Our contest to determine the finest affordable driver’s car (that is, one newly on sale and costing less than – gulp – £40,000) was a slimmed-down but varied affair.
A Volkswagen Golf R with more power than ever and the ability to overload its rear axle with torque was probably the pre-match favourite, but who would write off the vivacious and entertaining Ford Puma ST? The nimble-footed agility of the Ford Fiesta ST with some extra, back road-friendly suspension travel thrown in could have been ideal for our Aberdeenshire test route.
The BMW 128ti, billed as a front-driving hot hatch for purists, was expected to give competition for any would-be winner, too. The same applied to the Cupra Cupra Leon 300 – something of a Golf R understudy on paper, so could it pull off an upset? Alas, no.
Our affordable driver’s car honours eventually went to a blue, bewinged car from a brand to which the very concept of a ‘hot hatch’ was alien not even 10 years ago. And it secured the accolade by some margin. With five judges awarding each car a score out of 25, the Hyundai i20 N bagged 102 points, well ahead of the secondplaced Golf R, whose 87 points was just enough to see off the Ford. The Cupra finished fourth and the BMW a disappointing fifth and last.
But back to the Hyundai, whose sense of intent and evident dynamic polish won over our judges in short order. This 201bhp supermini is a triumph for its maker.
“It can take a snaking mountain pass apart more vividly than cars costing five figures more,” read the verdict of this test. It is, at heart, a car with consistency to its character. The no-nonsense body control that’s brought about by fine damping is simpatico with the speed and heft of the steering and even the weights of the other driving controls.
It’s a cohesive, tenacious and serious proposition for keen drivers, this car, and one that moves the N sub-brand on significantly, even from the impressive level of the larger i30 N.
What’s more, the broad level of configurability in the driveline works in this instance, allowing the experience to be meaningfully tailored to the road and your mood. All in, it’s a likeably raw yet usable device.
Victory also secured the i20 N an invite to the senior Britain’s Best Driver’s Car contest, against the Porsche 911 GT3, Ferrari SF90, Lamborghini Huracán and BMW M3, among several others. The result? Fifth place. A proper performance car, the Hyundai.