Hyundai i20 VS Renault Clio
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Great chassis
- Decent specification
- Good all-round liveability for a hot hatch
- No AEB or rear curtain airbags
- No CarPlay, Android Auto part of expensive option pack
- RS Monitor no longer standard
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
I'm going to reveal something of myself here - I used to be a RenaultSport Clio owner. This is what the purists call what we now know as Clio RS, and I find myself constantly corrected yet unrepentant. It was a 172 - a nuggety three-door with wheels that looked too small, a weird seating position and a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine that was big on torque as long as you belted it.
It was a classic and you could still see the links back to the epoch-making Renault Clio Williams, that blue and gold Mk 1 Clio we never saw in Australia that redefined the genre. The current Clio has been around for four years now and I even drove this current RS Clio at its launch in 2013, memorable for the sudden bucketing rain that drenched the circuit and made things very interesting indeed.
This Clio was a big change from the cars that went before - slimmer-hipped, less aggressive-looking and with a 1.6-litre turbo engine, five-door-only body and (gasp!) no manual, just Renault's twin-clutch EDC transmission. It was a hit, at least with enthusiasts. Back then it was the dawn of a golden age in small hot hatches. But that was then, this is now. With a small power bump and a couple of features thrown in, is the ageing RS still at the pointy end?
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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..
The Clio RS is still a ton of fun and in Cup spec, probably the best compromise between price and livability. Despite its advancing years (it turns five this year, so ready to start kindy) and big brother Megane hogging the limelight with a fancy new model on the way, the Clio is a stayer. It's missing some frustratingly obvious things like CarPlay, AEB, rear airbags and rear cross-traffic alert, but it's hardly alone in the segment.
With the departure of the Fiesta ST, though, the Clio returns to the top of the list of best small hot hatches on sale today.
Think the Clio is ready for the pension? It it living on franking credits it doesn't deserve?
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.
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.
The Clio is a handsome small car but nothing out of the ordinary until you apply the very cool Liquid Yellow paint. That hue really is quite something and works even better with the black alloys of the Cup chassis.
The car has some lovely surfacing and in a recent-ish refresh, the slightly odd headlights were reworked, as were the front and rear bumpers which now link to the RenaultSport Megane. Sorry, Megane RS. The RS flag signature lighting is a nice touch, acting as DRLs at the bottom corners of the front bumper.
The lovely organic shapes of the Clio's sides still look good and the rather tough rear end with the chunky diffuser leaves you in no doubt that it's the proper RS not the halfway-house, 1.2-litre GT-Line.
Inside is starting to look its age, but graceful, a bit like Jamie-Lee Curtis' or George Clooney's embrace of grey hair. There are still some of the sharp edges I didn't like. It's certainly a Renault to look at and ergonomically works pretty well. One thing that has been fixed at some point is the switch on the gear selector - it won't bite you if you curl your finger underneath when you press it. You might think that's a small thing, but when you did it, damn it hurt.
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.
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.
The Clio's interior is certainly snug. Rear seat passengers do okay for legroom but headroom is a mite marginal with the falling roofline for six footers. There are no cupholders out back, that curious French habit of supplying just a couple of cup receptacles of different and weird sizes persists. The front doors have space for bottles, the rears do not.
The boot is class-competitive at 300 litres (worth knowing the Trophy loses 70 litres to the Cup) and with the seats down stretches to a claimed 1146L.
Price and features
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.
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...
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.
The iconic 'Liquid Yellow' ($750 option) Clio I had for the week was the Cup spec chassis. The Clio RS 200, as it is officially known, comes in two specs - Sport and Cup - and there's a Trophy 220 at the top of the range. I had the Cup, which retails at $32,490 (plus on-road costs). The RS220 Trophy, with a bit more poke and stuff, weighs in at $38,990 if you're interested.
The Cup spec is heavily based on the more affordable ($30,990) Sport, which means you get 18-inch alloy wheels (painted black, so watch those kerbs), climate control, four speaker stereo, keyless entry and start (the "key" is still that unwieldy keycard style thing), reversing camera, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, launch control, leather bits and pieces and a tyre inflation kit instead of any kind of spare.
The 7.0-inch 'R-Link' touch screen software runs the four speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and USB. If you get the optional RS Monitor, there is a full-on telemetry system from which you can save your, er, "track day" data and overlay in Google Maps to compare with your mates' or past efforts. You can also change the piped-in engine sound to various different sound effects which are delightfully silly.
Android Auto is part of the breathtaking $1500 'Entertainment Pack' option that includes RS Monitor (which used to be standard) and no, there's no Apple CarPlay. Leather is a further $1500.
Bottom line is that you do get a decent spec bump from the $30,990 Sport along with the more capable (and less comfortable) Cup chassis.
Engine & trans
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
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.
The 200-equipped RSes pony up 147kW/260Nm, which is pretty much bang-on the obvious competition (Peugeot 208 GTI and the outgoing Fiesta ST), driving the front wheels through Renault's six-speed EDC twin-clutch. Unlike those two, there is no overboost function.
Dieppe's finest sprints from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.7 seconds, pulling along a kerb weight of 1204kg.
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.
Renault claims 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle but, yeah, nah. My week was admittedly filled with plenty of horseplay and spirited driving, yielding 11.4L/100km. If you were careful you may fare better - but not that much better.
The fuel tank is a fairly standard 45 litres. It requires 98RON premium unleaded.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The RS has always had a belter of a chassis. The Cup chassis became a thing just over a decade ago and is lauded by the fans as The One To Have. I've not always been convinced of this as my earlier drives of the Cup-equipped machines have usually been in close proximity to the Sport chassis.
The Cup is slightly lower than the Sport, with 15 per cent stiffer springs and dampers and perhaps more importantly it scores 18-inch wheels with Dunlop Sport Maxx RT2 tyres, which you can reasonably expect to be a bit firmer than the 17s with Goodyear F1s on the Sport. And they are.
However, in most situations, the Cup chassis is perfectly benign. You certainly feel the bumps and lumps, but you haven't bought a Cup chassis for Lexus-like isolation. It's certainly sharper than the Sport chassis and when you're really giving it a go around the bends, the comfort deficit is more than made up for by the extra grip and poise.
The chassis is aided and abetted by a torquey 1.6-turbo that cheerfully...no, gleefully spins to the redline which could do with another thousand revs, but that's forced induction for you. The aluminium shift paddles need a good positive pull to get a gear, but that gear is delivered quickly and effortlessly. The Clio is a great deal of fun in Sport and Race modes, with throttle mappings and gearshifts becoming more aggressive as you switch through the modes.
The brakes are tremendously effective and the electronic limited slip diff (*cough* brake-based torque vectoring) ensures you'll hit your apexes and the tyres spend more time gripping than spinning.
But it's not all hairpins and off-camber left-right-lefts, is it? Plenty of owners have to live with the car in traffic day to day. Driving the Cup in isolation, I've changed my mind about it. I reckon it's the best of the two chassis settings. The city ride is better than decent, with the hard edges potholes chamfered off by the dampers and decent compliance. It's not too noisy, either.
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 Clio was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in November 2013.
Renault says it was the first European maker to offer a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty in Australia, and who are we to argue? The package also includes up to four years of roadside assist and three years of capped-price servicing.
Renault expects to see you just once a year or every 20,000km, which gives you a bit more headroom than some similar service plans, at least on the mileage. The first three services will cost no more than $369 unless you need a new air filter ($38) or pollen filter ($46). At 60,000km or four years you'll cop $262 for a set of spark plugs. The company's website also suggests if the Clio doesn't like the state of its oil, it will beep at you until you have that attended to.