If you want to know how serious Hyundai is about making driver’s cars, there are 12 places on the new Hyundai i20 chassis that will be reinforced – with additional welding and bracketing – over and above the regular supermini to create the i20 N, the hot hatchback variant.
Hyundai’s N division engineers wanted a more rigid car, so they asked the question of their bosses. And management signed-off the considerable nuisance and expense of adding additional components and procedures onto the production line, as the new hot supermini rolls down the same line as what will otherwise be a regular small hatchback. I admire the commitment.
And I like what Hyundai is doing with its N division, named equally after its Namyang, Korea, test facility, and the Nürburgring, where it has a development hub – but where, you should note, it doesn’t just develop cars for the track. The i30 N is a giggle on the road, too, and as Hyundai’s director of high performance vehicle development Klaus Köster says, “drivers need to get out of the car with a grin. It’s not about being the fastest”. I’ve got a lot of time for the i30 N as a result.
The i20 N, though, driven here on the roads and on the Nürburgring’s 2.25-mile ‘sprint’ circuit (not quite the full GP loop and not the Nordschleife) in early prototype form, could be even more up my street. The Ford Fiesta ST is one of the greatest driver’s cars, little or big, on sale today, and the i20 N takes a similar formula.
It’s a front-wheel-drive supermini, five-door only, with a 201bhp, 203lb ft 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine under the bonnet. The gearbox is a six-speed manual only, and it drives the wheels through a mechanical limited-slip differential, which will be optional depending on market demands – which I imagine means it’ll be standard in the UK, because we like that kind of thing.
The car will weigh a touch under 1200kg, have a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec and go on to 143mph. If you were creating the blueprint for a small hot hatchback, I don’t think you’d end up far from here.
That’s not to say a manufacturer couldn’t balls it up from this point on, though. Even really good car makers could miss the mark, but Hyundai has not, because this “95% finished” i20 N is terrific.
There’s no star rating on this drive because the car’s still a prototype, wearing an unfinished interior and exterior – less finished than cars we’ve seen months ago, oddly – but mechanically it’s representative of where development has reached.