandemic, and take into account war-torn Ukraine and worldwide element shortages, and the $39,000 drive-away i20 N is the solely solely guide hatch in its class, one which is significantly inexpensive than the Polo GTI that carries a hefty $43,360 price ticket and a dual-clutch transmission.
What the i20 N’s 1.6-litre turbo may lack in the approach of sheer grunt in contrast with the extra highly effective 2.0-litre i30 N, it greater than makes up for it on the scales.
With a kerb weight of simply 1235kg the i20 N is greater than 300kg lighter than its massive brother, which is one in every of the issues that makes it so positively addictive – on street or observe as I used to be to find first hand.
On observe, the advantages of a light-weight chassis are felt from the first nook you’re taking, and the first time you apply the brakes. In the i20 N that’s going to be very, very late, and solely a fast dab at that.
In reality its stopping energy is so spectacular, at first you’ll wrestle to search out the optimum braking factors. With each lap pushed comes a recalibration of your instincts, till such time you realise you’ve gone from hitting the stoppers at the 100m mark right down to the 20m mark.
Even then, it nonetheless looks like I’ve gone too early. Maybe you don’t have to brake in any respect? Instead, shifting down a few gears with pure engine braking feels about proper for flip 10. That was really staggering to me.
It appears unimaginable to me that just about two years on I’ve solely simply managed to get again into the driver’s seat of one in every of my favorite budget-priced performance vehicles, this time in a full-blown manufacturing mannequin and never a racetrack in sight.
With so many cool colors on provide, together with the hero Performance Blue, I ended up with Polar White (I’m genuinely not a fan of white vehicles – simply too rattling boring), although not less than it has a black roof and purple trim for the entrance lip spoiler, facet skirts and rear diffuser, which supplied some distinction.
The press package doesn’t actually make any particular point out of the gray spider-web-design alloys outdoors of 18-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tyres however in opposition to the white, they arrive up robust. They’ve bought that cast look about them.
Where the Polo GTI has Volkswagen’s usually clear and understated look going for it, there’s so much happening with Hyundai’s i20 N from a design standpoint.
It’s a hardcore method that takes just a few styling cues from Hyundai’s full-blown WRC car – particularly the deep entrance grille and splitter with facet intakes together with its built-in rear diffuser, rear-light meeting and dual-level roof spoiler.
Ideally, I might have most popular a single, centrally-mounted exhaust tip as a substitute of the lopsided, one-pipe design Hyundai ended up going with. Nevertheless, the i20 N exudes a troublesome, motorsport-style stance so many individuals appear to love.
There’ll be some who view it as too boy-racer, particularly an older crew, however I’m smack-bang in the center of that group, and nonetheless an enormous fan. Truth is, it attracts numerous head turns.
I really reckon Polo GTI drivers and most different sizzling hatch drivers concern this factor. And, so they need to.
Inside it’s no cut-price stripper. There’s a digital 10.25-inch driver’s show with all types of configurability, relying on the drive mode chosen. Front and centre is an infotainment touchscreen of the identical dimensions, which together with all the normal apps and shortcuts options N mode that brings up observe maps and telematics, together with a lap timer.
All the vital stuff is correct N-designed package, together with issues like the spherical, leather-wrapped steering wheel, full with two extra-large N buttons in Performance Blue – each of which may be individually customised for engine response, steering, rev-matching, ESC and exhaust sound.
It’s worthwhile taking a couple of minutes to set these up correctly to accommodate completely different driving situations.
If you’re like me, you’ll instantly hit both of the N buttons – principally for the beefed-up exhaust notice and extra pressing throttle response, given the default mode on start-up is much too subdued.
There’s additionally a bright-red anodised one-touch REV button that appears a bit Ferrari-esque, in addition to all the normal performance you get on steering wheels lately.
There’s no leather-based trim however the sports activities buckets are sensible for his or her heavy bolsters, particularly on the seat itself, and common consolation. There’s guide adjustment solely, however you possibly can drive this factor for hours and hop out as recent as a daisy or blast round a decent observe at full tilt and by no means as soon as assume it’s not sufficient.
The shifter appears the enterprise, and the throws between gear adjustments are good and quick. It’s additionally bought a sports activities pedal field, full with stainless-steel pedals with rubber grip inserts.
About the solely gripe I’ve is the largely hidden begin/cease button. It’s completely hid behind the steering wheel, however after a whilst you simply know the place to push, so it’s no biggie.
Those who intend to each day the i20 N will discover ample storage options up entrance, together with a 15W wi-fi charging pad, a few USB-A ports, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two cupholders, and a small centre-console bin.
While most of the contact factors are comfortable, that doesn’t imply there aren’t any low cost plastics about the cabin. Below eye line, it’s virtually all arduous stuff – some first rate but additionally a few of that nasty pitted stuff all of us hate.
Stretching a smidge over 4 metres in size, rear legroom is barely ample for passengers of common peak, however the outer two rear seats have been designed with bolsters of their very own which make it extra comfy.
It’s a lot the identical story with boot house in the i20 N; 310 litres behind the second row, rising to 1123L when folded. It’s not fairly flat again there, and there’s a small lip to cope with. nevertheless it’s simple sufficient to hold surfboards and even an MTB with the entrance wheel indifferent.
It additionally comes with a baggage web however Hyundai has been short-sighted by not providing rear air vents in the i20 N. It’s not the just one, however how do you overlook one thing like that?
Any time you’re behind the wheel of an i20 N you’ve virtually at all times bought a smile in your face. Throttle response is satisfyingly swift from the get-go, due to max torque approaching track from simply 1750rpm, and pulling arduous by means of to the 4500rpm mark.
It’s no supercar slayer so far as pocket rockets go lately with the introduction of high-priced, super-hatches like the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45, nor does it have to be to dish out real enjoyable behind the wheel.
It will get the energy down by means of the entrance wheels with out an excessive amount of fuss, and is demonstrably faster out of the blocks than the costlier Polo GTI.
All the controls are properly weighted and there’s good response. Clutch take up is comparatively early, which I like, and the steering is suitably fast and meaty in Sport+. Here’s the place you’ll need to arrange your individual customized settings, given the car’s intensive menu of choices for all the main controls.
Tuck it into just a few tight bends at cheap tempo and it’s simple to overlook how a lot engineering has gone into the i20 N’s chassis, notably on the subject of rigidity.
Pretty a lot all the things was reworked to present the i20 N reliable corner-crushing capacity on street and observe.
There are 12 factors of reinforcement round the monocoque, in addition to further welds and a bolt-in underbody construction that provides the car a excessive stage of stiffness and resistance to twist. No surprise it feels rock stable by means of the bends and relishes fast adjustments of course.
Larger entrance intakes for more practical cooling have been designed round a reworked entrance chassis construction. Again, that’s immediately aimed i20 N’s observe worthiness.
The standard-fit mechanical limited-slip differential does an honest job managing the energy the energy throughout the entrance axle, particularly given its decreased measurement and weight to fulfill the packaging constraints of a small hatch.
There are more durable and softer-riding rivals, however I’d argue the i20 N nails it in the trip and dealing with division. There’s no query it’s on the agency facet, however the stage of compliance is nearly good. It’s such a great steadiness between trip and dealing with with accompanying ranges of suggestions that merely encourage confidence.
Never thoughts the brakes. The entrance rotors measure 320mm (not large), however they’re 40 per cent larger than these fitted to the backyard selection i20 bought in Europe. On observe, we by no means bought near brake fade. On street, they’re bulletproof.
It’s not with out its foibles, although. Exit a roundabout to the left or proper, or pull out of junction with a bit an excessive amount of gusto, and also you best have each arms on the wheel to assist handle the torque steer.
Personally, I don’t thoughts some front-wheel shenanigans by means of the steering wheel, not less than for the involvement, however much less acquainted people may panic.
Plus, the i20 N can undergo from axle tramp, fairly badly it appears, particularly if the driver is just too keen with the throttle from a standing begin, or when giving it a boot full from low velocity. Not simply in the moist, it may additionally occur in dry situations as I skilled.
The repair is straightforward sufficient. Just curb your enthusiasm and feed in the throttle extra progressively earlier than dropping the hammer. Not really easy for those who’re having a lot enjoyable, I do know, however progress shall be swifter, I assure it.
In an age the place vehicles have by no means been so quick, or certainly, so costly, and the place performance is singularly measured by 0-100km/h dash instances, it’s really refreshing to discover a car that has been engineered to ship a lot for thus little.