Our Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car winner faces its sternest examination yet

The hot supermini class that the new Hyundai Hyundai i20 N arrives into – heartland of the ‘pocket rocket’ – moves in cycles of domination.

The Hyundai lands in a class where for years, the Clios from Dieppe were untouchable, as Renault Sport perfected an unapologetic approach. In the mid-noughties, the Mini Cooper S, Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta ST were all likeable alternatives, but if you were buying one of these cars for pure driving pleasure, it had to be the French one.

With its squared-off bumper, oval tailpipe and small diffuser, the rear end of the i20 N is clearly intended to echo that of the WRC car, which it just about does, if you squint.

But with the fourth coming of the RS Clio in 2012, the magic had ebbed away, not least because the model was now automatic only. Ford, whose quick Fiestas of the post-millennium era had been fun and rewarding but unable to lay a glove on the RS Clio, picked up the mantle. The Fiesta ST introduced in 2012 had such an innate ability to entertain that even had Renault Sport released another almost perfect Clio, it still may not have been enough.

In the following years, Peugeot found some form with special versions of the Peugeot 208 GTi and Mini occasionally hit the sweet spot with the Cooper S, but it was never enough. Then Ford cemented its rule by decanting its near-perfect Fiesta ST over in the next generation, albeit now with one less cylinder. It’s that three-pot Mk8 Ford Fiesta ST – the one currently in showrooms – that you can’t avoid mentioning when talking about the subject of this week’s road test.

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Before 2017, Hyundai had never so much as dabbled in the art of fast hatchbacks, but the rough-diamond Hyundai i30 N showed us it knew what mattered. The potential was clear. Now, with the Hyundai i20 N, it wants to topple arguably the finest fast supermini of the past decade and itself be the dominant force in the class.

To that end, the i20 N has been engineered with a good degree of single-mindedness and plenty of powertrain configurability, but it also totes plenty of equipment and is practical, too. Hyundai has clearly conceived the hottest model in the i20 range to be the ultimate car of its kind, so has it succeeded?

The i20 line-up at a glance

The Hyundai i20 line-up is kept tight, with the only two engine options being either a mild-hybrid three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol, available with manual or dual-clutch automatic transmission, or the four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol found in the range-topping N, which is only ever paired with the manual.

For N Line models, the smaller unit gets a tweak to take it from 99bhp to 118bhp, though with 201bhp the 1.6-litre is the only engine that offers strong performance.

Trim levels range from SE Connect to Ultimate, except for the full N-spec car, which is a set menu.


Hyundai i20 N First drives