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Hyundai's on a roll at the moment, but does that mean its littlest hot hatch delivers?
7 July 2021

What is it?

It’s all going on for Hyundai at the moment. An electric car that has received rave reviews and features the sort of volt tech normally reserved for sports cars; Autocar’s top award, the coveted Issigonis Trophy, for chairman Euisun Chung; and now this - the i20 N, the firm’s second N performance product after the i30 N.

Priced from £24,995 and featuring a typical modern hot hatch recipe of turbo four, front-wheel drive and six-speed manual (praise be), the i20 N runs to 201bhp and 207lb ft - figures good enough for 0-62mph in 6.2sec. There’s also an electromechanical limited-slip differential and a rev-matching function, while Hyundai has reinforced the bodyshell in no fewer than 12 places compared with the regular i20. So it’s clear the car has intent.

Not that you wouldn’t guess it from the looks. The i20 is hardly a shrinking violet, with a chunky rear spoiler, aggressive rear diffuser and jutting chin that gives it far more road presence than the more demure Fiesta ST.

Some may feel it’s a bit OTT, but fair play to Hyundai for pinning their colours to the mast so obviously.

What's it like?

This is our first time in the right-hand-drive version of the car and it feels every bit as special as the left-hooker we sampled earlier this year. There are an almost bewildering array of settings to choose from: modes to control the engine response, steering, rev matching, ESC and exhaust note (and each of those has three levels of normal, sport and sport +); three ‘performance options’ (launch control, shift light and N road sense, to tell you to switch to the hardcore N mode when the car senses an S bend); a g meter; and two programmable N buttons on the steering wheel. At least you’re unlikely to ever get bored.

I was racking my brains to think what car the i20 N reminded me of, until a colleague hit the nail on the head: the Mitsubishi Evo VIII (you can read Vicky Parrott's opinion piece on this car vs the Ford Fiesta ST here). The way the Hyundai tracks and dives across a classic British B-road is exactly how that rally special felt back in the day, especially when you lean on the accelerator on the exit of a corner. Or at least it’s exactly how I remember it.

There’s a wonderful directness to the i20, the car happily diving sharply into corners, staying neutral through the apex, before a squirt of power at the exit makes the diff hook up and the front tyres squirm up the road. You’ve got to concentrate, as the stiff ride (passively damped) and direct steering mean you need to hold on to stop the Hyundai tracking the camber of the road.

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But it’s a hugely entertaining thing. This feels like a hot hatch of the old school, a focused machine that’s more worried about rewarding the driver around a corner than providing the sort of comfort to make a motorway effortless.

To the point where, on the B-road we drove down, we actually dialled the settings back a tad. Easing the steering and throttle response off meant that it felt more balanced and neutral, and easier to squeeze the nose into the apex rather than have it bite at it. It will happily do both - sofa-chewing lunacy or slightly more relaxed - but I felt happier with it in the latter. But maybe that’s just my age.

Should I buy one?

You’ve got to hand it to Hyundai. They could have toddled off and built a warmed-over i20, ratcheted up the marketing hype and counted the cash. The fact there is real engineering integrity and depth of character to this car speaks volumes as to the company’s intent. And it’s single-minded intent at that, as this is one of the most focused hot hatches we’ve driven recently.

Hyundai has obviously set out to create a pure performance hatch - consider the brief met. And then some.

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xxxx 7 July 2021

Why ruin it with those Halfords special red stripes, hopefully optional like the 128. Other than that, spot on. On paper at least this over an ST any day of the week.

BlahBlah43 7 July 2021
What a lovely thing
si73 7 July 2021
Not only does this look great but from this and other reviews it sounds like it's a great hot hatch, whether it's better than a fiesta ST or not is irrelevant to me, that it's different and provides another option is what counts, and on looks alone it would be my choice.