What is it?
‘S-bend ahead’, warns the instrument binnacle.
Sigh. In the era of assertive, borderline bolshy electronic driver aids, there are more patronising interventions than this, but still. It is necessary for the sat-nav to tell the dashboard to tell me that the road is about to go one way, then t’other?
Except this is no warning, as the next line reveals. ‘Press OK for N mode’. Now, this is more like it. Because in prompting you to select N mode, the car doesn’t want you to slow down. Instead, it wants you to say yes to sharper throttle response, a more meaty exhaust note, less prohibitive ESP, and to less assisted steering. If anything, it wants you to speed up.
Welcome to the Hyundai i20 N. Here in Britain, it’s only the second N Performance product after the very-good-from-out-of-nowhere i30 N of 2017, and is probably the stiffest competition for the current Ford Fiesta ST yet, which is saying something. Hyundai will begin taking orders in May and deliveries will start not long after that, with but one trim level offered at a price that just should sneak under £25,000.
Is that expensive? Well, yes, but ultimately no. With the Golf GTI-rivalling i30 N, Hyundai offered the car in two variants, but the less powerful version, which went without the limited-slip differential, active exhaust or several cabin extras, sold in paltry numbers. Most people bought the i30 N Performance Package, and so over here the i20 N now comes only with the full works – with everything from custom Pirelli P Zero tyres to heated rear seats, and plenty more. In short, it's overflowing with standard kit.
More fundamentally, the car’s five-door shell has been reinforced in no fewer than 12 places compared with the regular i20. Where you’re dealing with volume sellers, such modifications are not an easy or inexpensive endeavour, and need to be accounted for in the price. The rest of mechanical specification is hardly underwhelming, either. The 1.6-litre ‘Gamma II’ four-cylinder turbo engine makes 201bhp and 207lb ft, which gives the i20 N a superior power-to-weight ratio than the Fiesta ST, if only by 3bhp per tonne. It’s mated with a six-speed manual gearbox replete with rev-matching function, and drives the front wheels alone through an electromechanical limited-slip differential. So all quite serious.
Suspension-wise, this being a supermini rather than a senior hot hatch, the new spring and damper set-up is then passive, not adaptive, but the changes from the regular i20 are myriad. Alongside the spiced-up geometry, for the MacPherson struts at the front the top mounts and knuckle have been reinforced. The rear torsion beam has also been beefed up, while the red-caliper’d front brake discs are 40mm wider in diameter compared with those of the i20.
Now, the exterior. Punchy, isn’t it? Let’s just say that despite its diminutive size, you’re unlikely to lose the i20 N in the car park of your local supermarket. Or indeed on a moonless, mist-shrouded night in the depths of Heathrow’s county-sized Long Stay.
There is the roof-mounted wing (not a spoiler, note, but a proper wing), red pinstripes that run the circumference of the bodywork, an unapologetic diffuser, and sardonic headlights that merge into a glossy grille that, if you look very closely, you’ll see is comprehensively open-worked, to better feed the hulking great intercooler that lurks behind.