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Hyundai i20 N 2021 review: Prototype track test

The Hyundai i20 N will burst onto Australian roads in the first half of 2021.
EXPERT RATING
8
The i30 N finally has a sibling, with Hyundai confirming the i20 N hot hatch will launch in Australia in the first half of 2021. We put an early prototype to the test on the track to see if it will be worth the wait.

After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021. 

On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.

But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out. 

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark. 

That's about right, and if you take the Toyota GR Yaris out of the equation (which now starts around the mid-$40k mark), it puts the i20 N right in the city-sized hot hatch hunt. 

In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.

Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...

 The bulging wheel arches house 18-inch blacked-out alloys. The bulging wheel arches house 18-inch blacked-out alloys.

Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.

For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out. 

That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen. 

  • You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue.
  • The i20 N is a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches. The i20 N is a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches.

Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.

Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here. 

It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.

The i20 N has four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition. The i20 N has four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition.

For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.

That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat. 

Boot space is rated at 326 litres (VDA). Boot space is rated at 326 litres (VDA).

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either. 

The turbocharged 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine (borrowed from the i30 sedan) produces 150kW and 275Nm, which pairs with a six-speed manual transmission and funnels power to the front tyres.

That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.

So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.

We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.

More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.

The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet. 

We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank. 

What's it like to drive?   9/10

How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.

Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?

The i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like. The i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like.

If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?

Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former. 

The i20 N puts a massive smile on your face. The i20 N puts a massive smile on your face.

Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs. 

But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.

The i20 N feels really connected to the track. The i20 N feels really connected to the track.

One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.

There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time. 

With 150kW/275Nm, these figures put the i20 N at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.  With 150kW/275Nm, these figures put the i20 N at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs. 

It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel. 

Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit. 

The i30 N, for example, gets the brand's SmartSense safety suite, with forward collision warning with AEB and Lane Keep Assist, as well as the usual suite of airbags and braking and traction aids.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

The i20 N will be covered by Hyundai's full five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with service intervals and pricing yet to be confirmed.

Verdict

We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot. 

Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..

EXPERT RATING
8
Price and features8
Design9
Practicality7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety7
Ownership8
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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